THE CAMOUFLAGED CRISIS
Have you ever heard of the code of silence? It is a situation where individuals choose to remain quiet and withhold important information. This culture of silence can exist in almost any setting, but it’s most common among uniformed officers. Today, a war is raging in the classroom, with high-ranking officials covering up and slowing the due process. But I am getting ahead of myself, so allow me to start at the beginning.
I have fond memories of my time in school. Many teachers were kind and compassionate, and some even made me their protégé. My English teachers, in particular, took a liking to me and are largely responsible for developing my writing skills. For this, I am eternally grateful. As a result, it saddens me that students nowadays have horrific stories about being severely beaten.
Two days ago, BBC Africa uploaded a video of the prevalence of corporal punishment in Kenyan schools. While this was outlawed in 2001, it is still in use in many schools. For example, even while I was in school, the cane was frequently used. Why is this practice still being used? Where should the line be drawn between discipline and cruel and inhuman torture? How do we measure how much is enough and what exceeds ‘normalcy’? These are the questions on my mind after seeing that video.
Caleb, a fifteen-year-old student, was severely beaten by an older student on the school director’s orders for a chapati worth 50 Kenyan Shillings. He ended up in a coma for months and eventually needed skin grafts. Sixteen-year-old Serfin was hospitalized after a teacher beat her over a failed examination. Her teacher, a renown drunken with discipline issues, caned her mercilessly, and she may never walk again. While these two are survivors, Martha, the mother of Ebbie Noelle, is not as lucky. Her daughter succumbed to her injuries after the deputy principal of her school beat her over the manner in which she wore her hair. While these stories are heartbreaking, they don’t exist in isolation because many students have been on the receiving end of the dreaded cane. A majority have scars to show, but some have never lived to tell the tale.
What bothers me most is that the systems that have been put in place to address this rarely work because these individuals would rather protect one another than those they are responsible for. In Serfin’s story, the head teacher denies that the cane is used in the school in spite of Serfin’s story and the testimony of other girls. The man who inflicted these injuries on her was transferred to another school, and in an interview, he denied laying a finger on her. Serfin’s parents also reported the incident to the Teachers Service Commission (TSC), which provided no assistance. They report them to her principal, who refers them to the teacher, and so on. It took years for Caleb and Ebbie’s abusers to see the inside of a courtroom.
I pose these questions to you in a bid to try to understand this crisis. How is the TSC supposed to help victims when their allegiance is to their own? Can a head teacher really not know that the cane is used in his school? Was transferring Serfin’s teacher the right decision? Is a hairstyle or a few pieces of chapati worthy of critical injuries or death?
I am set to take my son to school for the first time in four months, and I am concerned. Can we discipline children without using violence? If I inflict physical pain on my son in the name of discipline, am I conditioning his behavior with violence? Is there a better way to discipline children? They say African children learn through the skin, so must we inflict physical pain for them to learn discipline? But my biggest concern, however, is: how do I entrust my son to the hands of an institution that will betray its obligations to him as soon as the situation calls for it?
The debate on corporal punishment continues to challenge us to seek alternative, constructive disciplinary methods that prioritize children’s well-being and development.