Reflections on South Africa: Corporal Punishment

One of my schools has a big problem with corporal punishment. While I suspect both schools practice it somewhat, I have seen several incidences at one school, and none at the other.

PC warned us this would be a problem, had sessions and testimonials at PST, and gave us methods of handling it or advice to ignore it. We knew it was quite likely a problem, and were told to be prepared.

Nothing can prepare you for the site or sound of an adult beating a child. At my school, this ranges from rapping kids on the hand with a stick, to punching them, slapping them on the back with shoes, hitting them with hard, bumpy sticks, slapping them upside the head, pushing them, and who knows what else. On Wednesday, I hear violent slapping noises and kids screaming and crying. The teacher tried to tell me that she just hit the table and scared the learners, but why would the learners by crying for awhile after that?

I’ve confiscated sticks, broken them in front of learners and teachers, and had many, many conversations with the teachers, the principals, and Peace Corps about it. I am now being told that the school has stopped using it, and they are doing other things. But I don’t believe it. Kids are still asking me to beat them and bringing me sticks when the class is noisy. And the teachers get antsy and squeamish when I bring it up.

My response to seeing or hearing corporal punishment is anger and utter sadness. I usually am struggling not to cry when it happens. To cry at school is to show weakness and a very bad thing to do culturally. I want to yell at the teacher and hug the crying kids, but I can’t. I’ve come very close to walking out of the school and going home for the day, but haven’t yet. Next time I might. And after nearly 11 months of experiencing this, it’s not getting easily. I can’t get used to it, or be desensitized. In fact, my emotional response is getting stronger each time it happens.

In SA, corporal punishment in schools is illegal, and has been since 1994. In the constitution, children are given rights, and one of them addresses corporal punishment. However, in many rural schools, it is still the most common form of punishment. I often see news stories about principals being fired or teachers being arrested for beating them children, but it doesn’t stop.

Corporal punishment at KPS has undermined my ability to teach. The kids do not respect me because I do not beat them. They won’t listen to me and are rude. I struggle each day I go there to find the motivation to teach them, especially Grade 5. Corporal punishment has ruined a lot for me at that school, and I am considering dropping the school altogether because of it.

As a PCV, this has been the biggest problem for me. And it’s something that has no “easy fix”.
-Jen

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About Jen Daugherty

Christ follower. Writer. Permaculturist. RPCV. Photographer. Real Food Eater. Daughter of God.

4 thoughts on “Reflections on South Africa: Corporal Punishment

  1. That’s really hard. How can you possibly begin to try live harmoniously wih this cultural difference? How many students do you have Jen?

  2. Short answer-I can’t live harmoniously with it. It’s a struggle I face each day I go to that school, and. It gets harder each time. My classes are 39, 45, 52, and 61. Massive classes in small rooms and sometimes kids are crowded 4-5 around a desk that would maybe hold 2 American learners.

  3. Oops didn’t mean to end the comment so after one sentence! Anyway you’re doing something extremely rewarding and skin–thickening. I’m sure this experience is changing your life. Im looking to be in the PCMI program Fall 2013 for TESOL at Portland State University. I love reading your blog!

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