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Tuesday, September 26 2023
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Punishment as a tool to influence individuals

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In the history of education, the potential to influence the wards to change and become better has been accepted as one of its core objectives. They were easily definable when the sages were the teachers. However, in the modern world of pedagogy, the complex needs of the society dictates the listing of several objectives that were originally not envisaged. Undoubtedly, the foremost among them, as far as traditional education is concerned, is the transfer of information. Teaching and testing processes are designed in such a way that it will be possible for educationists, from kindergarten through post-graduation, to measure the depth of the knowledge of students and award certificates to prove the effect of such knowledge. From this perspective, one understands that education is very highly teacher-centric.

In the mid-eighties of the previous century, the Ministry of Education in the Government of India was renamed the Ministry of Human Resource Development. Evidently, there was a change in the objectives of education. Education should develop the resourcefulness of a student. This demanded that the teacher-centric education must give way to student-centric education. Different areas of human resource present in students at different levels of entry points ought to be developed in such a way that they not only become competent persons to be employed but also responsible members of any society. Naturally, a student has to turn out to be, after education, a mature adult too.

All societies function with certain values that have to be practised by its members. Therefore, there is a philosophic objective of education in inculcating students with certain values that are desired by their contemporary societies. The most important value that any human has to learn, through education or otherwise, is principle-centredness, with concern for other beings as the first principle. It is this concern that should be an associate of a competent employee, responsible citizen and mature adult that a student becomes after she or he walks out from any institution.

Philosophers all over the world are of the opinion that the most important value is freedom. No doubt, integrity, service, humility and generosity are hallmarks of such freedom. Undoubtedly, when freedom is available, one must know the limits of freedom or one may encroach upon the freedom of others, in most cases, unknowingly. It is here that one understands that the available freedom is product of social compromises. Each society decides how much freedom each individual member can enjoy in given times and situations. This may differ from society to society, or time to time. Laws, rules, regulations, conventions and customs are all part of the existing social compromises.

There is misuse of freedom, in some cases, deliberately even. It is here that the concept of punishment walks in. Punishment is a direct consequence of someone breaking the existing social compromise. Punishments are of different types. Primarily, it is the reduction of freedom for the individual. When one misuses the given freedom, its purpose is innately diminished and as a consequence the individual’s liberty must be curtailed for everyone’s benefit. In some countries, it even includes cancellation of right to live. Punishment can also be a demand for compensation for the loss that others would have suffered because of the misuse of the freedom by one person. This compensation may be decided as per the severity of the loss that would have been made by the breaker of the social compromise. There is a third dimension, which is far more significant for punishment. It is the offer of learning and development not to repeat. This may also include clarification of certain values or development of certain competencies that will help the person prevent a possible repetition. In truth, it is a unique human resource development of a different type.

It is this third dimension of punishment that becomes important in educational institutions. Students break rules and regulations, which are the results of desired social compromises designed by the institution. When students break rules and regulations of the institution, they get punished. Olden days, there were physical punishments which were done when people did not think about a possible philosophic, need based and civilised form of human living. Unless students make criminal offences which are breaking the social compromises of a larger society, such matters are not taken into any police station or to magisterial or judicial intervention. At school, college or university, punishments, whether they are reduction of freedom or compensation paid for, are meant for learning and development not to repeat. All punishments at educational institutions should guarantee that they are within the parameters of learning and development not to repeat. It can never be physical suffering.

Every institution exists with certain codes of conduct with definite laws, rules and regulations. These can also be at different levels. First of all, it could be specifically for the institution. Secondly, it could be rules and regulations of supervisory authorities like a board or university. Thirdly, it could be governmental. Students are likely to break any of these rules and regulations, sometimes, even deliberately, with even ulterior motives for their own advantages. Sometimes, these lapses are thoughtless actions, but there may be times when they are triggered by a particular conscious or unconscious need, like copying in an examination. Naturally, such mistakes, errors, slips or offences attract punishments.

It is evident that students have to be punished when they break laws, rules, regulations and guidelines that are presented to them from time to time. However, all authorities in education have to remember that students have to be offered only the third type of punishment, learning and development not to repeat. Therefore, there is no chance for physical or mental suffering as punishment.

One of the participants of a PET programme, Parent Effectiveness Training programme, shared with the other participants and the resource person one of his experience with his son. His son, four year old, was very mischievous as any four-year-old ought to be. The youngster had a habit of climbing a window to reach the top, and after reaching there, turn and jump onto a cot in the middle of the room. Mostly his calculations were right, but the father who observed him earlier knew that there were chances of his miscalculation and landing either on the edge of the cot or even on the floor hurting him badly. So, he had warned his son not to jump from the window. One day, when the father entered the room, he saw the son on the top of the window and was getting ready to turn and jump. When he turned, the boy saw his father who had instructed him not to jump, and so, he didn’t jump, he froze for that moment. The father shouted at him to come down and went out to take a stick to give him a couple of beatings so that he would not repeat the jumping again. Though he brought a stick, he didn’t use it after seeing the pitiable face of the son. All the same, he punished him by making him sit in the corner of the room with an order that he should not get up until the father permitted him. He repeated “don’t you dare to get up.”

The participant continued the story. When the father entered the room to ask the son to get up and go, he noticed that the boy was eating an apple. The father was sure that he could not have got an apple unless he got up, moved into the next room and collected an apple. The disobedient child deserved another punishment. So, he moved out to collect the stick with a definite decision to beat the child this time for disobeying. However, the maid entered the room then and told the father that the young boy did not get up at all. He crept to the next room using his buttocks all the way without getting up and collected the apple and crept back in the same way. So, the maid said that the boy had not disobeyed the father’s order not to get up.

After narrating the story, the participant told the crowd that he was a defeated man on that day faced with the natural ingenuity of his own child. He realised that he had created a small bomb which he did not know how to handle. He understood what his son needed was not a physical punishment. The parent said that he sorted out his confusion by reading two books. The first one was ‘The loving parents’ guide to discipline’ by Marilyn Gootman and another ‘The Road Less Travelled’ by M. Scot Peck. He argued with every other participant to convince them that there was no need for physically punishing children at all. He went to the extent of stating that physical punishments inflicted on children by parents and teachers are the first step for training children how to be violent.

A thorough examination of various laws, rules and regulations and their associated punishments offered while they get broken, is necessary. Educationists and educators have to seriously consider the type of punishments that students are offered when they break existing social compromises of any institution. Teachers may have to think seriously whether they go to an examination hall to prevent copying or to catch copying and creatively consider what would be the impact of the punishment on the student. Will punishments offered at such occasions lead the individual student to learn and develop not to repeat? The intentions of changing the name of Ministry of Education to Ministry of Human Resource Development in the mid-eighties would be fructified only when punishing students becomes a methodology for learning and development so as not to repeat the offence.  Any punishment offered should help students understand, appreciate and accept reasons for the punishment and develop necessary competence not to repeat. If so, punishment will become a tool to influence. Here, the teacher and the institution will exhibit leadership by punishing to influence and thus make its effectiveness visible. Therefore, punishments could only be systems of learning and development; sometimes it can also be reduction of freedom, and not any physical punishment.

Image by Pragyan Bezbaruah

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Prof Sunney Tharappan

Prof. Sunney Tharappan is Director of College for Leadership and HRD, Mangaluru. He trains and writes and lives in Mangaluru.

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