Corporal Punishment and VMM’s Positive Discipline Programme: Views of a Volunteer

Volunteers Melissa and Fiona with children from St Noa’s Primary School

VMM runs Positive Discipline Programmes through various projects with its partner organisations in schools, institutions and community groups. The VMM child safeguarding policy, followed by monitoring visits and evaluations from VMM staff are an integral part of VMM’s mission. This policy is in line with the principles and guidelines of the Keeping Children Safe organisation which informs our training in best international practice. The Positive Discipline Programmes instil the values, methods, learning benefits and improved results of teaching without violence as a means of threat or punishment.

Views of a VMM Volunteer – Melissa Wallace

When I went to Uganda as a VMM volunteer I learned that corporal punishment in schools was illegal. However, we were told that caning was still a problem. On our last day in the school one of the children asked me not to leave as the teachers would start caning them again although I had been assured that the school is really working to get rid of this practice. My first thought when I heard it was illegal was, “okay, if they break the law it should mean prison straight away”. With some research I found out that indeed it has been illegal since 2006. So why are schools still working on getting rid of it? This really does bother me. I was reminded that getting rid of anything which has been part of the culture is a process and that Ireland too had gone through the exact same process. But after eleven years why is it taking so long?

At least in St Noa’s I know that a VMM Positive Discipline Programme is being delivered to the teachers and that the welfare of the children is paramount. This provides me with some comfort. However, I saw how afraid the children were of the teachers. If the teachers even raise their hand in the direction of a child they flinched. I’m sorry but this is not right! Children should not be going to school afraid that they will be hit or caned. My argument was that you can take the canes away but the teachers still have their hands. We must remember that the teachers would have been caned when they were in school, as were their parents and their parents’ parents. Corporal punishment is a cultural thing and you cannot get rid of a cultural practice overnight. Changing something that was okay for so long takes time. But with the right training and support the school should be well able to overcome the problem. I know for a fact that the head teacher is dedicated to ensuring corporal punishment becomes a thing of the past. When it has totally gone, only then will the children stop flinching and be able to go to school happily and not in fear.

However, there is another problem. If the children know that the teachers will not hit them what is to stop the children from misbehaving? This is something that is addressed during the delivery of the VMM Positive Discipline Programme. It may take time but it will work. For me, part of getting rid of corporal punishment is respect. But respect on both sides. The teachers must show respect to the children and the children should respect the role of the teachers. Only then will a school be able to run smoothly without corporal punishment. It works in Ireland, there is no reason why it cannot work in Uganda. Yes, there will be challenges but they can be overcome. The teachers need to use the VMM Positive Discipline Programme to learn how to discipline children without hurting them.

One challenge I believe that the teachers face is parents pleading with them to punish their children when they are bold. Yet, they are only children and will misbehave at times. I can see this as a big challenge. If the children are disciplined by being hit at home but not so at school what kind of message does this give them? I don’t quite know what the laws covering children in the home are in Uganda but maybe some services in the country could work with families who cannot grasp the injustice of hitting children. Or maybe, in the future, it might be possible that a workshop can be given for the parents in the school. (VMM are piloting radio plays in Uganda to address the issue of parents using corporal punishment at home. These plays provoke discussion around corporal punishment and highlight positive discipline methods).

At times it does break my heart thinking that the children are still being subjected to corporal punishment in school, which should be a safe environment for children. But, from Ireland, all I can do for is to pray for them, pray that hearts will be filled with love. It is not just in St Noa’s that corporal punishment is a problem in Uganda. At times, as we passed schools, we had seen teachers with bats (not canes). So I pray for St Noa’s school and all the children in Uganda that they see an absolute end to corporal punishment in their schools. I place my trust in the programmes being delivered in the schools to combat this problem, such as those run by VMM. Prayer and trust help me sleep at night.

Dear God, be with these children and fill all hearts with your love and kindness. Amen.

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