Seasoned criminologist Cheryl Willoughby is making a strong case for teachers and parents to have the freedom to exercise all forms of discipline, including flogging, as a means of curbing increasing incidence of violent behaviour among students.
Just yesterday, the issue of student violence was once again the subject of national focus, when a 15-year-old male student at Parkinson Memorial School allegedly smashed the window of a teacher’s car with a rock.
Commenting on the incident on the sidelines of this morning’s launch of the Winners’ Circle 11 plus Programme at the Home Affairs office in Wildey, St Michael, the Director of the Criminal Justice Research and Planning Unit said appropriate disciplinary action for the boy in question should be determined only after assessing which form would best effect change.
“You have to discipline according to the particular child and the particular incident. I know there is this big debate now about whether we should flog or not . . . but you may flog one child and it may work, but it doesn’t work for another child,” she explained.
Her position flew in the face of Minister of Education Ronald Jones who has advocated the abolition of corporal punishment in schools.
In fact, an an address to mark Child Month last year, Jones had called for those who “brutalize” children by flogging them to be thrown in jail.
“Flogging is not discipline. It is abuse against the child, and anyone who abuses a child should be taken before the court and jailed if they are found guilty. If, as a modern nation, we can’t talk to and reason with our children and only brutalize them, we are a lost nation. We cannot create gems of the nation through brutality,” he said then.
However, Willoughby contended that the data did not support Jones’ perspective, and warned against wholesale adaptation of disciplinary models from other countries with the expectation that they would fit perfectly within the Barbadian context.
“What I am also concerned about is that we continuously stress that we should seek alternatives to flogging, but I am yet to hear what those alternatives are. I have seen from my own research as a criminologist that some of the jurisdictions that have prohibited flogging, crime among young people have escalated on an annual basis. So we cannot take our model from jurisdictions that have failed as a country; we have to develop our own value system,” she pointed out.
Student-on-teacher violence, as well as student-on-student violence has been a contentious topic, and had been one of the most vexing issues that led to a breakdown in relationship last year between the Jones-led Ministry of Education and teachers.
It exploded to the fore in mid-April last year after a teacher at Ellerslie Secondary School was allegedly spat on and kicked by a student who she had attempted to verbally discipline.
However, both the Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union (BSTU) and the Barbados Union of Teachers (BUT) have repeatedly stated from as early as January 2015 that violence against teachers was a major problem in schools, citing as examples teachers being subjected to assault and battery by their charges, including a teacher who had been attacked on three occasions and his vehicle vandalized.
The two unions again raised concern in March of this year after a 14-year-old male student was left in a critical condition at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital after he was struck on the head by another student, with BSTU President Mary Redman saying school violence was rampant.
Redman today strongly supported Willoughby, telling Barbados TODAY the ministry’s alternative approach to discipline was “clearly not working”.
“I believe that a regulated and judicious application of corporal punishment works and corporal punishment does not equate to abuse. There is a difference between the two things. I am not talking about corporal punishment for school work, because I do not support that; but there are certain type of infraction of school rules that to my mind the judicious and regulated use of this form of punishment can work,” the trade unionist said.
Willoughby today placed much of the blame at the feet of delinquent parents, who she said seldom played their part in reforming troubled students, and called for the mandatory participation of these parents in the reform process.
“Right now we have a programme called the Dispute Resolution and Conflict Mediation programme where we are targeting at-risk children within our secondary schools, who are having challenges and giving problems in the schools. Unfortunately when we invite the parents to come they don’t show.
“Some of them will come, but I find that the attendance rate is very low. I am thinking that we may have to put a system in place now where these parents are mandated to come forward and deal with situation regarding their children. It is neither the police’s responsibility nor the Office of the Attorney General to instil discipline in children,” she stressed.