The winds of change are sweeping across Barbados as it relates to corporal punishment in schools, with recent surveys revealing a dramatic decline in support for the practice over a ten-year period.
Statistics released today at a United Nations-organized panel discussion on the subject showed that support for flogging in Barbadian schools was down 90 per cent.
And an expert pollster is predicting that in the next few years, those who continue to support this form of punishment will be in the minority.
According to Principal Director of the Caribbean Development Research Services (CADRES) Peter Wickham, while most countries in the region continue to support corporal punishment, there seems to be a changing wind sweeping across Barbados.
Wickham said CADRES had conducted several national polls on corporal punishment in Barbados and other Caribbean countries and had found that Barbadians seemed “less excited about the idea”.
He said the information had been gathered from polls done between 2004 and 2014, as well as public opinion polls carried out in 2009.
Wickham revealed that in 2004, support for corporal punishment in the Barbadian home was at 80 per cent and 69 per cent in schools.
In 2009 it had dropped to 75 per cent in the home and 54 per cent in schools.
However, by 2014 while it had remained relatively steady at 77 per cent in the home, that support had dropped drastically to just 50 per cent in schools.
“These polls showed an interesting pattern in relation to Barbados. Over that period in time we have seen a 90 per cent drop in support of corporal punishment in the school and a marginal three per cent drop for corporal punishment in the home,” the pollster told those gathered at UN House this afternoon for the discussion entitled, Perspectives on Positive Disciplinary Practices in Schools and Christian Doctrine.
“Essentially therefore Barbadians are less excited about corporal punishment in the school, while corporal punishment in the home is holding relatively steady.
“So there is a relationship between the two, but certainly there is now support for banning in schools that is at the same level as the opposition for banning in schools and the general trajectory is down,” Wickham noted.
Additionally, the political scientist said studies had shown that the majority of persons who continued to support corporal punishment were less educated and came from the lower social caste.
Race, gender and age were also factors, he added.
“Women are usually responsible for discipline in the home so they tend to be more supportive, while older people have also been found to be more supportive than younger people.
“But the part I find most fascinating is that corporal punishment seems to excite the lower socio economic bracket a lot more than the higher socio economic bracket, and it also excites people who are less educated more than the people who are more educated,” he disclosed.
UNICEF Champion for Barbados Faith Marshall-Harris, who along with Reverends John Rogers and Kenroy Burke made up the rest of the panel, was among those in support of the abolition of corporal punishment here.
She argued that while most Barbadians believed it was “cultural and the norm” there were other ways in which children could be disciplined.
Marshall-Harris admitted though, that any ban would have to be done in steps and was not something that could be done overnight.
“Corporal punishment is one that we should be looking to lose as fast as possible. My concern with corporal punishment, particularly as it relates to schools is that it should never be administered for matters of study.
“If a child cannot master mathematics, beating that child is actually not going to get them to learn it any better. What it will probably do is get that child scared of the maths class and that will be counter productive,” she insisted.
In acknowledging that the Bible was the main reason persons believed that “if you spare the rod, you spoil the child”, both Rogers and Burke agreed that it all boiled down to a matter of interpretation.
Rogers said changing times meant that practices must also change and persons had to find suitable ways to apply the teachings of the Bible to modern society.
Burke, who is also the principal of the People’s Cathedral Primary School, said since he assumed the position he had implemented a policy barring teachers from beating students.
He said it had proved successful and teachers had encountered few issues with the students.