Corporal punishment has been used as a discipline management procedure in Kenya since the inception of formal education by the colonialists.
Caning was banned in 2001 after the Children’s Act took effect in a gazette notice dated March 13, 2001, by the then Education minister, Kalonzo Musyoka. The law also increased the age of a child from 16 to 18 years.
The notice was intended to clarify any doubt about the nature of punishment to be meted out on students. However, Musyoka did not spell out the alternatives to caning. Most school’s have continued to practise the disciplinary measure, with some turning fatal.
However, a section of stakeholders have called for the return of the cane in schools, saying its exit has given leeway to indiscipline in schools, such as the series of student unrest recently witnessed in the country.
National Assembly deputy minority whip Chris Wamalwa last week said Members of Parliament are thinking seriously about reintroducing caning as a disciplinary measure in schools to avert the escalating unrest.
Embu County’s Education Board chairman Njoka Kanya argues that corporal punishment used to work very well. He recommends “checked caning” that will instil pain in the child but not lead to injuries.
“I’ve never been against caning. We all passed through it. In any case, are we not disciplined? Is there anybody who was killed by caning, unless by mistake?” Kanya said.
But Kenya Parents' Association chairperson Nicholas Maiyo says corporal punishment was blatantly abused by some teachers, leading to serious injuries and sometimes even death of pupils.
This happened despite the fact that the Education Act (prior to the amendment) clearly spelt out appropriate guidelines on the administration of the cane.
In 2016, for example, David Ndung'u, a class 8 Subukia Primary School pupil, was beaten by a teacher for failing a test and sustained injuries that led to death.
Last year, Joy Wangari, a class 3 Mukandamia Primary School pupil, died after sustaining injuries from corporal punishment. And this year, Annah Wendy, a Form 3 student at Khwisero Secondary School, was beaten and later died.
Psychiatrist Silas Kiriinya said corporal punishment would hurt students fond of making mistakes. He said when adolescents are subjected to caning, they tend to turn rebellious.
“Caning subjects children to fear. It has been one of the leading causes of truancy and could lead to an increase in dropouts,” he said.
Aside from the infliction of pain and the physical injuries, which often result from the use of physical punishments, Kiriinya said the disciplinary methods also impact students’ academic achievement and long-term well-being.
A study by Human Rights’ Watch in 2010 indicated that in countries where corporal punishment is frequently used, students have performed worse academically than those in schools that prohibit corporal punishment.
The report further points out that corporal punishment affects every student in school, including those who are not personally subjected to hitting or paddling. The prevalent use of physical violence against students creates an overall threatening school atmosphere that impacts students' ability to perform academically.
Education CS Amina Mohamed in a press conference last week opposed calls to reintroduce caning in schools. She later added that caning would do more harm than good.
“I’m against reintroduction of caning. There’s a clear law on it and until legislators amend that, I can’t do anything. My hands are tied right now,” she said at the Kenya Education Management Institute, during the inauguration of the institution’s council.
“I think there are other ways to discipline our children. We can communicate with them. Corporal punishment should be the last thing on our minds,” Amina said.
Kiriinya suggests that rather than relying on caning as disciplinary tactics, schools and teachers should be encouraged to develop positive behaviour supports, which have proven effective in reducing the need for harsh discipline, while supporting a safe and productive learning environment.