|A boy takes notes during a regular school day in the Papua highlands|
© Nick Baker/ UNICEF / 2015
The proverb is especially popular among primary school teachers in coastal areas like Makbon and Sorong – invoked to justify disciplining children by hitting them with a stick.
Late last year, grade teachers and principals at four schools in Makbon subdistrict, Sorong, received training on positive discipline.
Positive discipline involves providing positive reinforcement for good choices as well as consequences for misbehaviour. The training equips teachers with an alternative to corporal or physical punishment for managing students’ attendance and behaviour in the classroom.
Wilhelmina, a third grade teacher from Malaumkarta Primary School, recalled the training with a smile. She used the example of one of her students, Simon, who was absent for a month but had recently returned to school.
“I used to raise my voice when asking my students why they were absent. Today, I’ve changed the way I communicate with Simon,” she said.
“I wanted him to not be afraid of me, and I believed that if I spoke to him politely and with respect, he would come to school regularly.”
Mery, a first grade teacher in Makbon, also shared her story. Prior to the training she would bring a rattan stick to class. She would either hit it on the table for attention or strike students for misbehaving – even for failing to complete their homework.
Following the training, Mery abandoned the stick and introduced a reward system to incentivize good behaviour. She said the reward system was a much more effective method for keeping order in the classroom.
“I used to use the stick to keep students quiet because it was difficult to manage them. But now they follow the classroom [reward system] agreement so I no longer use the rattan,” she explained.
Neither Wilhelmina nor Mery knew about positive discipline before the UNICEF training. They now have a greater understanding of how corporal punishment damages young people, and an appreciation for how compassion and positive reinforcement can mold children’s character and self-esteem.
Without a greater awareness of the negative effects of corporal punishment, both agreed that violence against children will persist in schools.