What classroom teachers need to be aware and to beware of
Lagos trains principals on how to handle students
By Perpetua Egesimba
Sometime ago, the media was filled with stories of corporal punishment gone awry in schools in Lagos and in Ekiti states. From Eva Adelaja Secondary School, Bariga, Lagos, where a 14-year-old student in JSS 2, identified as Ogechi Blessing, was reportedly flogged mercilessly by her principal and some of the teachers for slapping the school’s Head Girl, to Elo High School, Ayetoro-Ekiti, Ido/Osi Council Area of Ekiti State, where teachers allegedly used their students as child labourers in their private farms during school hours, the stories were as unsavoury as they come.
According to reports, Ogechi had received a slap from the Head Girl, over some disagreement and had returned the slap in good faith. Infuriated by the girl’s audacity, the Head Girl reported the matter to the school principal who then summoned Ogechi to the staffroom where she was allegedly flogged on her bare back and buttocks by both the principal and other teachers.
The story took another turn, however, when lawmakers at the Lagos House of Assembly launched a probe into the matter as the family of the brutalized girl threatened to sue the state government. The Chairman of House Committee on Education, Mr. Lanre Ogunyemi, while speaking on the alleged brutality, sometime ago, in Eletu Odibo Grammar School, Yaba, under Education District IV, said that the era of impunity by teachers in the state is gone and warned that such act would no longer be tolerated.
Ethics of the teaching profession
The lawmaker who described the incident as the height of barbarism wondered why a senior girl would slap another student, stating that it is very wrong. “If a school needs to punish a student, it should give him or her, at most, four strokes of cane and this has to be supervised by the principal.”
It was to make sure that the Ogechi story and the likes do not get repeated in school, that the Lagos State chapter of All Nigerian Confederation of Principals of Secondary Schools, (ANCOPSS) held a one-day seminar for the Principals in the state on the theme: “Discipline in Schools: The Rights of the Child and Principals.”
Speaking at the programme, the Tutor General and Permanent Secretary of Education District 1, Dr. Olayinka Ayandele, stated that the training will make the principals to know the ethics of the profession and their position.
“What happened at Eva Adelaja is a pity, and a lesson to the child, her colleagues, that is her fellow students, and the school management,” she declared. “We must understand that beating up children may not necessarily bring out the best in them in terms of conduct and good behaviour. We must explore other avenues to ensure that we make schooling interesting for them. Let them enjoy coming to school so that learning can be effective. We must make them know that they are responsible for whatever choices they make. Once that is spelt out at the beginning, as they are coming in, they will know that if they do wrong there are penalties and it is clear and every child in the school will know that there is fairness and equity in the system.’’
Principles of corporal punishment
She noted that she has always been on the side of discipline that does not involve corporal punishment, adding that children will always be children because everyone was once a child. “We need to balance the two sides to ensure that children grow in way and manner that will benefit themselves and the community,” she said. “So, corporal punishment is a no-no for me. I don’t want bodily injuries. Corporal punishment involves physical contact, infliction of some pain on the body or physical activity that will bring about pain or discomfort of the person involved and when there is pain and discomfort, how do you expect the child to learn? My message is this: the essence of schooling is for the child to be self-reliant and to join hands towards national development. So, if we know that as the true essence of schooling, we should all work towards that. And for the children, they should know that when they are done with schooling, they should be of benefit to themselves and to the society. Once the students, the principals and the teachers understand this from the beginning they will work hand-in-hand as a team to ensure that we attain this goal.”
She urged parents to join hands with school administrators because they are co-partners and should not leave the issue of discipline to the school management alone because they have their own part to play.
On the issue of school Head Girls or prefects meting out punishments on other students, she said: “That’s not part of their mandates. When you are made a Prefect, you are supposed to be a good example in terms of behaviour and academic attainment. What I see about corporal punishment is that the fellow meting out corporal punishment on the other students sees the students as nothing. You know, you can’t see a giant and wants to slap the giant, it’s not possible. We should see the giant in every child, when we see that in every child, it will make us to apply caution. Nobody is perfect but the prefects are expected to be above board. No student is allowed to beat or punish fellow students because it is not part of their mandates. Their mandate is to report to the school authorities when they sight any misbehaviour and then, the authorities will take the right step to ensure that such behaviour is curbed in the school system.”
Alternative to caning
Commenting on the issue, ANCOPSS President, Mrs. Omotunde Lawson, stated that the training is to address the sensitive issues that border on the ability of school managers to handle disciplinary and security matters without infringing on the right of the child or facing the wrath of the law in the course of executing their official assignment. She noted that there are other ways one can change a child other than by flogging, adding that corporal punishment is a way of mistakenly assaulting a child.
“Discipline is not really when you inflict or put pressure on a child,” she said. “Discipline is not when you use a cane because at times, the students see it as a joke and make caricature of teachers. They make them look like fools at times when they are being flogged. You will see a student looking at your face mockingly sometimes suggesting, ‘is that all you can do?’ So, corporal punishment does not change a child. There are better ways that you can use to appeal to the conscience of a child and make the child to see reasons and know what he or she is doing.’’
Drawing example from the way she disciplines her students when they misbehave, she said: “When they err, I invite them to my office and the first thing I ask them is to examine themselves, and try to think if what they have done is good. Another method I use is to ask them to write down that thing they have done wrong and ask them to write how they felt after they have done it. Did they feel any kind of remorse? Did they think it was the appropriate thing to do. Honestly, by the time I finish with them, they would reason that what they have done is not good and then apologise.
“This really has changed so many students. There was a time I used to beat but after series of trainings and weighing the merits and demerits of corporal punishment I discovered that talking to a child and appealing to their conscience is the best way and when the child changes, I commend that child by going to the assembly to tell them that I have a new son or daughter and make fun of it and the students are happy.’’
She advised both principals and teachers to be friends with their students as that is the only way they can cut down on their excesses.
Necessary precautions in enforcing school ethics
In Education District 111, Ikoyi, at a programme organised by the District to honour the Chairman SUBEB and Chairman Civil Service Commission, Mr. Segun Raheem, the Chairman, Nigerian Union of Teachers, NUT, echoed the same truth when he said: “The education that has no value for the culture is a useless education. Let me therefore admonish our heads of schools that this time around, let us take necessary caution in enforcing the ethics and ethos of our school system in the course of administering our schools so that people who do not even understand what education and management are all about will not misjudge us. It is easy to apportion blames. Let us make it difficult for anybody that will come to our schools to apportion unnecessary blame. The best system is to see what is wrong and then direct how it should be corrected.”
He added: “This is the best time for us as stakeholders to come together and see what is wrong in the system and then correct it and also encourage what is good in it.’’ He noted that every position has a challenge attached to it.
A teacher and student’s views
Condemning the incident at Eva Adelaja, a teacher who did not want her name to be published said that teachers ought to act like parents to the students they teach and not the other way round. According to her, they should try as much as possible to make sure that they handle other people’s children like their own.
A student of Oshodi Junior High School, Oshodi, Lagos, simply identified as Bumi, told The Sun Education that her teachers do discipline them whenever they disobey them but they do not maltreat them. “My teachers do flog us sometimes whenever we disobey the school rules and regulations,” she confessed. “They discipline us by asking us to kneel down or flog us but they have never asked us to remove our clothes so that they can flog us on our bare bodies. The school Head Girl has never punished me before. I don’t look for trouble, so there is no need for that. My school is good when it comes to discipline. The teachers don’t maltreat us.’’