Eastern Province Herald, Port Elizabeth, March 31, 1998
Caning illegal but still practiced in South African schools
By Beth Cooper, Education Reporter
Corporal punishment is still alive and well in South African schools, despite the fact that it has been outlawed.
Speaking at a conference on alternative disciplinary measures in high schools yesterday, Wits University lecturer and education policy unit researcher Salim Vally said physical punishment of pupils was a sad reflection of the country's violent society.
"I have been a victim of corporal punishment, and this kind of method has permeated our society," Mr Vally told about 400 teachers, principals, parents and students.
"It is still practised right throughout the country. It is not going to go away overnight."
The conference, held at the Feather Market Centre, was organised by the Delta Foundation's Centres for Learning project.
It provided a platform for parents, teachers and the education department to discuss suitable alternatives to corporal punishment, banned in schools nearly two years ago.
Mr Vally stressed that non-physical forms of discipline would only work if people understood why corporal punishment was wrong.
During apartheid, the policy of Christian national education entrenched a patriarchal system of dominance in which it was believed that children had to be physically punished for misdemeanours.
"People often use religion as justification for corporal punishment," said Mr Vally, pointing to biblical references such as "spare the rod and spoil the child."
Mr Vally said there was a lot of evidence to suggest many schools still practised corporal punishment.
Teachers had not been trained to look for alternatives to this "quick- fix" form of punishment and it was crucial for provincial education departments to help educators find different ways of dealing with pupils.
"In South Africa, corporal punishment was an essential ingredient in the social ointment - it was necessary to maintain a patriarchal, masculine society.
"Corporal punishment fed off violence and reproduced it through the South African school system."
The speakers - Mr Vally and Member of Parliament and select committee on education chairman Nonginkosi "Blade" Nzimande - pointed out several alternative methods to physical discipline.
"Fear and discipline are not compatible. Punishment need not be synonymous with discipline," said Mr Vally.
"By striking the pupil, the educator provides a model (to the Child) that violence is an (acceptable) way to behave.
"Physical punishment does not deter. It encourages anti-social aggressiveness and vandalism."
He pointed out that several studies have researched alternative options, such as behaviour modification and positive reinforcement.
Briefly, this involved rewarding the child for good behaviour or probing the reasons behind the child's actions.
Mr Valley said it was also necessary to be aware of a child's home circumstances.
For example, children might be frequently late for school because they were the eldest siblings and had to dress and feed brothers and sisters before coming to class.
Pupils could also be helped with self-discipline by encouraging them to model themselves on another peer, a respectable adult or fictitious person.
"There is no manual to replace the collective effort of teachers, parents and pupils to work out ways of (disciplining) instead of corporal punishment."
Some alternative measures mentioned were community duty, replacement of damaged property and public apologies - but it was agreed the best remedy of all was to prevent misconduct rather than deal with the deed afterwards.
For this a code of conduct worked out by all stakeholders - the principals, teachers, parents and pupils - would be an important step.
The meeting decided an original code of conduct should be finalised by those schools which did not have one and the entire process should be speeded up.