Fundamental Protection of the Child Before the Fancy Stuff

Cane-corporal-punishment

It is not “acceptable that a society which prohibits any form of physical violence between adults would accept that adults subject children to physical violence.”

European Committee of Social Rights, 2001

It’s often strange to me that we live, today, in a world obsessed to the point of ignoring almost all else with equality on the grounds of gender (including sexual orientation) and race/ religion. Included in the “all else” here are the rights of children.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) came in to effect in September 1990. Most member countries of the UN have adopted the convention (with the exception of the USA, which signed, but has never ratified). Within that convention Article 19.1: “States Parties shall take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation . . . .”

With all of that in mind, it might seem like the issue of corporal punishment in schools was no longer a matter for debate or discussion. However, that’s very clearly not the case. It seems not to matter how much weight of evidence builds up about how children are traumatised and learning is inhibited when they experience any kind of fear or physical punishment. In too many parts of the world people will still rationalise and find reasons to justify the continuation of such incomprehensible and unjustifiable practices.

Many of the countries where corporal punishment is defended make arguments based upon religious or cultural precedent for the physical chastisement of children. However, the same religious writings frequently advocate the keeping of slaves and the subservience of women! Society has proved, throughout the world, perfectly capable of modernising its reading and interpretation of religious texts as humankind’s perceptions of right and wrong, ethics and morals, evolve. In fact, it’s embarrassingly shameful to have to concede that there’s often a strong correlation between those countries and the former reaches of the British Empire. It was often the British who imposed corporal punishment in the schools they established, this having its roots in a certain puritanical brand of British Christianity.

Here in Malaysia, we have the sad situation that few seem to see the flagrant incongruity in a school system that celebrates a Kindness Week (which I applauded in April 2019) whilst still maintaining and using corporal punishment. The message would appear to be – children should be kind to each other, because we say so. However, we the adults are way above considerations of kindness when it comes to exerting our willful power over children. I believe a proper reading of the current law in the country only permits corporal punishment in schools for boys. However, the reality is that girls are also receiving physical punishment, usually with a cane.

Whilst already uncomfortable and unhappy that Malaysia has not yet been able to move on from corporal punishment, I was shocked recently to see the following media report:

Business Insider Malaysia Article – Survey Parent Views on Corporal Punishment

In this research survey, only 20% of Malaysian parents were against corporal punishment use in schools. Nearly half were in favour and a third undecided. Without wanting in any way to be condescending this alarms me as evidence that way too little effort has gone in to sharing with people in the country the realities of the harm done by corporal punishment on the individual child, as well as on the culture of a school or even the overall culture of people in the country.

There have been repeated instances of research around the world, all showing that children with physical, mental or learning disabilities are three to five times more likely to be on the receiving end of corporal punishment. There are also many studies that suggest children of minority communities also become victims more frequently. Nobody suggests that this flows from any kind of deliberate or conscious targeting or persecution. Rather, in the demands made by school experiences, the nature of classrooms, expectations and frustrations they are more likely to cross the lines to show behaviours and actions that lead to such punishments being meted out.

Bringing change requires a multi-pronged approach over time;

a) Sensitising the public to the lack of effectiveness, the harm and potential for abuse afforded by laws and rules that tolerate corporal punishment.
(This needs to also address the more delicate issue of corporal punishment in the home. If more accept that they should not be physically assaulting their own children, then they will naturally be unwilling to accept that others should have any right to do so)

b) Training and sensitizing teachers and education leaders;
(i) in alternative and more effective/ humane methods of maintaining environments with positive behaviour
(ii) about how resorting to physical violence against children goes against the objectives of modern education, and actually contributes to increased violence and aggression in their schools and in the wider society.

The use of violence against children sends a simple message – power lies with the biggest and strongest. That power includes the right to make the rules and to enforce them, regardless of your rights or your will.  It dehumanizes. It becomes inevitable that it increases the likelihood that children will use physical violence on those smaller and weaker than themselves (ironically being one of the things that perpetuates male violence against women).

The issue of physical violence (child abuse) against children can be a very challenging issue for international educators to deal with. If a teacher works in a school in the UK has reason to believe that a child might have been subjected to physical harm (by a parent or carer or anyone else) they are duty bound to report it. Failure to do so can even, in the most extreme circumstances, lead to their criminal prosecution.

However, when they go to teach in another country few have thought through the realities they will face. I’ve met plenty of international educators in different countries who were very disturbed when they discovered that on finding bruises or other evidence of physical harm on a child there were almost no courses of action open to them, at least formally. In private school environments I’ve seen and heard evidence that the school authorities, the teacher’s leaders, stopped them from taking action fearing a backlash or negative reaction from parents. In other cases, even where the school leadership took a positive approach, teachers found that attempts to report to any ministry of government could actually worsen the situation for the child and create even greater risk. Teachers working under such circumstances, in their desire to protect the child, may even resort to avoiding sending any negative report or information to the home that could cause them to get further abused.

I recently came across this harrowing Edsurge blog post that highlighted how even teachers in Western countries delivering online tutoring can run up against evidence of child abuse that they find disturbing, especially in their powerlessness to protect the child.

(Click on the link that says – “Bonus Episode: When an Online Teaching Job Becomes a Window into Child Abuse)

There is a historical paradigm of the child as a possession, an asset of the father (or at least the family) and this has tended to perpetuate beliefs that as a person’s possession it is their right to decide how they will deal with it. However, this should not be seen as a block or reason for inaction. Wives were also once upon a time seen the same way – as an asset acquired through marriage, over which a man was entitled for all property rights.

