Giving Children Free Rein

School discipline is one of the most pressing issues in Namibian education. It is an issue that both the school authorities and the general public are grappling with on daily basis.
Under normal circumstances, a teacher must enter the classroom with confidence and expect learners to obey the rules.
But what if during class a particular learner is being disruptive and rude? What is this teacher supposed to do if she/he called the particular learner to order but the learner refuses?
The teacher faces a big dilemma because to give in to the unruly learner – she/he will lose respect of the rest of the class. And if the teacher spanks the learner, the latter’s parents will sue the former for child abuse.
Many teachers are confronted on daily basis with this type of dilemma, as they are grappling with issues of indiscipline at school.  
The recent conviction of three teachers at Windhoek Gymnasium Private School might have set a new precedent regarding discipline at school.
They (teachers) were convicted in the Windhoek Magistrate’s Court for administering corporal punishment on a pupil, which the presiding magistrate and other activists deemed as child abuse.
The administration of corporal punishment has since been outlawed in Namibia, with the Supreme Court declaring the practice a “violation of children’s constitutional rights and human dignity”.
There are divided opinions regarding the practice. Human rights organisations like the Legal Assistance Centre (LAC) have supported the banning of the cane from schools.
They claim the practice has adverse impact on learners’ academic advancement and general well-being, while there are some who believe the practice helps instil discipline in learners.
Corporal punishment was an accepted form of discipline in Namibian schools before and during earlier years of independence.
Pupils got caned for infringing school rules – for coming late to school, failure to do homework, being disruptive during class, insulting teachers or fellow learners and any other disruptive behaviours at school.
Parents also understood the importance of school discipline, because a pupil is spanked for ill-discipline at school, he/she will dare not run to the parents because that would result in more beatings.
From experience, one can deduce that the idea behind corporal punishment was not meant to maim or instil fear into learners but to ensure they own up to their frivolities.
Teachers used to command respect because learners respected rules. Sadly, today many teachers do not have control over their classrooms.
These days, you will get a sense of hopelessness and inadequacy when talking to teachers about the issue of discipline at schools.
The response you will get, especially from younger teachers, is that there is a new level of overprotectiveness among parents, they blame it on the collapse of discipline in Namibian schools.
The welfare of a Namibian child is of paramount importance to our society. The future of our country depends on the health and wellbeing of the future generations.
Authors and columnists around the world have raised concerns about over-parenting and the impact it could have on children.
Jessica Lahey raised the issue of over-parenting in one of her articles in The Atlantic that today we got parents who raise their children in a state of helplessness and powerlessness.
These children, Lahey wrote, “are destined to an anxious adulthood, lacking the emotional resources they will need to cope with inevitable setback and failure”.
As a professional teacher, Lahey has come across a number of parents who are so overprotective of their children that the children do not learn to take responsibility of their actions.
She adds: “The children may develop a sense of entitlement and the parents then find it difficult to work with the school in a trusting, co-operative and solution-focused manner, which would benefit both child and school.”
A study conducted by experts at Queensland University of Technology in Australia found that parents guilty of over-parenting “take their child's perception as truth, regardless of the facts and are quick to believe their child over the adult and deny the possibility that their child was at fault or would even do something of that nature.”
Writing for the Empowering Parents, an online newsletter, James Lehman noted that one of the biggest mistakes parents can make is to confide in their children and make them their best friends.
“I think parents often make the mistake of making their child their confidante. The child is not morally, emotionally or intellectually prepared to play that role,” Lehman wrote.
“If parents think teachers are in error, they should keep that to themselves and their peers and deal with the school directly.
“If you think the teacher’s an idiot for not letting your child chew gum in the room, you can be your kid’s best friend and say….That’s a stupid rule and that teacher’s a jerk. Or you can be a functional parent and say…..Boy, I really disliked that rule when I was in school too. But I had to follow the rules.” Lehman provided two different scenarios, which both empathise with the child. In the first response – a parent makes the child his/her confidante, which is ineffective. The other teaches him the importance of following rules.
Authors Jean Twenge and W Keith Campbell in their book, The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement, have cautioned that parents contribute to the problem when they try to befriend their kids. They noted that parents who style themselves as “buddies” may find it hard to enforce rules and standards. Writing for Parenting science, Gwen Dewar echoed the sentiment raised by Twenge and Campbell about the question of parents making children their best friends.
“Friendship is strictly egalitarian. Neither partner exercises authority over the other.
“Parents can build close, personal relationships with their kids and still remain responsible adults. Not every friendship is based on equality,” Dewar pointed out.
But many more parents in Namibia are falling for the same mistake – making children their confidants.
For instance, the Windhoek Gymnasium pupil testified in court that he was “assaulted” by the three teachers on different occasions for different reasons including for failing a test, leaving physical education outfits at home and for submitting a homework written on a loose paper instead of exercise book.
Surely, the learner went against school rules, but instead of teaching the importance of following the rules – the parents of the learner pressed charges against teachers.
We are witnessing a generation of parents that allowed their children to take control.
Nowadays, you will come across parents sprinting to the nearest shopping malls to buy the most expensive gadgets – just to please their over-indulged children.
I am not supporting harsh punishment for children at schools. My main concern is the collapse of discipline at our schools. And my question is that since our courts have banned corporal punishment, what new disciplinary measures have been introduced ever since?  
What recourse do the teachers have when dealing with unruly learners?
 
 

July 2013
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