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Corporal punishment in schools: unaddressed reasons behind dropouts in Bangladesh

Photo: Nathalie Bertrams/GAGE

Bangladesh will be a middle-income country by 2024. In such a populated country, progress is a result of a series of actions of which quality education is an essential component. Though Bangladesh has shown significant progress in terms of education, especially that of adolescents’ education, high dropout rates are still a challenge.

Despite the impressive number of enrolments in primary schools, the proportion of children in secondary schools in Bangladesh is the lowest in South Asia. GAGE (Gender and Adolescence: Global Evidence) found that poverty, the high cost of educational resources, early marriage or child marriage, corporal punishments, peer violence, distance to schools and poor school infrastructure are some of the contributing factors to school dropout. Among these, one of the most unaddressed is corporal punishment.

Corporal punishment was banned in Bangladesh by a High Court Ruling in 2011. But do we really have a clear idea about the extent of the problem? When countries make efforts to build an inclusive world under the global slogan of “leave no one behind”, are we not leaving adolescents frequently face corporal punishments behind?

Corporal punishment is defined as a form of physical punishment or force intended to cause some degree of pain for the sake of discipline, correction, control, and changing behaviour or in the belief of educating the child (Save the Children Alliance 2003:1). Different forms of physical punishment include slapping, pinching, pulling or cutting hair, locking or tying up the victim, twisting ears, abusing, threatening, pushing, shoving etc.

In 2011, the High Court division of The Supreme Court issued a ruling prohibiting “all types of corporal punishment upon pupils”, declaring it illegal and unconstitutional. Despite the official ban, in many schools, adolescents face corporal punishments on a regular basis. Teacher-student relationships are supposed to be defined by respect and nurturing, but this is being violated by some teachers. In fact, many teachers as well as parents consider physical punishment acceptable and normal as a “method of discipline”. Very few are aware that this is not only a violation of the law, but also a violation of adolescents’ rights to dignity and protection.

During the baseline survey, many adolescents — both boys and girls — said that beating is the most common method used by the teachers to punish them. Around 83% of adolescents experience corporal punishment at school.

However, this method of disciplining is counterproductive. It weakens self-confidence, creates fear, causes dropouts and creates serious depression, especially for adolescents, even leading to death or suicide—pointed out by Dr Murray A. Straus in his research on corporal punishments. It can even make adolescents aggressive and impudent.

Rita (pseudonym) is an 11 year old girl. She said she doesn’t go to school anymore, because “the teachers beat the students.” So, she has stopped going to school even though she wants to. She is not even aware of the fact that physical punishment is banned in the country.

How can we make the practice of corporal punishment in schools stop? Firstly, the causes of the problem need to be identified. Apart from traditional beliefs, other reasons include parents’ approval, teachers’ stress and poor classroom management. Understanding the extent of the problem and its reasons can help reduce it. There is room for constructive approaches including use of participatory teaching methods and tools, recognition of adolescents’ rights, explaining instead of threatening and awareness campaigns. Secondly, society as a whole needs to be made aware of relevant laws and practices. The government also needs to effectively enforce these laws.

Despite these challenges, Bangladesh is gradually advancing towards achieving the SDGs. But it is time for us to work on reducing adolescents’ dropout rates, and to proactively address corporal punishment. Without taking it into account, development won’t be sustainable. As former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon once said:

“Young people are the world’s greatest untapped resource. Adolescents can be key driving forces in building a future of dignity for all.”