Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Exposing corporal punishment in Ghana schools hits a sour note

Yesterday in my response to an article on the virtues of Ghanaian schools, (or lack thereof), I received quite an earful/screenful from Anonymous.

I took a step back, digested his/her comments (highlighted below):

"I have read the article you quoted and to be frank your posting is much more biased and highly exaggerated in comparison.

In your hasty attempt to rebutt an article which, I suppose, does not conform to your idea of "Ghanaian education", you intentionally come up with half-truths and complete falsehoods to justify your entrenched perception.

That is a shame!

I am a Ghanaian. I, like many Ghanaian children, received my elementary and secondary education in an unimaginably poor rural area of Ghana, but I had a good foundation which enabled me to gain admission into an ivy-league college in the States.
We may not have had the very best of what money could buy, but certainly we did not recieve an inferior education judging by my grades in class.
It is totally false to claim that "students are not asked to write 'in their own words' about topics they read".In fact, we were taught never to copy from others but submit our own independent work every time.
Since when has teaching children to keep their environment clean become an abuse? In America, they have the money to hire peple to take care of the schools' environment, in Ghana the children help to clean. There is nothing superior about the American approach.
At least, we are not confronted with the issues of shootings and violence in many of the schools in the west. And the reason for that, if you care to know, is:Ghanaian children are taught to respect authority and not fear them,as you claimed.
Reading your post will not help the reader, because it is not only full of exaggerations, but outright antagonistic in nature.

Have a nice day!"


And then I came to the conclusion that my experiences and observations have not been imagined or exaggerated. Nor am I the only one to observe the things I noted. I realise that exposing the harsh truths about what really goes on in Ghanaian schools is something that many Ghanaians (especially those abroad)are not happy about at all.

There is a perception among many westerners that corporal punishment is negative, despite the circumstances, and therefore the truth of it being at the core of the Ghanaian school system is something often breezed over or brushed under the carpet.

I was then alerted to another article called "Ghana's School of Hard Knocks", in the Epoch Times, dated earlier this year, which could be considered biased by my anonymous reader, as this is written by a Canadian who teaches in Ghana, with a stepson attending school here. It's worth a read. Here is an excerpt:

" From the first moment of junior kindergarten, at the tender age of four, the cane enters the life of Ghana's school children. How else can teachers manage with classes ranging from 40 (the smallest I've heard) to 62? Teachers, breathe deeply.

The environment in schools is punitory. If a class does poorly on an exam, all the students may be caned. If a child's clothes aren't neat, his nails aren't trimmed, or he comes to school without a handkerchief, he may be caned. If he is late, it's the cane for sure.


" Having taught school here, I quickly noticed that the children are addicted to the cane. Without one in your hand, they feel it unnecessary to listen to you. They are like convicts in a prison, going wild when the guards are off the range.

I have noticed that children here often lie to avoid the harsh punishment. There is no emphasis on "goodness for goodness sake," or on internalizing moral reasoning—the moral code is governed by the cane. I worry that this focus on external may be the tiny seed from which corruption springs, and the popular idea that "if you're not caught, it wasn't wrong."


The trouble is that her observations are not false - I can relate to most examples she gives.

The question becomes whether corporal punishment is truly as bad as westerners believe, whether it hampers education and self confidence in children, whether it instills fear and develops the habit of lying, whether it is wrong morally and tramples the human rights of vulnerable children ... not whether it in fact occurs daily in Ghanaian schools. That answer is a resounding YES.
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33 comments:

Anonymous said...

I have been a regular reader of your blog for months now. I really really hate to comment on other people's opinions. There is always the temptation to think you (that is, the commentator) can see further than the writer and that the writer is handicapped by one reason or another from seeing the full picture. But given what I just read by 'anonymous" I cannot hold my tongue any longer. I have thought long and hard on this issue and would very much like to give my two cents on it. If it is ok with you I will use your forum to express my views. Give me two week to work on my response and I promise you will not regret it.
Kwasi Appiah
Chicago
Kappiah98@yahoo.com

The pale observer said...

