June 2, 2013
KATHMANDU, NEPAL – Anuradha Dahal, 14, is a student at the Nobel Academy Higher Secondary School, a private school in Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital. One day in class, her teacher pulled her hair, accusing her of making noise and not being attentive in class, she says.
“I cannot express how painful it was,” Anuradha says. “I fainted because of the pain.”
The event also affected her psychologically. She felt ashamed, she says, as it happened in front of all her friends in class.
“After this incident, I avoided facing that teacher,” she says.
Anuradha’s father spoke to the principal about the incident because her parents knew she was a respectful and diligent student, she says. Although the administration promised to investigate the alleged abuse, the school has not taken any action.
Laxmi Poudel, a teacher at Anuradha’s school, says in a telephone interview that teachers at the school do not use corporal punishment. If it does happen, the school administration handles cases seriously by asking the teachers for an explanation and warning them sternly not to repeat the behavior.
To prevent student abuse, the government and nongovernmental organizations have provided regular training for teachers since 2002. But teachers continue to employ corporal and psychological punishment, despite increased awareness about the negative impact on students. The psychological repercussions of abuse can trump the physical ones, causing students to avoid teachers and to skip school. While political stagnation has stalled a bill against school abuse, some parents say increased communication with teachers can improve behavioral issues.
There were more than 34,360 government and private schools in Nepal as of July 2012, according to the Department of Education.
The Children’s Act, passed in 1992 and amended in 2005, protects children from torture and cruel treatment. But the act enables parents, family members, guardians and teachers to scold children if it is in their best interest.
Teachers believe corporal punishment is a common practice and beating and scolding students is within their rights, according to a 2004 joint study on violence against children in Nepal by UNICEF and the Centre for Victims of Torture, Nepal, a nonprofit organization that rehabilitates torture and trauma victims.
And 82 percent of students surveyed from 55 government and private schools in Nepal said that their teachers had beaten them, according to a 2006 joint report by the Centre for Victims of Torture, Nepal, and the Education Journalists’ Group, a forum for journalists in Nepal.
To prevent abuse of students, the government has provided regular training for teachers since 2002, says Roja Nath Pandey, one of the joint spokesmen for the Ministry of Education.
“Ninety-eight percent of the teachers in the government schools have been trained,” Pandey says.
The government also sent instructions in 2004 to both private and government schools to encourage nonviolent teaching, says Ganesh Poudel, a deputy director within the Department of Education.
But the government prioritizes public schools for this compulsory training because they teach larger numbers of students than private institutions, he says. Private schools are not required to participate, and few sign up for the voluntary training.
If the principals at private and public schools hear of abuse, the government requires them to record the incident and to inform the district education office immediately, he says. If public and private teachers fail to give satisfactory answers in response to abuse reports, the school can halt promotions, block salary increases or even fire them.
The Private and Boarding Schools’ Organisation, Nepal, a group that protects and promotes private schools in Nepal, has regularly trained private school principals twice a year since 2006 to prevent student abuse, says Gopal Acharya, the president of the organization. The principals then train their teachers.
“We are trying to create a congenial environment in the schools where children are motivated and encouraged to learn effectively,” Acharya says in a telephone interview.
The Ministry of Education also publicly announced in December 2010 that Nepal was joining Learn Without Fear, an international campaign to end sexual violence, bullying and corporal punishment against children in all schools around the world.
The government circulated the Learn Without Fear policy to all public schools in the country’s 75 districts, says Baburam Timilsina, a deputy director within the Department of Education.
But teachers continue to employ corporal and psychological punishment, despite increased awareness from the training, the media and their colleagues about the negative impacts on students, says Prakash Silwall, president of the Education Journalists’ Group, in a telephone interview.
“A slight variation might have happened in the percentage,” Silwall says. “But the general situation has not changed much.”
School administrations often try to hush up reports of abuse so they do not tarnish their reputations, he says.
The majority of schools in Kathmandu employ teachers who resort to corporal punishment, says Tarak Dhital, the general secretary for Child Workers in Nepal Concerned Centre, a children’s rights organization, in a telephone interview.
