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Barbados works to change attitudes, implement positive discipline in schools

© UNICEF video
A student rests her head in a classroom in Barbados, where corporal punishment is a deeply entrenched social norm. UNICEF is working to provide teachers and parents with alternate discipline strategies.

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, 10 June 2010 – Beyond the postcard-perfect beaches of Barbados, there is a controversial issue dividing much of this small island nation. A debate is raging about whether to continue using corporal punishment when disciplining children.

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The practice, commonly known here as whipping or flogging, goes back generations. It is widespread in both homes and schools, despite evidence that hitting children is harmful to their development.

‘It doesn’t work’

While corporal punishment is on the rise, poor behaviour among young people in Barbados is not declining. Teachers, principals and government officials are quick to point out that schools are actually losing control of their students.

© UNICEF video
A UNICEF-sponsored workshop helps Barbadian teachers learn to implement new discipline strategies as an alternative to corporal punishment.

"All international and regional studies – studies which we have done with children themselves, speaking out about corporal punishment and how discipline is enforced in schools – show it doesn't work," said UNICEF Representative in Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean Tom Olsen.

Despite these stark facts, corporal punishment is profoundly entrenched in Barbadian society.

Deep opposition

Dr. Idamay Denny, a top official with the Barbados Ministry of Education, said there is deep opposition to ending the practice. For many people, physical punishment is linked to a sense of pride in a robust national identity.

© UNICEF video
Adolescents study in a classroom in Barbados.

"We need to show people that other means of discipline can work," she said.

Winter Pilgrim teaches 10- and 11-year-olds. He said he used to be a firm believer in corporal punishment until it drove a wedge between him and his own daughter, who became troubled and distant. He recalled the day he was called to her school, where a teacher told him that his daughter was afraid of him.

"Everything that was done in the past is not necessarily right," said Mr. Pilgrim.

Alternate strategies

Determined to repair his relationship with his daughter, Mr. Pilgrim attended a UNICEF-sponsored workshop that helped him implement alternate parenting strategies. His new approach to disciplines places a premium on 'owning' one's actions. Instead of just punishing bad behaviour, this approach clearly defines expectations and what constitutes good behaviour – making it easier for children to behave well.

The workshop is part of a three-year strategy, which is being carried out by UNICEF and the Government of Barbados, to address major challenges to ending corporal punishment on the island.

"It's a very big sway from how I used to teach," said Mr. Pilgrim. He said that today his students are more disciplined, relaxed and aware of their own actions. Even their capacity for learning has improved.

“I've found that the relationship between the class and myself has become much better,” Mr. Pilgrim noted. “I can actually get more from them.”




UNICEF correspondent Thomas Nybo reports from Barbados on efforts to eradicate corporeal punishment from schools.
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