Hi Kwasi

I look forward to your comments. I hope always to encourage healthy debate.

Perhaps if you are interested, you could write a 'guest post' on the topic.

A. Gillispie said...

While I haven't spent a ton of time in Ghana schools, I can speak from experience with the children that we care for and educate and Eban House Children's Home in Teshie.

In our experience it is true that children don't know how to respond to authority that does not use corperal punishment. Our children's home and school DOES NOT, and it has been more than a small challenge. Not only do our kids not respond to authority, but our "authority" (teacher, child care workers, etc.) do not know how to discipline without "beating." We do training sessions on how to discipline children without corperal punishment, as it's absolutely not allowed.

It is definitely an ongoing challenge with the children. Our kids are not as silent or submissive in the classroom (or home) as most Ghanaian children. Nor do we really want them to be.

Anita

The pale observer said...

Hi Anita

Thanks for your contribution. I wonder what the long term effect will be, having removed this type of authority and punishment in the children's lives.

It must be completely alien to the Ghanaian careworkers as well.

Corporal punishment is a cornerstone of Ghanaian culture, starting in the home and continued with intensity at school...

A. Gillispie said...

Yes, it's very difficult. In our case, all of the children in our care will eventually be adopted into American homes, so it behooves us to start working on it as soon as possible. We do a lot of things more "Western" in our home in order to help the kids start to acclimate to how it will be in America. But I will be honest in saying that the trade off is that our kids sometimes come home acting quite spoiled! Most of the time though, they have made the "switch" over to being disciplined/motivated without fear, which is a good thing.

Anita

posekyere said...

Hi Holli,
It is sad that some among us are refusing to come to terms with the realities on the ground.
Let us hope that the archaic and disturbing ways in the Ghanaian society will be confronted by the people themselves to allow the rapid upliftment of the country.

Continue to speak and write about the wrongs in our society.
You are an activist for change.

Wes said...

Hi Holli,
as an American in a Ghanaian school, I feel i am somewhat qualified to comment on this. You know what has struck me so often about ghana of late is the term "developing country," and how so many of the aspects of this country really are struggling to develop. I certainly feel that education is one of those. I have to be honest, I have a dislike for school here that borders on hate, and it is mostly due to the teachers. I have about two teachers who I like, but the majority have absolutely no respect for their students, and some are outright rude to us. We are told that we should "submit" to them because they are appointed by god to be our sheppards. Thanks, but I am no sheep, and they are in general bad shepards. The caning is absolutely disgusting too, I have seen students hit in every imagineable place, even the face. I think that if Ghana really wants to "move forward" they need to get rid of this punishment, and definitely give their education system a big overhaul, as I can see that to a large extent it isn't working. A huge percenteage of students in my class fail exams regularly, and a passing grade is 40%! Things definitely need to change.

The pale observer said...

Hi Wes - thanks for visiting and thanks especially for your highly relevant contribution. The perspective of a western teenager in a Ghanaian school is probably quite unique and allows for insights that the adults can only postulate about.

Did you read the original articxle that spurred my post below? An American man published the article on a site in Iowa, claiming that the Iowa school board could take some lessons from Ghanaian schools in terms of teacher quality and levels of discipline. What do you think???

Lynda said...

Wow - seems you have ruffled some feathers... it is midnight here now and I need to sleep - will be back for a little more indepth reading. (I have had my own share of 'anon' comments of late.. look back a couple of posts)

Cheers Lulu

The pale observer said...

Hi Anita

Do you have grown ups or teen boys? I have a bunch of clothes to give away (but they are hand me downs from teen boys mostly) - could you guys use them?

krissy said...

Holli- I've been reading all the articles, your posts and the comments and thinking about this. What kind of interventionist strategies do you think could be used?

