Discipline, Punishment and the Lack Of Standards in Barbados Schools

A Commentary on the Ministry of Education’s ‘Code of Discipline’

During a recent visit to the Ministry of Education’s website, I came across a document entitled ‘Code of Discipline’. As an avid supporter of meaningful discipline within schools, I was immediately interested in the potential of this document to impact the social and moral climate of our future (our children). However, after I read the document I became deeply concerned about the approaches we are taking to instil discipline in our youth.

As a pseudo-intellectual I sometimes pretend that I can analyse the philosophical nature of various issues. What struck me philosophically about this document was the failure to recognize that effective discipline should support the reduction of future wrongdoings rather than just penalise students for their current moral failures. Students’ development and growth is just as important as the punishment for their present misconduct. Neglecting to address this developmental requirement also creates the perception in students’ minds that the administration does not care for students’ personal growth. This creates animosity and an adversarial environment when we should really be striving for an environment of mutual respect and positive collaboration. While the document recognizes that we should create “responsible citizens”, it fails to address the transformational processes required to create such citizens. Furthermore, if the only thing guiding moral standard is fear of punishment by school officials, then once a student graduates what can they depend on to direct their moral compass?

Another major disappointment of this document is the lack of a corresponding Code of Conduct for students. It is common for disciplinary procedures to refer to a list of agreed upon moral standards. The document recognizes this by stating, “…students will be made aware of what their responsibilities are,” but then failing to identify those responsibilities. A Code of Conduct would be a simple and powerful mechanism through which students could agree to individually and collectively abide by a set of moral guidelines. The collaboration between students and administration in the creation of such a Code of Conduct will generate a sense of moral obligation within the student body, and will also act as a vehicle for further collaboration between the administration and students.

Spoil The Child

Spoil The Child

A further disturbing component of this document is the support for corporal punishment as a means of discipline. Even more striking is the disproportionate support for corporal punishment for violations like “Failure to do homework” or “Failure to bring required materials/equipment to class”. We have to ask ourselves what the reasons are for making corporal punishment an option for such morally inconsequential matters. We must also question whether or not corporal punishment should even be an option for any issue, regardless of the severity. Countless organizations and socially aware groups around the world have demonstrated through studies and research that the potentially devastating impacts of corporal punishment in schools far outweigh any conceivable benefit. In fact many governments have made this form of punishment illegal, demonstrating its inhumane and disturbing nature.

Barbadians have long held to the anecdote, “save the rod, spoil the child.” While I personally question that belief, if indeed this approach represents some level of truth, then we should leave the responsibility for making such a delicate decision in the hands of parents. But for too long we have allowed our parents to relinquish responsibility for instilling discipline, instead depending solely upon schools in the fulfilment of this task. Parents should be encouraged, supported, and demanded to fulfil their roles as the primary source of moral direction in their children’s lives rather than placing the burden upon our already strained schools. The support mechanisms that we put in place for parents are therefore an integral component of a Code of Discipline.

This opens the discussion to the next major gap in the document, that being the lack of communication and collaboration between the schools and parents. As the primary provider of moral direction for children, parents must be intimately involved with any disciplinary issues. Other than a brief mention of using “parents as partners”, the document fails to outline the interaction and communication that should occur between parents and schools. Both parties must be invested in the development of each child. The gaps between parents and schools must be closed so that our children’s futures don’t ‘slip through the cracks’. This communication should be emphasized emphatically in a Code of Discipline rather than just mentioned as an apparent afterthought.

With all of that said, I am disheartened by the fact that this document fails in its goal to provide a basis for instilling discipline in our education system. It also badly misses the mark of creating a positive and morally stable environment within our schools while also failing to provide the framework necessary to ensure consistent, reasonable, and equitable disciplinary practices. In closing, I want to recognize the realities facing discipline within our schools. The complexity and importance of this issue demand our utmost care and consideration in developing long-term, holistic, and effective policies. As such, it is reasonable to expect that the development and implementation of such policies will take time, significant resources, and diligent effort from all stakeholders. It is with this understanding that all Barbadians should bring the issue of discipline in our schools to the forefront so that we can ensure the best possible future for our children.

Bajan Bullets


Filed under Barbados, Ethics

7 responses to “Discipline, Punishment and the Lack Of Standards in Barbados Schools

  1. Adrian L. Charles

    I agree enthusiastically with you in principle, but your essay is incomplete without a link to the document that you are discussing.

  2. assulting children, even when called corporal punishment, doesn’t achieve anything but grief all around. It teaches the child to meet violence with violence. Long may it be gone from our shores. We don’t want bullies, but then we teach a six foot man to beat a 3 foot 5 year old.

  3. permres

    I am thinking (and hoping) that this document may be pretty old. As recently as this last Wednesday (Nov. 5) a letter was published in the Nation from Peter W. Burke. (Sorry cannot find a link). He reported, and supported, Ronald Jones, Minister of Education, who apparently has suggested that corporal punishment in schools should be abolished. This is good news.

  4. Hants

    My mother didn’t beat me and I didn’t beat my children.

    My punishment was to have to stay indoors while my friends played outside.

    Beating children is an “excuse” to avoid spending the time to counsel them.

    Beating children creates thugs, educated or not.

  5. i am a former teacher with teaching experience in the usa. corporal punishment means nothing this day in age.

    it is how the teacher teaches and related to the kids, same thing goes to parents inside the home, some people believe bcos they were brought up a particular way, they should bring up their kids the same but i differ on that.

    i remember the 3 schools i taught at during my teaching career in the usa, especially one where less than 10% passed their exams.

    one of the schools in particular had a student who did no work just sit in every class and no teacher seemed to get in touch with that young girl.

    i used to teach computer technology, anyway…
    i learned from that experience that it is how you reach out to the kids, all do not learn the same way and alternatives must be met to make the learning enjoyable (school also)

    kids love computers, but i never understood how they failed every computer exam with the previous teacher until i took over. i believe in rewarding kids when they do well, im sure we like to get bonuses when we work extra too, kids are people just like us.

    as the kids pass their exams, and do all their homework, i gave away free computer sessions as the awards, they played computer games for that entire session. not only games during free sessions but computer quiz sessions for prizes funded by the school’s administration. trust me, i hate to sit in a lecture and just hear an interesting topic being spoken in a tone that makes u wanna sleep, if its not interesting, the body becomes restless and bored, same thing with kids, teachers need to be more creative, its not always the kids, but its how they see us.

    its not what u say or do, its how u say and how you do

  6. forgot to mention, i had no failures in the exams, and that young girl not only did work in my class but in all her classes.

    as hants said, flogging is an excuse

  7. permres

    The opening blog by Bajan Bullets, and now this one by Caribnnet says it all I think. I was concerned that this discussion would result in the rolling out all of the old arguments for CP. Well done everyone who has posted on this thread, we may well be moving to abolition of CP, at least in all schools (including privately run ones) in the foreseeable future, in Barbados.