To cane or not to cane, dilemma in Kenyan schools

Magoso Primary School choir at a public forum in Kibra Constituency in Nairobi
Magoso Primary School choir at a public forum in Kibra Constituency in Nairobi

John* (not his real name), was admitted to Magoso Primary School in 2010 in Class Five after being expelled from his former school.

Having him in school was quite a challenge for his parents and teachers. He kept on playing truant (taking a French leave from school). He would report to school late and would not stay till evening like his colleagues.

His performance in class was average though he had the potential to do better. His inconsistency in terms of performance, behaviour and attendance attracted the attention of the teachers and administration.

He became even worse when he joined Class 7. John could steal books and property from school and from fellow pupils and sell them to get money. Whatever he did with the money, no one knew.

His misdemeanour forced the school to summon his parents to address the boy’s unbecoming conduct. During one incident on a Friday, his mother came to school in the company of two men, who introduced themselves as his uncles.

The boy shrugged and shook off the mother’s hand from his wrist. They almost pounced on him but remembered the outcome of the UN Convention 1989 that adopted the principle that says: “In the best interest of the child”.

According to the UN Convention on the Rights of Children, all decisions made as far as the child is concerned, should be done in the best interest of the child. In Kenya’s Children’s Act 2001, corporal punishment is banned and any teacher who violates it, is guilty of an offence. No teacher wants to “rot behind bars”.

We refrained from the urge of laying a finger on John. The mother struggled with the boy as uncles looked on in dismay. He eventually overpowered the mother and walked away leaving the disciplinary council pretty shocked, baffled and transfixed to the ground. The mother wept bitterly as we looked helplessly.

The incident made me remember when I was still in school, when my mother came to school to follow up on my

Page2-Head teacher of Magoso Primary School Daniel Ochieng and US Ambassador to Kenya Robert Godec. Picture by Daniel Ochieng

Page2-Head teacher of Magoso Primary School Daniel Ochieng and US Ambassador to Kenya Robert Godec. Picture by Daniel Ochieng

academic progress. The teacher had been looking for an opportunity to see my mother over my misconduct.

The way I received punishment at the MORNING assembly in full view of my schoolmates still remains etched in my memory todate. Although I was clobbered at school before my girlfriends and boyfriends, my breathtaking nightmare was the fact that my mother, Jenipher ‘the lioness,’ would be waiting for me at home.

I swore never to repeat those mistakes since my mother never spared me either. Every time I remembered the ordeal, I repented and tried to be a good boy.

It made me learn that there is pain in life and every action has consequenceS. Experience in life teaches people to observe order and discipline.

As we are talking now, the boy’s family is being condoled. He was felled by the police in a greasily chase after a robbery attempt was thwarted a few days ago. It is regrettable to see what the teacher would have corrected by a few strokes of the cane, was punished by the police bullet.

How many young people today have joined gangs and are terrorising peaceful and law-abiding and hardworking citizens? There are gangs in almost all informal settlements.

Kibera in particular has quite a number and the most infamous one is the one called “Gaza”. This gang has such a complex network. The sad thing is that most of its members are in upper primary school. Some of these pupils are said to have been trained on how to use pistols and AK 47.

They pose a big security threat to all. These are children who can dare rob in broad daylight. A number of times, teachers have complained and reported to the security authorities in Kibera Division about pupils who even come to school with pistols. Most teachers cannot administer disciplinary measures because they feel threatened.

I believe in the Biblical saying “spare the rod and spoil the child”. Corporal punishment has been abolished, but if one misses the teacher’s cane, chances are you might not miss the policeman’s bullet.

If we examine the recent wild strikes and fires in schools, especially in the months of July and August, it boils down to unruly behaviour of spoilt children. Please bring the cane back to schools.

The Government can suppress excessive use of the cane and it is possible to regulate to ensure that the punishment is meant for correction. Children should know that choices have consequences.

As a teacher, I say that among other intervention that people have employed, the cane should be part of it. Of course counselling and guidance is key, but if we love our children we should not spare the rod.

Parents also should take responsibility and stop delegating to teachers. Some parents are totally absent, while others are present but negligent. The whole society should embrace a good module for child rearing for a better future.

Daniel Ochieng is the head teacher of Magoso Primary School in Kibra Constituency, Nairobi County which has 484 pupils from the six villages in the biggest informal settlement in the country. He has been teaching at the private school for the past decade and is in charge of English, Christian Religious Education (CRE) and Science. The school has scooped many awards at the annual Kenya National Music Festival.

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