Raise the Child, NOT the Rod

STXG inter upper field II-cropped
St. Xavier’s Godavari School Inters (football) “Up-field” in the foreground and handball court in the background. The building you see the roof-top of behind the handball courts housed the grades 1-4 dormitory.


I don’t remember why I was punished; I remember how I was punished, though.

That, apparently, is the case with most who have been “taught a lesson” thus as a child.

I had barely started first grade at St. Xavier’s Godavari School. And as far as I can remember, that was the first time a teacher had punished me that way.

She had lifted my middle finger and inserted a pencil across in the space between it and the index and ring fingers. She had then wrapped her index finger tightly around the tips of my three little fingers. Following that, she had proceeded to hit at the middle finger with the sharp edge of a ruler!

I resolved to never do anything to invite such wrath of a teacher again for the rest of my academic career!

I decided to be a gyani bidhyarthi (a “good/well-behaved/obedient/studious student”). I did succeed in becoming one and avoided getting punished again.

From when I was a third grader to when I graduated from St. Xavier’s Jawalakhel nine years later, I was one of the top students in my class. I could draw, paint, sing. (I didn’t know I could dance as well until much later! 🙂 ) I was pretty good at all the sports — except volleyball. I was good enough to captain teams in fourth and sixth grades anyway. In other words, pretty much everything to do with school came pretty easy to me!

(The only other time a teacher inflicted some physical pain was when in third grade, having dozed off during a lesson, my class teacher rudely woke me up with a slap on my thigh!)

But many of my classmates and schoolmates at St. Xavier’s – both at the primary school in Godavari and at the secondary school in Jawalakhel — were unable to escape.

I grew up witnessing them being slapped, hit and punished — sometimes really severely — by teachers pretty much every single year, and regularly during the course of the year too. I have many many memories of them, a number of them etched in my brain.

One that I have difficulties with still is that of a classmate being hit, by what I still remember as something like a rolling pin, on the palm of his outstretched arm by the Principal and the wooden object breaking! I had witnessed it because the teacher had chosen me to take the classmate to the Principal and report him. I had been a mere second or a third grade student then.

Another one took place in the dormitory when I was a second grader. The dormitory prefect caught three or so kids playing (hide and seek?) in the bathrooms in the dead of the night. The prefect gave them a major scolding and a thrashing next to his “room.” The room being next to my bed, the commotion woke me up, of course. I couldn’t avoid witnessing and hearing everything.

Another one I remember is from when I was in secondary school. This one involved my classmates getting punished — by our music teacher — for their inability to “sing.” Those classmates would be called to the front of the classroom and instructed to sing the musical notes “sa re ga ma…” — the Nepalese version of “do re me fa…” — like everyone else. But, no matter how many times they tried, they would fail to reproduce the notes correctly and with every attempt came a slap across the face!

So, while some got punished for misbehaving in the classroom or elsewhere, others got punished for not completing assignments or not doing assignment well or correctly, or for not doing well in sports or other activities, such as singing or dancing or drawing and painting etc.

Naturally, I struggled to understand and make sense of, on the one hand, many of the ways my teachers treated my fellow students, and, on the other hand, the many ways my fellow students “behaved.” I struggled to reconcile what, to me, appeared to be contradictions.

To the pre-pubescent primary school child right and wrong, good and bad (evil?) was black and white, as is the case with all children of that age group.

The behavior of some of our teachers, for instance, appeared to contradict what I thought would have been the “right”  or “good” behavior. There was one teacher in particular who meditated every evening before going to bed. I knew he did because my bed was just meters from his and, being in direct line of sight, I would see him doing so pretty much every evening.

And yet, the same teacher would beat the crap out of students. Once, he smashed a classmate’s face so hard on his desk that he bled! I didn’t understand how someone, who every evening did what Buddha supposedly did to become Bhagawan (Lord/God), could treat some of my classmates so horribly!

Of course, we were NEVER given the opportunity to voice these feelings and concerns.

We had other teachers too who, to me, appeared to also be religiously “devout” in other ways. They also treated my fellow students in ways that contradicted my understanding of who and how they were supposed to be.

