Parliamentarians in Pakistan hastily passed a bill banning corporal punishment in schools. Laws cannot be made in a vacuum, or in haste. I believe that the lawmakers neither consulted the views of teachers across the country nor debated the matter at length. They simply relied on sensational television reports portraying teachers as demons. Unfortunately, our rulers seem to be in the grip of populism and are trying to play to the gallery.
As a teacher and son of a teacher myself, I value the importance of corrective punishment and if this traditional right is taken away from teachers, it will bring more chaos to our dilapidated educational system. Something which is drastically wrong with our national psyche is that anyone mighty or in a place of authority is always thought to be wrong and the rest innocent. The truth is that as a nation, all of us possess double standards and mob mentality.
I vividly remember my days as a school-going lad at Government High School and Municipal High School Larkana, where we were subject to punishment on various offences. On late attendance, the drill teacher would assemble all defaulters in front of the headmaster's office and the headmaster would slap five canes on each hand. Similarly, for each spelling mistake or failure to complete homework, the same treatment was meted out to us. Even any complaint by the gardeners or peons would lead us into trouble. Our teachers commanded such respect that if we were out on the streets engaging in juvenile pastime pleasures, we would vanish from the place upon learning of the teacher's presence — obviously, on the information of the lookout posted for this purpose.
Based on my personal experience, both as a teacher and principal, it is the student who usually initiates the process of offending the teacher. The most common reasons for a teacher to avail corporal punishment are constant absenteeism, disruptive classroom behaviour, non-compliance with instructions, not completing homework and not bringing academic material to class. Curiously enough, the collusion of parents with students aggravates the situation.
Instead of reprimanding and disciplining their children, parents take sides. The teacher's action is never impulsive; it is a reaction to the teacher feeling humiliated and after finding no recourse, resorting to manhandling as a last resort. I am not trying to defend any excesses committed by teachers on their students but unfortunately, we are looking at this issue with a jaundiced eye.
Like all other controversial laws, this bill, too, has the probability of being used as vendetta and to settle personal scores. Since a teacher is vulnerable, it is convenient to make him or her a scapegoat. I would have been happier if the intimidation of law-abiding citizens by armed thugs in black vehicles bearing government and civil number plates instead would have been declared unlawful.
There are more important issues which lawmakers should look into rather than taking up the politically expedient issue of corporal punishment. Nobody in parliament has raised an eyebrow at obsolete textbooks being used in schools and colleges — particularly, the English textbooks taught at the intermediate level. And, why is no law being enacted to curb the tendency of student absenteeism and, more importantly, teacher absenteeism? Let us hope that we may see an educated parliament after the forthcoming elections as education is too serious a business to be left to the whims of non-serious and uneducated parliamentarians.