What about a massive ad campain on TV and billboards where children basically ask their teachers to "put down the cane"? With a slogan about...I don't know, how distress kills learning.

What can be done? Where is the root of the problem? Other than bearing witness, what policies can be addressed and how? Who can be mobilized? A study maybe, undertaken by a joint project bw UBC and University of Legon, for example, on the links between low academic achievement and caning? I honestly think that caning in the school systems is one of the biggest things, in terms of its social/psychological ripple effect, that is holding the country back in its development.

I really, really liked the Hard Knocks article. I remember one time at the library, none of the children would listen to me- they were all getting wilder and wilder and I was the only authority figure present. A little boy came up to me and said "Aunty..." and pushed a cane into my hand. Suddenly all the kids went quiet and looked at me...I couldn't tell if it was respect on their faces or fear, or what. It was disturbing. The little girl i lived with was despondent for days because one of her teachers had been systematically beating the whole class everyday, and it wasn't until the third day that she admitted to me what was going on and showed me her welts- on her back and on her hands. i saw a complete transformation in her disposition, from cheerful and curious, to withdrawn, suspicious and terrified of school.

And the whole time we had this poster on the wall that said:

"children learn what they live"

If a child live with criticism,
A child learns to condemn.
If a child lives with hostility,
A child learns to fight.
If a child lives with ridicule,
A child learns to be shy.
If a child lives with shame,
A child learns to feel guilty.

If a child lives with tolerance,
A child learns to be patient.
If a child lives with encouragement,
A child learns confidence.
If a child lives with fairness,
A child learns justice.
If a child lives with security,
A child learns to have faith.
If a child lives with approval,
A child learns self-esteem.

If a child lives with acceptance and friendship,
A child learns to find love in the world.

The pale observer said...

Hi Krissy - excellent comments and suggestions. It's just as you've said, the practise of caning in shcools has a profound effect on society. However the cycle will continue until the adults in Ghana decide that it is not a beneficial. All the initiatives started by outsiders will only do like aid does, cover a wound, appease some westerners, and ultimately be unsustainable. How do you get culture to change before it's natural evolutionary cycle? Convince those within it that there is a better way....

Amy Gilewski said...

Hello there. This is my first time reading your blog, and I felt compelled to add something myself. I'm a chemistry teacher in the Upper West. The north of Ghana is reported to be about 50 years behind the south in terms of development. I have also witnessed students being beaten at my secondary school. Not only was I shocked and appauled at it, but was concerned enough to make a complaint to the headmaster. He agrees that it is wrong for teachers to cane students, but under current Ghana Education Service guidelines agrees that he should be allowed to give out 6 lashes if this punishment is necessary. What is shocking is that most of the students here are over 18 years and still accept the cane. Even the senior prefects are seen walking around with canes while on duty, even though they are not authorised to use it. What saddens me is the hugely embedded culture of not asking why here. They don't ask why they are being caned, or why they are allowed to be caned, just as they don't ask why their money goes into other peoples pockets, or why MPs drive fancy cars, or why Kufour is allowed to buy two planes. It makes me sad that the status quo is accepted and even encouraged as a form of "tradition." I was once told to "stay quiet, suffer small" here by another Ghanaian teacher, and I wonder how many Ghanaians believe in this. Until that mentality is challenged and corrected, I'm afraid it will be a long time before corporal punishment will be not only officially abolished in Ghana, but also recognised to be abolished by all schools and teachers.

The pale observer said...

Hi Amy - thanks for reading and for your comments and contribution. I hope we are at a stage where people aren't honestly denying the beatings are common, but rather at a level where Ghana must decide whether it is a legitimate form of discipline. I believe you and I are on the same wave length on this issue - and as long as Ghana receives Aid and actively recruits volunteers from abroad they will have to deal with the scrutiny of other cultures. However, ultimately they must decide on a cultural level to change or not to change.

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