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School Beatings Widespread

Teachers attempting to assert their authority over students often inflict serious injuries.
By Mohammed Sepehr

Corporal punishment is routinely used by teachers in schools all across the country, frequently leaving students badly beaten – some so severely that they require hospital treatment.


The ministry of education says it is trying to stamp out the practice, but IWPR reporters have found cases of brutal physical punishment of pupils in Kabul and in the provinces.


Examples include one teacher who beat a schoolboy with a cane, inflicting head wounds and dislocating a wrist and two fingers. There are also reports of students being punched and kicked.


Leading humanitarian and non-governmental organisations, NGOs, working in education and with children admit the problem is widespread but are reluctant to publicly criticise teachers, preferring instead to work with the government and in the schools to try to change abusive behaviour.


A spokesman for one NGO, who refused to allow his name to be used, said, “Generally speaking, corporal punishment is widespread, due to the fact that teachers are not trained as teachers and not educated.”


This lack of training means that often, “the only way that they [feel they can] rule a class of 50 to 80 children – which is the national average – is to have a stick and to be quite hard on them,” the spokesman said.


Abdul Sami, child protection officer for the United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF, concurred. He said that, according to a recent UNICEF assessment, physical punishment of children in schools is widespread.


During the assessment, the children were asked what made them sad or upset. They answered, "Corporal punishment at home and at school."


One teacher in Kabul, who spoke on condition that his name not be used, gave credence to the view that teachers regularly resort to the cane. He said he believed that five per cent of students should be physically punished.


"People have grown accustomed to fighting over the last two decades and now we are told to avoid punishments,” he said. “The educational programs won't work if we don’t have physical punishment."


IWPR has uncovered the following cases of brutal punishment in schools in recent weeks:


Fazil Rabi, 18, was left with a dislocated wrist, two dislocated fingers and head injuries after he was beaten by a teacher with a cane for pulling at his classmate’s notebook at Aljahad School in Chak district, Wardak province;


Amir Hussain, 14, had his thumb and second finger dislocated after his teacher allegedly beat him for making too much noise when playing in the school yard of Ansari School, Kabul;


Ali Reza Daudi, 19, was punched and kicked in the school corridor for throwing an eraser to another pupil when the teacher entered the class at Mahmood Tarzi high school in Kabul;


Four pupils in Wardak at a local high school were beaten by the director of their school, then expelled because they had been to a party in the village the night before. This incident was witnessed by Wahidullah, a university student;


Qais, 19, a student in Kabul, alleges that he was kicked and punched by his teacher after complaining about the low marks he received in a physics exam despite having answered all the questions correctly.


In an interview with IWPR, Fazil said that when the teacher saw him pulling at the notebook of his classmate, Mohammed Ibrahim, he started to beat him.


“When the teacher caught me, he started to beat me on my head and I put my hands on my head. And because of the frequent blows, two of my fingers were dislocated and I had two cuts to my head,” he said.


“My desk and notebook are still stained with my blood,” he said.


Fazil’s father, Mohammad Alim, said that he felt upset and decided not to let his son go back to school.


“Our family was illiterate and it will remain illiterate,” he said.


The family protested to Zafar Khan, the director of the school, who apologised for the incident.


Abdul Rahim, 28, the teacher who Fazil said beat him, admitted to IWPR that he struck the student.


Walking through the school carrying his cane, Rahim said, “I beat Fazil Rabi because he didn’t respect teachers. I had already warned him several times. But he continued to be insolent, so I had to beat him.”


A set of canes could be seen in the director’s office at Aljahad School. When asked why they needed the canes, Mohammed Amin, a teacher, said, “We beat the students with these sticks to make them learn lessons and behaviour.”


The reporter didn’t see a single teacher in the school without a cane in his hand.


At the Ansari School in Kabul, Aziz Ahmad Mahbobi, the school’s director, said he was unaware of the beating incident involving Amir Hussain.


But he admitted that teachers do use corporal punishment, although only when necessary. For example, he said, some students turn on their mobile phones in class, while others bring knuckle-dusters to school. Parents are told to prevent such behaviour but if that fails, then the student may be subject to a beating.


Mahbobi said that many teachers are not prepared to control a classroom.


“The ministry of education sends everyone who graduates from the 12th grade [at the age of 18] into the schools as teachers [with no specialised training], when they are themselves still children,” he said. “And they are not able to control a class.”


Sayed Asghar Hashimi, the director of the Mahmood Tarzi high school in Kabul, denied beating Ali Reza Daudi.


Hashimi, who is also a biology teacher, said that “a teacher’s duty is to teach students and not to threaten or humiliate them”.


He also denied that five students, including Daudi, had been sent to the corridor and then punched and kicked.


But Murad Ali, a classmate of Daudi, said, "I was there when the biology teacher, who is the director of the school as well, sent us into the corridor and beat us."


Mohammed Sharif Ahmadi, head of educational programmes at the ministry of education, said that the ministry has sent three letters to all Kabul schools, telling them to stop using corporal punishment. But, he acknowledged that students are still being beaten in schools.


He admitted that some students have been punished very severely and that the representatives of the ministry have received complaints about such incidents.


Maulavi Mohammad, a member of the scientific board of the ministry of education, said that corporal punishment can undermine the achievements and confidence of students.


Dr. Yosuf Alimi, a psychologist, agreed that corporal punishment has a negative effect on children.


In an effort to end the practice, UNICEF provided training to 80 teachers, who in turn trained 27,000 others all across the country. Other teacher-training programmes are also under way.


But given that the use of corporal punishment appears to be deeply entrenched in Afghanistan’s schools, it looks like it will to take considerable time for teachers’ attitudes toward the practice to change.


Mohammed Sepehr and Amanullah Nasrat are freelance journalists at IWPR, Kabul. Staff reporter Wahidullah Amani also contributed to this report.


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