Despite the training, abuse occurs in schools all the time, says Jagannath Devkota, a teacher at Bhanubhakta Memorial Higher Secondary School, a private school in Kathmandu. Students are subject to physical punishment and psychological torture when they fail to bring their homework, cannot answer questions or misbehave during class.
“Still, the students have been facing such punishment every day,” Devkota says.
Teachers punish students by beating them and scolding them, he says. They also force students to stand up on desks for extended periods, hold their ears, do sit-ups or kneel in front of the class.
Other examples of corporal abuse include slapping students, thrashing them with a stick and wrenching their ears, says Gopal Dhakal, the general secretary for Nepal Psychologist Association, in a telephone interview. Teachers psychologically abuse students through humiliation, discouragement and threats.
In many schools, teachers enter the classroom holding a stick, says Sita Ojha, a teacher at Gyanodaya Higher Secondary School, a government school in Dharan, a city in eastern Nepal.
Teachers instill fear in their students to prevent them from becoming disobedient and disrespectful, Ojha says.
“We have to beat them sometimes,” she says. “Otherwise, they will turn impolite towards us.”
Although abuse occurs in both private and government schools, it is more prevalent in private schools because parents and administrators constantly pressure teachers to make their students score better, Dhital says.
Some teachers punish their students because they lack tact and teaching skills, says Om Kumar Magar, a teacher at the Presidency College, a private school in Kathmandu for 11th and 12th grades. Some reuse techniques they suffered at the hands of their own abusive childhood teachers.
“Lack of creative measures to discipline the disobedient children is responsible to provoke the teachers to apply corporal punishment,” he says.
Parents also ask teachers to discipline their children so they stay engaged in their studies, Magar says.
“The school management and even guardians urge the teachers to make their students pass with high marks, which force the teachers to resort to any means, including corporal punishment,” Magar says.
But the guardians do not intend for teachers to physically or psychologically torture their students, he says.
In some cases of abuse, the psychological repercussions can be more damaging for students than the physical ones, causing them to avoid their teachers and to skip school.
Fear and punishment can instill discipline temporarily in students but do not promote effective learning, says Amita Thulung, a teacher at Graded English Medium School, a private school in Lalitpur, a district south of Kathmandu.
Physical and psychological punishment can cause students to avoid teachers, to be afraid to ask questions in class and to skip school, which hamper their education, Thulung says.
Jina Sharma, 20, a nurse in Damak, a municipality in eastern Nepal, says that when she was in sixth grade at Chula Chuli English Boarding School, a private school, her teacher hit her on the head, causing her to bleed profusely. She developed a fear of her teacher, which prevented her from learning in class.
“I can never forget being beaten by that teacher,” she says. “I didn’t go to school the next day. The day after that, I went to school after my mother persuaded and consoled me.”
Dhakal says that psychological abuse can have lasting effects on students.
“The physical wounds caused by such punishments can be cured, but the psychological impact of it is dangerous and its cure more difficult,” he says. “And, hence, it leaves a long-term effect on the child.”
Because of Nepal’s culture of school punishment, children lose concentration on their studies, are frightened, tend to be more disobedient and have increased chances of developing bad habits, such as drug abuse, Dhakal says. It may also cause them to drop out of school.
While the government seeks to legally restrict school abuse, some parents say increased communication between schools and parents can improve the situation.
The Ministry of Education proposed a bill to legally prohibit corporal punishment in school, which was introduced in parliament in May 2012. But former Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai dissolved parliament that same month.
The Ministry of Education needs to resubmit the bill once the government holds parliamentary elections, projected for late 2013 or early 2014, Poudel says.
Beyond legal action, guardians should hold regular meetings with teachers to discuss their children’s behavior, says Sudha Subba, a parent of a student at Triyog Higher Secondary School, a private school in Kathmandu.
“They should make a plan on how to promote [and] reward good behavior and jointly discourage negative behavior,” she says in a telephone interview. “Also, the teachers should be informed on the students’ behavior at home. Punishment is not at all the solution.”
All interviews were translated from Nepali.
Editor’s note: Kamala Gautam is a teacher at a private school in Nepal. She does not have an affiliation with any sources, organizations or schools listed in the article. Minors spoke with the consent of their guardians. None of the sources are related.