I got into Junior Secondary School with so much excitement because I wanted to enjoy teenage age meeting new people outside my neighborhood, interact with children from various social and economic background, live away from home and test the strength of self-dependency at an early age and think to start a business as I come from background with lots of Medium scale entrepreneurs. My expectations on education, communication and learning were high and I could not wait for my first day as a junior secondary student in a boarding school.
I was enrolled in one of the best secondary schools in Lagos, Nigeria and the sad reality of school appraisals in Nigeria is limited to their educational strength based on teaching methods and academic performance in comparison with other schools. Such methods are not constructively appraised on the benefit on mental, intellectual and physical wellbeing of the child. My case was no different as I was a exhibit for testing poor disciplinary methods on children. My parents identified the good academic qualities of this school and once all admission requirement were settled, I became a proud student of Queens College in Lagos Nigeria and lived in school (i.e. the boarding house system that put high responsibility on the school management to cater for the day-to-day wellbeing of students).
The proclivities in this system of child discipline in Nigeria increases the chances and sustainability of corporal punishment based on student-to-student and student-to-teacher relationships as a culture of brutality to define a reputation of “seniority” and dominance within the student community is synonymous to an uncivilized people with intentions to maim and demoralize their peers. When a junior student is a victim of corporal punishment from student of teacher for 4-5 years and sees how it gives a pseudo status of respect, they are very likely to be conditioned to apply such means in defining their roles and status in the student community when they become senior students.
I became a boarding student due to the distance of my school from home. It was a long distance to cover even by car and the traffic in Lagos would double, if not triple the time required to arrive early at school each day. Like I mentioned, the boarding system relinquishes certain responsibilities from the parents to the school management on behalf of their children and this was one of many responsibilities the school would take up that would be less burdensome on my parents and I. The idea of independence was critical to my parents and they wanted to build me up from a young age to be self-reliant and depend less on them for small issues I could manage especially interpersonal relationship and making small decision.
This is a good decision every parent will want for their children and safe to say they wanted a child, regardless of her gender that remains undermined both in terms of equity and equality in Nigeria, to be solid in intellectually and courageous. Though the rules and regulations were alien, I had to live within them as I was excited of my new milestone. Some of the rules were very unimaginable and monstrous and looking back at how they were developed, reviewed and agreed in managing child educational and behavioral development, i really wonder what the definition of child safety and child rights is in Nigeria (I will not dwell on that in this post).
FOOD! FOOD!! FOOD!!! was the reason my house mistress slapped me. Funny but that was why I was slapped, and I will go into a bit of details on it. On this particular day, I went to my guardian’s house receive a call from my parent who had not seen me for some time and as their only child, I think their concerns to speak to me over the phone was valid. After the call, in a show of kind gesture, my guardian gave me food to eat and I ate with so much happiness (considering the quantity and quality (nutritional value) of the food compared to the rations we got from the dining hall, every student would eat her food. I might have been wrong or right to have eaten at my guardians’ house but I’m not too sure a student of a boarding school will blame me for wanting good food.
Anyways, we had a dormitory captain who gave report to the house mistress about certain activities. She reported to the house mistress stating I sometimes ate at my guardians’ and not from the dining hall. Looking back, I can only say she was jealous how my guardian treated me especially with good food. One day, while eating at my guardians’, my house mistress showed up to “discipline me”. I was very surprised and knew somebody gave me up (the snitching systems to attract favor). My house mistress asked what I was doing at my guardians’ place and I replied, “I came to eat dinner”. Her response was “you even have the gut to talk”. At that point, I became very scared and started shivering. She asked me the question again and after responding the same way, she slapped me. I burst into tears and tried to inquire the reason she slapped me, her response to my question was several wipes on my back and legs with a cane she was holding.
At that point my guardian rushed outside to manage the situation and stop her from flogging me. This made them get at each other, at least in words and I felt really sad and because I was slapped and flogged for wanting good food and putting my guardian in a bad situation because I had no idea the implication with the school authority. The fact that food, a core need of a child can be responding in a hostile manner makes me think deeply about children that live without food and how they are treated when they reach out to people that can help or how people that help are perceived by the society. The takeaway for me was that a gap within the social welfare programme of the school was identified and as a school responsible for children wellbeing including quality food, addressing the issue was core not how the student responded to her appetite especially when she did not steal or bully another student for their meal.
My house mistress reported the case to the Vice Principal, which attracted a warning letter from the school after inviting my parents to discuss the matter. The decision from the school management supported the use of violence through corporal punishment meted on me. The mental and physical effect left traumatized as I felt most vulnerable when my parents went home. I did not feel safe and that was not a concern of the school. The direct effect this had on me was I couldn’t speak for myself and always resorted to the help if my guardian, eliminating the goal of developing self-confidence and able to make small decisions on my life. I became more dependent and asking myself questions as “Did she really have to hit me?”, “Couldn’t she have just reported me to the management, if she felt I was wrong or tell me why I was expected to eat from the school dining hall?”.
Guess what, I did not stop going to have those delicious meals at my guardians’ despite the violence and I began taken my dormitory captain along after she apologized to me, we became friends afterwards. My enthusiasm against corporal punishment is that it does not solve the root problem of any poor behavior a child display. It only helps the child grow to understand that (s)he can only manage such root problems by herself/himself and those that do not accept her/his methods of managing root problems will react violently not because they are trying to lead acceptable socio-cultural behaviors but because they lack capacity of an effective way to salvage the problem bedeviling the child and this leads me to make my final comment on this post on corporal punishment. To any teachers, house mistresses, house masters, guardians and parents, the violence you preach is not the solution to the problem.
I was treated poorly because of food but The death of a 14-year-old schoolgirl in Abuja (Keren Akpagher) would have had worse experience. Kindly share your thoughts about this and more if you have similar experience.