A Teacher As ‘In Loco Parentis’

Feature Article A Teacher As In Loco Parentis
MAY 26, 2022 LISTEN

I hate some of the teachers because of how they cane. They cane any part of your body they see, your head, your leg, the back of your neck and…”

A student/ Respondent in Joseph S. Agbonyegah: Corporal Punishment in the Schools of Ghana, Does Inclusive Education Suffer? – University of Ghana.

“I will cane you till you die,” that was Master Vulor to one of our mates, Kwadwo Nsowah. His crime: he had ridden a bicycle from Kokobra to school at Fomasua and parked it in the school's garden, and had owned up when confronted by the head teacher. That was in 1961, and we were in our teens, and classmates still remember the brutal whipping of Nsowah who had no one to complain to. His parents would have whipped him further if he had dared to report the head teacher to the parents. That was the pervasive mood: fear, even when told to “kneel down”.

Then, some of us went to Training College: we swept the prizes: English, History, Music, and Education. Yes, Education, where we first heard the expression: “in loco parentis”, that is, “in the place of a parent”. A teacher has the duty to take on the functions and responsibility of a parent, that is, the duty of care owned to the student under his care.

Once a while, we would break the school rules. As teenagers, we would escape to Adomanu to drink palm wine and in our tipsy state “storm” the dining hall, singing: “Na se ekoba se yen a yerekobra wuo yi, na yeso mpafe de nam a.” Loosely translated as: “If we who are supposed to quench a fire carry fire ourselves…”

ASP Akoto, the disciplinary principal would entertain a surprise visit to his bungalow, and advise us: “My dear fool, go and read 1 Corinthians 13:11. When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child, but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”

But “boys will be boys”, that is, it is not surprising or unusual when men behave in rough, improper ways – it is part of the male character. We would read “Tom Brown's School Days”, the 1857 novel by Thomas Hughes. We enjoyed the escapades of Tom: “And Flashman, (John Forrest), the bully, the most contemptible character…”

Adolescence – “The paths that lives take are shaped by the reciprocal interplay between personal factors and diverse influences in ever changing societies.” People talk of five principles of adolescent development: Biological growth and development, an unidentified status, increased decision-making, increased pressures and the search for self.

Adolescents spend more waking time in school than in any context. The transition in adolescent life is stressful, where students undergo physical, intellectual, social, emotional and moral changes; and earlier adolescence is a very sensitive environmental period.

In 2017, the Ghana Education Service (GES) officially banned all forms of corporal punishment in Ghanaian Schools. This was part of efforts aimed at ensuring a safe and protective learning environment.

In January 2019, Anthony Boateng, Deputy Director of GES, issued a statement: “Apart from the physical pain corporal punishment inflicts on children; this approach also causes significant emotional damage. Some of the lasting effects of this method of disciplining school children include physical scars, emotional scars (trauma, fear, timidity) and violent behavior”.

The GES has introduced a “Positive Discipline Toolkit” with positive and constructive alternatives to correcting children, developed in 2016 as a component of the “Safe Schools Resource Pack”.

The toolkit suggests the following corrective tools: Removal from a responsibility, removal from a leadership position, cleaning, changing of seating position, assignment of extra tasks, writing of lines (“I will never talk in class again”). And the steps to address inappropriate student behaviour as suggested by the toolkit include: setting class rules with students, encouraging them (talking to them) to be of good behaviour, getting students to recite statements, explaining issues to the students.

Teachers must note that in all these steps, adolescent behaviour is often dictated to by peer pressure and peer acceptance. They are all too ready to copy: Their dressing, the language use, the songs they sing – they are not interested in Onyina, Kakaiku, Ampadu (Okwaduo) and animal stories.

The oldies may not understand why the children are moved by the songs of Sarkodie, Shatta Wale, Stonebwoy, Okyeame Kwame, R2Bees, Becca, Fuse ODG, Tinny, Samini, D-Black, and Captain Planet. To our children, it is hip-life or hip-hop music. It is free-style, rap (call them “rapperholic”), and the “azonto” style.

We have had the occasion to write to an educational institution: “Dear Sir/Madam, caning of my ward. It grieves me greatly to, once again, complain to you for the capital punishment meted to my grandson. My ward came home on Friday, May 20, 2022, with bruises on his back, stomach and neck, the result of merciless caning he has suffered at the hands of his class-teacher.”

“My ward narrates the story: 'My name was submitted to the class-teacher by one of our classmates. The talkers were ten in all, out of thirty seven in class, while I was going to sit down, I complained to the girl: why do you always write my name as a talker? The teacher may have overheard me, and he pounced on me, caning me all over my body – my back, my stomach and neck.

'I had no one to complain to, so when I went home, I narrated the episode to my grandfather and showed him the marks. My grandfather took me to the clinic for treatment and dressing.'

“But the devil in the teacher who caned my ward mercilessly has to be exorcised – and this goes to all the teachers. They have all passed through the adolescent stage before, and they may understand 'Boys will be boys'.”

In 1990, Ghana ratified the United Nation (UN) Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). “States, parties shall take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse, while in the care of parent(s), legal guardian(s) or any other person who has the care of the child.”

Article 37: States, parties shall ensue that (a) no child shall be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

But Section 41 of the Criminal Offences Act, 1960 (Act 29) states: A blow or other force may be justified for the purpose of correction by parents.

Corporal Punishment in Ghana: A position paper on the legal and policy issues: Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection takes the position that corporal punishment is still a child protection issue for Ghana, which demands immediate attention.

See also Section 13 (2) of the Children's Act.

Finally, this situation has happened to me once before (2018) when I had driven my ward to school, and in my presence a teacher caned her for coming to school late. Nobody would listen to my protestations. Regards! I hope that this time round, somebody WILL LISTEN.

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From Africanus Owusu – Ansah