Then there were the behaviors of the students. I couldn’t understand why my friends struggled so much to do the “right” thing — whether in the classroom doing academic work or out on the fields playing sports or at a music lesson singing some songs or painting a colorful piece of art or just staying quiet and still when ordered to do so.

I knew that some of us were better at sports than in academics or vice versa etc. But, sometimes I wondered why some of them were “being so stubborn or acting so dumb.” As far as the child in me could see, what we were being asked to do – such as following teacher’s instructions in the classroom or following school rules — were simple, easy and “good” for us.

Of course, I felt sorry for those targeted regularly or could potentially be targeted a lot. I even took it upon myself to look out for the wellbeing of some of them, especially the junior school mates.

It wasn’t until I reached secondary school and beyond that I learned a number of things that helped me understand and reconcile some of those issues.

One of the things I learned was that good and bad, and right and wrong aren’t always black and white, that there’s a big area of grey in between. (I discovered some people I had known all my life, who I believed were “good” people and who I had held in really high regard, were actually underserving of my adulation and emulation, for instance, after I learned more about them.)

The other important thing I learned, vis-à-vis the behaviors of my fellow students as primary school students, was that some students aren’t able to do some things for a number of reasons and for no fault of their own.

I also realized, for instance, that my ability to sing was a skill I had, that some others just don’t have. I would learn much later that some are born tone deaf. Some others might be born color blind and others still with learning disabilities. With some, their domestic problems, their socio-economic background, bullying by fellow students or teachers had negatively affected both their behavior and performance in school etc. etc. etc.

I also realised how the blatantly unprofessional manner in which some of our teachers had played favorites with some and ignored or mistreated others also must have impacted the behavior and performance of my classmates and others. Some teachers played favorites with the smart and well-behaved students — which I benefited from to some degree. Some teachers would play favorites with some by grooming them for “success” and, in turn, for some possible personal gains — the student invariably came from a well-connected and/or wealthy family.

I should add that not every single one of our teachers meted out corporal punishments and were so blatantly unprofessional. We did have both Nepalese and North-American teachers who weren’t like that at all.

All this happened at St. Xavier’s in the late seventies and eighties of Kathmandu. I suspect, the experiences then of students in other private and government schools around the country were not much different.

Corporal punishment is still prevalent however, enough for it to be an issue still, though maybe not as much in private schools. (The practice, incidentally, was made illegal in 2005!)

But, research and studies on its prevalence in educational institutions in the country and their short-term and long-term effects are very very limited and hard to come by.

(Learning the hard way, an article in the Nepali Times written by Alok Tumbahangphey, a fellow Xaverian, and published way back in 2005, contains some accounts and data.)

Their effects on children elsewhere are well established though. (See references below for links to literature on that and more.)

Here in Nepal, the “explanation” I keep getting for why we do it is also the explanation for how and why we do, or don’t do, almost everything: culture!

I have met many — including recently, a friend who owns and runs a school — who argue, “It’s our culture. If we don’t use the threat of physical punishment and mete it out, they won’t be disciplined AND they won’t learn.”

Of course, there are a number of reasons for why the practice still persists. But, that view or explanation or justification, to me, displays, amongst other things, a lack of understanding of what being a pre-pubescent child or a teenaged child means emotionally, psychologically and intellectually. In other words, our education system is to blame.

Our education system – even teacher training — does not provide even the most basic education on developmental child psychology, forget about different intelligences, abilities/disabilities and child rearing/teaching methods etc. A certificate/qualification is all you get out of teacher training/qualification, apparently.

During my almost 20 years as a professional teacher, starting in 1994, I, on the other hand, never hit/slapped/caned/spanked any child/student under my care, whether in Nepal or abroad. For one, it was forbidden in most places I worked at. For another, I didn’t believe in it having partly been put off it by my childhood experiences.

In my professional capacity as a teacher, I don’t EVER recall using the threat of physical violence to get a student to do — or not do — something. And yet, my students were disciplined enough and, I would like to believe, they learned enough as well!

