Physical Punishment In Schools Leading To Deaths And Suicides… Are We Fit To Be Teachers?



When I was growing up in one of the better schools of Delhi, it was most common to see teachers slapping students. Scales being broken on our knuckles was as common a sight too, and as early as in class fifth, though luckily I always escaped. When I reached class sixth, I wasn’t that lucky. In one of the sculpture classes, an assistant came around and with his hard hands, slapped me hard on my head, because in all my creative excitement, I was engaged in talking to my friend Partho Saha, who was someone I looked up to when it came to creativity (I still do; and today he heads most of our technology projects at Planman, along with being a Dean at IIPM). I was furious. I wanted to hit back. I controlled myself, but went back home and told my father that he must do something about it. He was from the same school of thought as mine – rather, I had inherited his points of view. So the next day, my father took me to the principal of our school – a legendary name in education those days, R S Lugani – and told him that physical punishment is not what he would allow his son to go through in school.

So after discussions, it was decided that I would from then on carry a letter in my pocket, which mentioned that if any teacher had a problem with me, it could be written down and subsequently sent to my father, but the teachers couldn’t hit me. And the letter bore a stamp of the Principal’s office. I think it was the most unique exception that our principal had ever made. And from thereon, till I passed out of school, no teacher could ever physically hit me! (Incidentally, my grandfather too had obtained a similar letter for my father during his school days, which allowed my father to escape all kinds of physical punishment). However, like I mentioned, this was an exceptional case. The reality was that students were getting beaten up regularly almost by all male teachers and by a third of female teachers. The solace that students used to find was from the one or two good words these rank bad and rude teachers used to tell them. And thus the word used to spread about specific teachers, that they beat students up – mercilessly at that – but had a very kind heart. I found it sickening. So much so that when I got promoted to class eleventh and took up the commerce stream, there was a teacher who was known for keeping hockey sticks in his room and beating students up with them. But again, the word was that he otherwise had a very kind heart!

The truth is that by hitting anyone – especially a child in school – we only display our lack of education. We display the fact that we aren’t fit to be teachers in the first place. Because if we want a world where peace stands a chance, where road rage doesn’t happen and where people are more tolerant and loving towards each other, we have got to show peace, love and tolerance from the very beginning to all our children in schools. We have to see to it that they grow up seeing no violence.

In my sixteen years of experience as a teacher, I can say very confidently that there can be absolutely no reason for which a teacher is required to physically punish a student inside a classroom or in front of others. If a teacher is good, and committed to teaching – and not churning out mechanical morons who mug up topics – he enjoys the process so much that even for students, it becomes akin to recreation. Learning becomes fun and the question of forcing any student doesn’t arise. In fact, in IIPM, when any teacher comes and complains that some particular section of students is uncontrollable and bad, I drop the teacher. Because it’s my firm belief that no, absolutely no student is bad. Those are teachers who are bad, boring and less passionate about changing lives. So they don’t teach well; and students therefore are not attentive. Finally, the teachers blame the students.

It’s not a student’s responsibility to enter a classroom and be attentive and learn. It’s a teacher’s responsibility to make the student feel interested in the class and make him feel that it is a life changing experience. Only then will students attend classes. And if that’s not the case, then in fact students shouldn’t attend classes. So a good teacher never has student problems. Only bad teachers have. And they use physical punishment as a shortcut force to make students attentive. But the human nature unfortunately is such, that physical punishment in childhood never helps. It gives rise to mainly two kinds of people. One, those who get used to it and don’t care and become all the more adamant. And the other, whose personalities get deformed due to the fear of punishment – such students may become more obedient but their personalities are ruined forever.

Therefore, we need serious laws in the country which completely rule out the use of physical punishment in school. A school’s job is to change lives and not to ruin them. Yes, there are kids who come from dysfunctional families, who get beaten up at home and have a nature that is oft en very negative. A teacher’s job is to have the ability to change such a nature. And there are scores of examples where great individual teachers have changed the most hardened of negative souls. That’s what a teacher is about. Yes, if the teacher is not trained well enough to change the students, and the student is a menace, then the teacher can at worst hand the student over to his parents or law enforcers. But a teacher is no police and should have absolutely no legal right to physically hit children. And no parent must allow their children to be hit in school. They must have a great level of communication with their children so that they share freely and tell what’s happening with them in school.

We all must realize that a good teacher is that teacher who believes his job is to make better human beings through the education he imparts – be it literature, history or science. He is that person who believes that his job is to make students believe that the learning inside the class will change their lives and make them better persons. A teacher should be a person who is so passionate about this that he innovates ways to make his classes so interesting that students don’t find it a burden and enjoy the same. Such a teacher is one for whom punishment is not an option at all – the only option is good and passionate teaching. And the only religion for such a teacher is an obsession to make the boy sitting in the front row of the class understand his teachings as well as the boy sitting in the last row of the class – regardless of their intellect, IQ, past interest in the subject or upbringing. That’s what good teaching is about. That’s what creating miracles in the classrooms is about. That’s what I must add IIPM is about.

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