Friday, January 13 is a milestone in the history of Bangladesh that’s up there on the top shelf with the best of them. On this date in 2011 the Supreme Court banned corporal punishment in schools and joined a growing legion of countries that were keen to protect its children and amputate the cancer that was ailing them.
Unfortunately, a law on paper alone is of little use. Sure there’s been great progress made over the last six years, but not nearly enough. There are still too many tears being shed by children in classrooms, too many beatings, too much abuse, too much damage done to children and to Bangladesh. There’s still too much ignorance in villages, especially, among headmasters, teachers and guardians, about the bad effects of corporal punishment. There’s still no importance given to the fact that a child has the same right as an adult to be free from physical harm.
To a child, a good teacher is very special – a substitute parent, who watches over, cares, protects, teaches, encourages, and guides them in all that they do – and in return the teachers are shown love, respect and admiration for the rest of their lives, long after the pupils have graduated, left school, got married and sending their own children to school. Many of us have vivid memories of teachers who have monumentally changed our lives for the better: I certainly have. (Are you reading this, headmaster Peadair O’Dwyer?)
School and teachers occupy a major chunk of a child’s life, other than their home it’s the world that’s best known to them.
If you were to take the time to eavesdrop on school children talking, there is no doubt you will hear the names of teachers, how high they are on their totem pole, and blow-by-blow accounts of the happenings in the classroom/school. So-and-so did this; so-and-so said that.
Many children perceive teachers to be all-knowing, all-caring and ‘right’ in almost everything and anything they do.
Other than a child’s parents and immediate family, schoolteachers – rightly or wrongly – are seen as honourable and trustworthy. Children believe teachers don’t lie or give out false information. How would that be possible? – They’re teachers, they’re special, almost God-like to many young developing minds. The trust and expectation are high and solid.
Prior to the High Court ruling by Justices Md Immam Ali and Md Sheikh Hasan Arif banning corporal punishment in all Bangladesh schools and madrasas on January 13, 2011, teachers were viewed by many to be executing their ‘duties’ by attempting, ironically, to beat education and good behaviour into a child through the despicable, now outlawed practice of corporal punishment.
Village parents; many uneducated, ignorant, and lacking common-sense were on the teacher’s side and felt their child deserved corporal punishment as a deterrent to bad behaviour. And the more frequently the child was thrashed in school the less was needed in the home! The trust in the teacher’s judgment was beyond question. After all (rumour had it) he/she was educated, honourable, fair, knew what was best and was doing the school, child, family and nation a favour. How sad.
Children themselves were brainwashed by past and present generations into believing corporal punishment was some kind of miraculous pill that was actually good for them, kept them on the straight and narrow and although like vile tasting medicine, it had to be taken... for their own good. How sad for the child, nation and humanity. How sad.
The learned High Court judges Ali and Arif declared corporal punishment to be “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and a clear violation of a child’s fundamental right to life, liberty and freedom”.
Corporal punishment may not necessarily tear or mark the skin, but it leaves an ugly scar on the mind forever that may cause some tears never to dry. The real sadness to corporal punishment is that it’s totally non-effective. Thousands of studies worldwide prove this, yet it continues. How sad.
Ignorance is a state of bliss many are said to enjoy. A little education is a dangerous thing; power in the wrong hands is even worse. The combined mixture of ignorance and power can be lethal.
The teaching profession needs to take a good look at itself from within, remove all of its ‘cancerous tumours’ and slowly, but surely restore its once revered reputation and good name to good health.
Defending a rogue ‘teacher’ brings no glory or pride to the profession. The fact the rogue has a wife, five children, a cat and two dogs to feed should be of consideration whatever. He or she happens to be in the wrong job. Such ‘teachers’ need to change their ways or told to seek alternative employment.
Some ‘teachers’ still appear to have their head in the sand and conveniently – if not out of sheer arrogance, delusional self-importance and contempt for the High Court – oppose the ban law. This must change.
It’s been close to seven years since corporal punishment in Bangladesh schools and madrasahs was brought to my attention by ‘whistle-blowers’ Rajowl Karim and Oli Ullah. Their stories inspired me to campaign against the senseless cruelty. The two boys would have graduated with first-class honours from the Edward Snowden Whistle-blower’s Academy, had it existed then!
They informed me in graphic detail of the horrors of corporal punishment that they and their schoolmates faced daily in their local hellhole educational institutions. Oli attended a government primary school and Rajowl, the Romoni Kumar Pait High School, both located in Haydarabad, Gazipur. Oli was beaten so severely by a crazed ‘teacher’ when he was 12 that he never returned to school again. Six years after the law that prohibits corporal punishment, the cruelty and beatings continue. How sad, how very sad.
In every child there are the makings of a saint. It’s absurd to have such heavenly qualities beaten out of children and hell beaten-in. It’s time to cleanse the education system of all, that which ails it. It’s time to stop corporal punishment in Bangladesh forever – NO EXCUSES.
Sir Frank Peters is a human rights activist