(What’s more, I have never used physical punishment or violence in my personal life either. I have never been violent with friends or colleagues or those working under me or with those I had a relationship with, for instance.)

My almost-five, little nephew at home – the first and only child whose life I have been part of since birth, and therefore my most precious “student” to date — is also developing, growing, learning quite amazingly…without corporal punishments! Far from punishing him physically, far from trying to mould him into an “obedient and disciplined” young child through even the fear of physical punishment, I told his school administrators and teachers that since we at home don’t use it, they shouldn’t either.

No one should be “taught lessons” they won’t remember! A lesson not learnt is a lesson not taught.

My nephew’s body language, his facial expressions, his gaze and the way he talks to me about his day when we have our school-talk in the evenings — with him on my lap, facing each other, eyes at the same level — tells me that they don’t!

No one should be 'taught lessons' they won't remember! #Nepal #CorporalPunishment #Education Click To Tweet

My reasons for raising him that way are simple.

Firstly, I want him to grow up with fond and happy memories of childhood — whether at home or at school.

Secondly, I want him to grow up being curious…always…ever ready to question and wonder.

Thirdly, I want him to grow up being a risk taker, making mistakes and learning and growing from them.

And finally — and most importantly — I want him to grow up to be a kind and compassionate human being.

I want all that to happen within a very very safe and supportive environment, in an environment where he’ll grow up confident in the knowledge that, no matter what, he will be supported.

Corporal punishment — and physical violence of any kind — has no place in that environment, no matter how culturally ingrained the practice is in Nepal! 

Besides, going against the grain is partly what got me to where I am today! 😀

What do you think? Am I just being stubborn, or unrealistic, as many in Nepal keep telling me?

* * * * * * * *



Nepali Times (Aug. 19-25, 2005): Learning the hard way. Alok Tumbahangphey on corporal punishments in schools.

Journal of Nepal Paediatric Society (May-Aug. 2010): Corporal Punishment in Nepalese School Children: Facts, Legalities and Implications.

Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children (2011): NEPAL BRIEFING FOR THE HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL UNIVERSAL PERIODIC REVIEW

Nelta Choutari (2012): We can … without corporal punishment. A blog post that provides a really good background for why we use corporal punishment as a culture and in educational institution in Nepal.

Psychology Today (April 29, 2016): Update On What Really Happens When You Hit Your Kids. 50 years of research on 160,000 children shows spanking is harmful. Period.

Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children (June 2016): Corporal punishment of children in Nepal.

The WHO (July, 2016): New strategies to end violence against children. Executive Summary: INSPIRE Seven Strategies for Ending Violence Against Children. Contains details of health consequence of violence against children.

And for a Different Kind

The Telegraph (Jan. 3, 2010): Smacked children more successful later in life, study finds.

Five Thirty Eight (Sept. 14, 2014): Americans’ Opinions On Spanking Vary By Party, Race, Region And Religion.


Additional References

These don’t appear in the blog but are relevant to the topic.

My Republica (October 9, 2009). Corporal punishment continues to be a bugbear in schools. [Added on May 24, 2018.]

NPR (Oct. 25, 2018). What Happens When A Country Bans Spanking? “Now a new study looking at 400,000 youths from 88 countries around the world suggests such bans are making a difference in reducing youth violence.” [Added on Oct. 26, 2018.]

NCBI (July 10, 2013). Spanking and Child Development: We Know Enough Now To Stop Hitting Our Children. [Added on Oct. 26, 2018.]

My Republica (Oct. 29, 2018). How GEMS created “villains” & “bad students.” A former student recounts his experience at GEMS school, where the school culture included corporal punishments. [Added on Oct. 30, 2018.]

The Record (Dec. 4, 2018). Youngsters battle severe emotional and psychological stressors. “Changing the culture of silence surrounding mental illness could save lives.” [Added on Dec. 6, 2018.]

The Kathmandu Post (Jan. 24, 2018). Is corporal punishment the way to go? Another GEMS student who says she was a victim of corporal punishment at her school. [Added on Dec. 17, 2018.]


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