Mmegi looks at these questions, following incidents of cruelty by teachers in the past two weeks. We carry in this issue the story of a seven-year-old Mochudi pupil who had to undergo an operation after she was allegedly whipped with a hose-pipe by a teacher.
The incident followed another one in Ramotswa where a primary school head ordered pupils who had failed to pay development fees to eat rice with no soup while fellow schoolmates who had paid had a full share of chicken and rice.
While most people have accepted these incidents as part of the learning process, education officials have come out strongly against the practices.
"A child should not just be punished for any frivolous wrongdoing. If a child has done something that truly warrants punishment, such punishment should be meted out by the school head who should also record the wrong and the punishment given," said a Senior Education Officer in the Department of Primary Education Ethel Mlandu. Even, then, she said, there is a set standard of punishment. She also said that sending children home during lessons, simply because they have not paid some money or are not wearing the correct uniform is contrary to the Education Act.
"When you send a kid home because he does not have a school jersey, what do you want that child to do. Do you stop teaching and wait for him? she asked. Teachers, should understand that primary school children are by nature experimental and sometimes naughty.
"Indeed there are some really odd cases, but even those should only be punished by the school head who should note it down on record," she said.
Acting director in the Department of Secondary Education, Shatiso Tambule said that the Education Act prohibits sending of children back home because they do not have uniform.
"The purpose of the uniform is to ensure that all students, rich and poor dress in the same way," he said. However, a teacher should not remove a jersey from a child who is wearing the wrong colour. Instead they should try and understand why the child is wearing the wrong jersey.
"Indiscriminate and unreasonable caning is also prohibited by the Education Act. Not more than five lashes of the cane across the palm or the buttocks may be administered on a child. The standard measurement of the stick should be reasonable, approximately 10 millimetres thick and 30 centimetres long," he said.
The punishment should be administered by the school head, or a delegated member of staff.
"Teachers come in from the loci parentis position, having been delegated by the head to avoid situations where every little offence is referred to the head," he said.
Tambule said it is hoped that teachers, as parents would be reasonable and would mete out punishment appropriately and reasonably.
"They should use the rod sparingly. Losing ones temper is not an excuse as it is unprofessional. If teachers lose their temper, they should walk away from the situation before doing something wrong," he said.
While cases of torture and indecent assault have gone unreported in many schools, some have caught the attention of either the media or officials. In the meantime, many children drop out of school because they are afraid of certain teachers. The infliction of corporal punishment by these teachers is routine, arbitrary, and often brutal. Bruises and cuts and sometimes, severe injuries, such as those suffered by the seven year-old Rapelang Segale are not infrequent. Sometimes these beatings leave children permanently disfigured, disabled or dead.
"These beatings, are a violation of the rights of the child and other international human rights laws," said one of numerous parents who spoke against arbitrary and routine corporal punishment.
"I remember a boy who was whipped mercilessly by a teacher for failing to say his mother's name when we were doing standard two. That kid's mother had been buried only two weeks before," said another parent.