Why Students are Punished in Schools: Missing Learning Link

Term Paper, 2011

16 Pages, Grade: 1-3



This paper intends to address punishment as problem in schools. It caters to discuss the role of punishment in the whole process of teaching and learning, the link has been made to provide a debate on how punishment could be used in schools. It describes side effects of punishment as it is applied in school context. Theories in support of punishment are addressed. Critical examples and evidence are drawn from Tanzania.

Key words: Punishments, learning, punishment theories, punishment scholars


Our schools for long time has been associated with punishment, and do not matter whether corporal punishment or whatever it could be termed. Punishment is associated with something painful and irritating. Teachers and educators for several times have complained about abolishing corporal punishment in schools since students are burning and worrying about it. Punishment means being subjected to a painful stimulus or having a pleasant one removed due to engaging in undesirable behavior (Mwamwenda, 2004). Punishment may take the form of suspension, corporal punishment, manual work, expulsion, dismissal, isolation, detention after school, scolding, written lines, restitution, being sent to the headmaster and being deprived of certain privileges (ibid). To psychologists, punishment is a way of learning that occurs when some sort of unpleasant or aversive consequence follows a behavior. Azoulay (1999) argued that Punishment can be anything that decreases the occurrence of a behavior: physical pain, withdrawal of attention, loss of tangibles or activities, a reprimand, or even something others would find rewarding but phe particular individual does not like. The types of behavior for which punishment may justifiable be administered are disrespect for teachers or authority, tardiness, fighting, vandalism, missing classes, failing to do assignments, making a noise in class, chewing gum in class, not paying attention in class and cheek.

Punishment is used world-wide as a means of controlling undesirable behavior, though in some parts of the world it is used extensively and freely, partly because teachers do not know any better due to the low level of education, and partly because there are no legal measures in existence to restrain its use, particularly in the form of corporal punishment. This description fits the African setting, where many of the teachers are either professionally untrained or have such a low level of education that they have not received sufficient exposure to the principles of classroom management (Mwamwenda, 2004). They tend to interact with their pupils in much the same way as they themselves were dealt with as pupils many years ago. This is vicious circle, and a way of ending it should be treated priority. This type of ambience has survived because there is hardly any law prohibiting teachers from ill-treating pupils. If there are laws of this nature, then they remain unenforced.

In Tanzania, circular number 24, about corporal punishment provides guidelines on how punishment should be provided:

“The punishment will depend on the mistake, age, gender and health of the children and not more than four strokes at a time; this punishment should be provided by the head of the school or by other teacher who will be authorized by the head of the school in written permission when ever this punishment is provided or done and a female student will be given the corporal punishment by female teacher unless there is no female teacher in the school; Whenever corporal punishment is given it should be written in the black book with the name of students identifying the punishment, mistakes done and number of strokes given, also the name of the teacher who gave the punishment; the head of school must sign the black book whenever the punishment is given; if the students or guardian/parents refuse the punishment should be suspended from school and the measure should be taken upon the teacher who will be against the corporal punishment” (URT, 2002)

It should be noted that corporal punishment, which take the form of caning, kicking, slapping, punching and even throwing students against walls, is still widely used in Tanzanian schools and in homes irrespective directive given above. For instance, Holmes, (1997) writes “I think it is the way to make pupils have good manners,” says Rita Kingazi, head-teacher of 524 students at Makumira primary school in Arumeru, since, it would be impossible to control the children without corporal punishment, because of the many mistakes made by pupils, all the teachers are beating. Such mistakes are writing love-letters, lateness for school, arriving in class with dirty hands or clothes. Disobedience, drunkenness, showing disrespect for superiors and using “street” language are also seen as justifications for getting out the stick.


According to Mishira (2007, p.19) there are two kinds of punishment that include positive and negative punishment. These two types are also equated with add and take or good and bad. Positive punishment refers to the application of an aversive (painful, disguising or otherwise undesirable) stimulus to decrease a response a response to particular cue. It involves actively applying aversive stimuli such as painful slaps, electric shock and verbal reprimands. This is called aversive punishment or punishment by application that means a response is weakened by the subsequent presentation of a stimulus. For example spanking and scolding a child in schools or at home for misbehavior are obvious examples. It can produce rapid results, an important consideration when it is necessary to stop particularly dangerous behavior, such as a teacher attacking a student.

Additionally, an undesirable event following the behaviour, for example, if a child puts his hand on a painfully hot stove burner, the behavior of touching the burner is punished, since it leads to an undesirable event that is getting burned. Because stove touching has been punished, that behaviour is less likely to happen in the future (ibid).

Negative punishment refers to the removal of a pleasant stimulus as a consequence of a response, i.e. the response is weakened. Negative punishment fall in to types which includes time-out (involves the loss of access to positive reinforcers for a brief period of time following the occurrence of a problem behavior) and response-cost (is the removal of a specific reinforcer following the occurrence of a problem behavior).

Moreover, research has a useful place in revealing the prevalence of corporal punishment, monitoring implementation of prohibition, and developing effective positive, non-violent, participatory approaches to school learning (SAED, 2000). For, example, it is reported that in the 1999-2000 school year, 9% of children in Arkansas and Mississippi were stuck by educators. It should be understood that successful classroom environments are conducive to learning and positive discipline as well constructive and preventive as well as remedial and ameliorative.

Larsen and Buss (2005); Gleitman and Reisberg (2003) having the same notion on corporal punishment they adds that corporal punishment has the following characteristics it tends to decrease quality of relationships like those of parent-child, teacher-students and students-students; cause poorer internalization of moral standards during childhood; increased aggressive behaviour during childhood and later in adulthood; increases delinquent and antisocial behaviour (for example, truancy, stealing, drop out, abusive language during childhood) and adulthood and increased risk, upon becoming an adult, of physically abusing one’s own children or spouse. Therefore, positive punishment decreases a behaviour through apply something that’s not wanted; and negative punishment decreases a behaviour through removing something that is wanted.


Excerpt out of 16 pages


Why Students are Punished in Schools: Missing Learning Link
Mzumbe University
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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Psychology, Learning, Punishment, Theories, Effective punishment
Quote paper
Tutor Haruni Machumu (Author), 2011, Why Students are Punished in Schools: Missing Learning Link, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/179726


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