Worldwide, society has made more progress for women than for children, perhaps because women have been able to use their own voice in advocacy. I believe educators need to be more willing to raise their voice for children. Cold, proprietorial mindsets with regard to child abuse also manifest in many of the other ills that plague education; under investment in assets, training, respect for teachers. It even contributes to the failure to act on climate change and global warming, levels of societal debt etc.  – all issues that children will be saddled with in the future.

Much of the momentum of what happens and what changes in education flows from the political climate within a country. Here in Malaysia currently i find cause for some worry. Where there is active debate about education its around issues like whether Maths and Science should be taught in English. These types of issues can generate a lot of heat because of religious and nationalistic sensitivities.

New Straits Times – English Language Teaching Article

However, i have sadly seen much less momentum or debate about resolving what are far more foundational and fundamental issues:

Business Insider Malaysia – Malaysia Ranked 71st for Childhood Protection

This article raises issues regarding severe malnourishment, children not attending school. These are pivotal roles for any education system to claim that it treats children with equity and equality of opportunities. Regrettably, this is typical of a wider set of issues worldwide.  Under the auspices of the United Nations, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were put in place to replace the earlier goals that were not achieved. However, while there is progress, warnings are already being made that the current pace will see the targets missed again:

Devex – UNESCO Issues Dire Predictions For 2030 Education Targets

One of the biggest challenges is that these are big, challenging issues that require long term plans, solutions and effort. These are unfortunately not the kinds of things that politicians are typically good at – tending to be far more focused on issues that please their ideological supporters and short term issues that yield more immediate and visible results.

I don’t want to suggest that all is doom and gloom. We have moved forward and progress has been made. There are millions of children who have a better life than they would have had otherwise, as highlighted by the detailed and comprehensive review report from Save The Children published recently:

Save The Children – Changing Lives in our Lifetime
(Right click and save to download the adobe pdf report)

 

 

Teacher Classroom Language

blackboard-1299841_1280

In my experience, the vast majority of teachers want to be the very best they can be in their roles and to reach every student to the best of their ability. In my experience, as a result, teachers spend lots of time exploring their subject and ideas on the best teaching methodologies in relation to the content of that subject. They pay lots of attention to classroom management, maybe also to child psychology, how to motivate students, effects of discipline methods and pedagogy.

But, in my experience, not much time or attention goes in to aspects related to the teacher as a communicator. To my mind this is a major shortcoming when we consider that teaching is so dependent upon communication, consciously or unconsciously. Sometimes there is attention paid to the language of the subject, to aspects of correctness of use of the language that is the medium of instruction (e.g. English, especially when not the mother tongue of the teachers or students). However, not much professional development training goes in to aspects of body language, use of semiotics (use of signs and symbols), use of voice or how language is used.

In NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) there is a well known pre supposition that states – “You cannot not communicate.” In other words, we’re all communicating, all the time. Even not communicating communicates. We’ve all seen that a teacher can often get a much quicker response from an unruly, noisy or excitable class of pupils by standing silently with a particular facial expression than by shouting, remonstrating, cajoling or even threatening.

Teachers want to impact students when they communicate with them. I remember years ago (I think the first time was when undergoing sales training) learning that when we communicate our impact is made up of:

  • 55% what we do with our body, physically (including the face)
  • 38% what we do with our voice (tone, speed, volume, timbre etc)
  • 7% the words we use

Seeing these figures it would be easy to make the mistake of thinking that as a result words don’t really matter very much. They’re not very significant. However, I believe this is a very grave mistake, especially when we take in to account that whilst using the right words we also have the opportunity to use our voice in the most effective ways for a combined 45% of the total impact.

So, for many teachers there’s an area here where they can bring about significant and valuable improvements, if they pay attention. However, one of the biggest challenges with language and communication is that most of what we do and say is automatic and unconscious. In order to question and challenge our own communication we have to bring it in to conscious awareness. This isn’t always a comfortable process, but i believe the benefits make it worthwhile.

The ASCD (the biggest US organisation for teacher and educator professional development) holds periodic webinars. Some of these are exclusively for members. However, today I want to share information on an excellent webinar that is free for all to see – you don’t need to be a member to log in to watch the replay of this one.

Mike Anderson is a US elementary teacher who has published a few books. I read his earlier book, “Learning to Choose, Choosing to Learn” which was very good. This webinar was to introduce the core ideas behind his latest book, “What we say and how we say it matter: teacher talk that improves student learning and behavior.”

In the webinar he shares masses of really good material and I’m sure teachers will benefit from giving this a little time. To watch the replay of the webinar, click on the link below. When the page opens, click where it says “Watch now”.

ASCD – Professional Development – What We Say – Webinar

Enjoy, and please share your feedback and thoughts on the content here.

 

Substance or Appearance?

In January this year, and again in June I wrote articles here on this blog about the reasons why interactive white boards don’t impress me and – I’d even go as far as to say, have no place in a genuine Indian classroom:

January 2010 article
June 2010 article

Well, now, here are some of the most actively read and followed blogs in the education field in the US now saying essentially the same things as I was saying then in criticism for these products;

The Innovative Educator on whiteboards

When one sees the cost of these boards, I believe there’s no effective place for them in Indian schools. If even a fraction of the money spent on them went instead on teacher training and development it would be far better invested. Regrettably, in far too many places their presence is more about marketing and creating a ‘wow’ to impress parents than the substance of really providing a first rate, modern, twenty first century child-centric education.

For the sake of children more of our schools have to be about substance, not appearance.

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