Years after the Ministry of Education outlawed corporal punishment in schools following a flurry of complaints by parents against teachers, there is a rising chorus of voices calling for the reinstatement of physical discipline to tackle bad behaviour in classrooms.
Some teachers say they have reached the end of their tether trying to maintain discipline in the face of rebellious behaviour on the part of a handful of mischief-minded kids. They are now pleading for the return of corporal punishment as an option of last resort if conventional methods fail to rein in rowdy behaviour on the part of errant children.
After all, disciplinary action amounting to physical punishment is not expressly outlawed under the Child Law or the Omani Penal Code, they point out, citing legal experts.
“We strictly avoid physical disciplining or contact with the students in line with ministry guidelines forbidding all forms of punishment. But what do we do with those who are rebellious and disobedient? If counseling does not work, we notify the parents in writing,” commented Muna al Abri, a teacher.
Speaking to the Observer, Muna voiced her deep frustration with the current system that seriously limits the ability of teachers like herself to control students who, by their unruly behaviour, are not only a disruptive force, but also a bad influence on their peers.
Fellow teacher Shams al Quriani said her school employs a ‘behaviour modification system’ that seeks to bring about a gradual improvement in the conduct of badly behaved children.
“When we encounter instances of boisterous behaviour in the classroom, which cannot be tackled at the level of the teacher themselves, we then post details pertaining to this student on the internal portal of the ministry. The department concerned at the ministry prescribes corrective action which we try to implement. Of course, these measures do not work with the hardheaded ones!”
Saleh al Habsi, who teaches at a government school in Muscat, says teachers have been stripped of their dignity and self-respect in the face of bad behaviour in classrooms.
“In many boys’ schools, the students have virtually no respect for the teachers. Of course, this may be hard to swallow for a lot of people, but there are children who are intemperate in the language and gestures to their teachers. They are also aggressive in the way they interact with their teachers, and get away with it because they know that the teachers cannot physically discipline them.”
The circular on corporal punishment, which was based on complaints from parents, strictly prohibits all forms of punishment regardless of the reason. But legal experts insist that the measure forbids extreme punishment and not disciplinary actions.
According to a lawyer who did not wish to be named, Article (38) of the Omani Penal Law states that it cannot be considered a crime to discipline children, either by parents or teachers, within the limits of common practice. Additionally, the Child Law, while rejecting all forms of violence against children, does not specifically proscribe measures meant to be corrective and educational, he said.
Zainab al Nassri