Corporal Punishment in Schools

August 1, 2013
Corporal Punishment in Schools

Every Monday through Friday I take my lunch break around 10am, which may seem early butI’m famished by then after being awake since 5:45am. This lunch break was a little unusual as I overheard a screaming match between the Swahili teacher and a 16-year-old boy with guilt written all over his face. After much debate, the teacher ordered him to balance on one foot and squat; it was almost flamingo like, but the look on his face did not show serenity and relaxation like the rosy birds usually have. His face did, however, have a luminescent pink glow similar to a flamingo, but his red face was more as a result of stress as opposed to mother nature.

Five minutes later he was commanded to switch, but in the process of switching his feet he tipped over to one side, resting his body momentarily on the concrete slab flooring. Instead of giving him another chance, she giggled with the geography teacher and held up a stick. The stick looked weak, but the teacher looked strong. After playfully practicing her swing the teacher directed the student to put his palms on the edge of the desk.


The first one took me by immense surprise. I was dumbfounded that such a weak-looking stick could make such a piercing sound. I was not completely naive to the system of corporal punishment in Tanzanian schools up until this point, but I imagined slaps on the wrists–not a public whipping. The teacher took two more swings, both landing in the lower back region of the student. After listening to three lashes, I was relieved that it was over. I was relieved at least until I saw the teacher toss the stick across the room to her friend. They joked about who could hit harder (at least that’s what I gathered through the language barrier).

The next lady took a couple of strikes before declaring defeat and passed it over to the geography teacher from earlier. He walked confidently up to the student’s backside and began tapping the student’s rear with the stick just like a hitter would do before swinging at a baseball. The teacher chucked and mid-laugh threw the stick so hard against the student’s back that the stick flew out of his hand landing across the room. Four strikes later and I can barely lift my eyes off my grading, but I do so that I can continue furiously taking notes in my trusty notebook next to me.

I wanted to ask the teacher so badly what the student did to be punished so severely but I couldn’t. Not gonna lie, but I was a little worried about what my punishment would be if I questioned the authority.

I’m not one to look down upon the culture of a country so distant from my own culture. I do not think that Americans have figured out the perfect formula for educating children, because we haven’t. I do, however, feel like beating a student publicly during school time is counterproductive, not to mention wrong. Watching the teachers take the whipping as one big joke was even more heart wrenching. To me, all teachers must genuinely care about their students to be effective educators.

Even just teaching my students for about a month now, I already have created such strong connections with them and I know I will never forget them. I love my students. I feel wonderful when I walk into my classes and am greeted with eager smiles. And certainly their enthusiasm outweighs the times when I am dumbfounded with frustration or am surrounded by whispering side conversation in a language I cannot understand. I am not a trained educator, but because I truly care about the quality of education my students receive I do believe I have been effective in teaching them English.

Of course my school has just as many amazing teachers as they do not-so amazing teachers, just like any other school. But I feel like teachers who will joke so carelessly while beating their students cannot possibly care about their students enough to truly provide them with the adequate education they so badly need. For me, this event was a low, but my school days also consist of many highs as I do love my classes and as a whole the environment I am teaching in.

Photo by Emma Way.


WebAmerica’s Unofficial Ambassadors (AUA) is a citizen diplomacy initiative dedicated to increasing the number of Americans who volunteer in the Muslim World. Unofficial Ambassadors volunteer with grassroots organizations in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East to meet some of the Muslim World’s most urgent development needs in areas such as education, youth services, and civil society.

About Emma Way

Emma Way volunteered in Zanzibar through America’s Unofficial Ambassadors.

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