In a world that waits for none and rushes around all the time in a frenzied hurry, it is no wonder that tiny children get trampled upon. And their rights and aspirations get violated inadvertently. Injustices suffered by the toddlers go unperceived and unnoticed except on occasions. It was one of those occasions when there was widespread outrage at an 11-yr-old girl in Hyderabad being made to stand in the boys’ washroom for a prolonged period as punishment for not wearing her school uniform. The kid’s pleas that her mother wrote an explanation in her school diary why she was not able to wear uniform fell on deaf years.
The girl was old enough to understand the abnormality of being pushed into a boys washroom. She was sensitive enough to feel humiliated when the boys mocked her. And she was smart enough to recognise that her teacher was punishing her, a punishment that had a clear and express intention of insulting her. The kid does not now want to go to school any more, an understandable response that parents now need to address.
Fortunately, such bizarre punishments are rarely doled out, though, of course, the possibility of less reportage is always there.
What happens when a teacher resorts to severe physical and psychological methods to discipline children? “Disciplining students is an integral part of what a teacher should do. It is what a teacher can and is expected to do. It is the teacher’s duty to draw boundaries for a child’s behaviour. So what happens when the teacher herself/himself fails to respect those boundaries?” asks Dr G Padmaja, Psychologist and Assistant Professor, Centre for Health Psychology, University of Hyderabad.
Loss of sense of right and wrong
Sense of vengeance
What is the accepted way of disciplining a child? In ways that are not psychologically or physically hurtful. In ways that neither violate the law nor the parameters of child welfare. Judgment is becoming increasingly difficult, say experts. “Punishing a child has many ramifications. There’s psychological distress for the child, a rollercoaster ride through emotions. There’s humiliation and the outcomes become manifest after years. When the child is slightly older, public humiliation can cause a peer pressure, a humiliation that becomes social as much as psychological,” explains Dr Padmaja.
The teacher’s administering of punishment is, in fact, a demonstration of how to cause displeasure or pain. And it comes from someone, who is supposed to be showing the right path. If the child is in its formative years the scars may go pretty deep. And among adolescent children, it can even lead to reactionary behaviour, warns Dr Padmaja.
The unorthodox punishments by teachers, reported in recent times, ranged from making children run in sun for hours, slapping a child 40 times by a teacher in Lucknow, pants pulled down and sent to a dark room in Bengaluru, forcefully cutting off hair in a Mumbai school. While this is apart from the regular scale on the palm punishment, a Kerala school went to extremes making good students wear white uniforms and ‘duffers’ red checks.
Such punishments can build a fear psychosis and it affects not only academics but the entire personality, says Dr Padmaja.
Finding fault with the teacher alone is a reductionist approach, says Dr M Narayana Reddy, former Principal of a DAV school and an education reforms activist. “There are many underlying circumstances which lead to such a manifestation. In fact, this is more difficult than handling curriculum for teachers, finding the right to discipline a wayward child,” he says.
While teachers do receive training, he points out that often the schools where teachers show lack of empathy are corporate schools. “It is also those schools which show a high rate of reportage. They are supposed to be having the best trained teachers.” Even the training does not emphasise enough on empathy and fair methods of disciplining a child, he feels.
“Yes. Clearly, though there is the fault of the teacher in these incidents, we cannot over-generalise,” says Dr Padmaja. There are lakhs of teachers handling school issues with compassion and aplomb every single day. It is only an aberration that punishment goes to bizarre, extreme levels.
So how does a teacher find balance? Every child is unique. Every child is a product of an entire set of genetic, social, cultural and economic factors. And every child has his, her own psychology. Is it fair to apply a blanket rule to them?
“There lies the problem. The student-teacher ratio is very high in many schools. How does a teacher already handling syllabus and examinations have time to specifically each child’s needs? That has been one of our long-standing demands that a child-teacher ratio should be rationalised. But it is far from becoming a reality.” Narayana Reddy says.
Schools also complain that the parents refuse to take responsibility for the overall development of their children. It is only a few hours that the child spends in the school. The influences at home and in the family and neighbourhood are far stronger. “They want us to spare the rod and yet make their child turn out to be a perfect specimen. How is that possible? I do not beat a child but they do need punishment though I agree my frustrations should not fuel the severity of punishment I dole out,” laments a teacher.
“Don’t judge the teachers. It is a team that requires to handle this,” asserts Dr Padmaja. “Teachers and parents plus a cooperative school environment. Application of principles of reinforcement should be the focus. In fact, we advise that every school should have a psychologist on board for timely inputs.” Expectations from schools and teachers are high. And education has come to be not just a profession but a commercial enterprise where parents paying high amounts of money expect miracles from the service provider.
“Teachers need to show integrity. And learn the potential power of their role. And society needs to recognise the role of the teachers in the right proportion and perspective. But it is also important to reorient them periodically with refreshers and training programmes so that even they understand the changing dynamics in the world and the new influences on children,” says Dr Reddy.
Reinforcement is a way to strengthen a certain pattern of behaviour. While positive reinforcement motivates a student to act in more positive ways, negative reinforcement serves to emphasise that errant behaviour will not be rewarded. Isolating a student who misbehaves with his fellow students is negative reinforcement, bringing him slowly back to the group when he calms down is removing the negative and encouraging positive behaviour.
Managing a child’s psychology is nothing but a combination of rewards and punishment through reinforcement. It is up to the teacher to take him closer to the goal step by step and the parents to be keen parents who observe the obscure little ways in which their child is improving or digressing and either reward him or alert him.
A child’s development as a holistic process needs an intricate psychological management. It is this management that lays the foundation for a human being to take shape. And it is up to the teachers and the parents to work in tandem to judge a child’s progress. Strict is not stringent and firm is not violent but punishment is still an essential part of psychology of learning. Aberrations should be lessons in how not to handle situations involving wayward children.