In Uganda, corporal punishment was declared unlawful in schools in March 2016 when the Children’s Act was amended and indeed since 2006, corporal punishment had been discouraged by Ministerial Guidelines. However, it remains a big challenge because in many schools, particularly in the remoter rural areas, it is a deeply engrained practice and some teachers may fear they will not be respected if they do not show authority and discipline their students. It is also evident that a child is more likely to miss school or abandon school altogether if he or she fears being physically punished.
In UNATU, we have taken a clear stand against corporal punishment as a violation of children’s rights. We believe that disciplinary action must respect the children’s human dignity. It is part of the child-centred approach that we have adopted in our professional development programmes, which are also included in the projects to attract and retain children in schools in order to end child labour.
In our training programmes, we discuss how positive discipline should be relevant and proportional, and focus on correcting behaviour but not humiliating the student. We explain that the disciplinary action should be designed to help the child learn from their mistakes.
We discuss how to communicate with a child without creating fear and how to take into consideration the feelings of the child and their home situation. For example what to do when you find a child is dozing in class? Is it their fault? Should they be punished? If they fear coming late to school because they have been asked to run an errand by their parents, will they be discouraged from coming at all?
If you punish, you are traumatising. So we encourage teachers to find alternatives to the stick. You can copy homework, clear around the school or collect the rubbish but it must not interfere with the children’s attendance in class. We can call parents to come if there is a serious discipline mistake.
The Ministry of Education published a teachers’ handbook to promoting positive discipline in schools in 2014 which is very practical and useful. We also appreciate the partnership with the Ugandan NGO SOMERO and their trainers work with us on these courses. But we have found that the best advocates for positive disciplinary methods are the school children themselves. Teachers can see how children respond and even how the academic results are improving.
20 November 2019 marks 30 years since the adoption of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. To celebrate the anniversary of one of the most widely ratified human rights treaties in history, we are publishing a series of blogs showcasing the work and commitment of education unions to support children’s rights, in particular their right to education. With many children and young people still out-of-school, our work is far from over. Read the full Statement of our General Secretary, David Edwards.
 Ministry of Education and Sports Creating Safer Schools Series: Volume 1 An Introductory Handbook for Promoting Positive Discipline in Schools for Quality Education Alternatives to Corporal Punishment (nd) Ministry of Education, Uganda, January 2014.
The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect any official policies or positions of Education International.