Physical Punishment: A Very Real Issue

In the midst of the rolling hills of Rubavu District, between the shores of glistening Lake Kivu and the forest slopes of Volcanoes National Park, lie 75 primary schools. Each of these schools has a unique story, but they are all bound together by one thing: their use of traditional teaching methods—specifically physical punishment as a tool of behaviour management.

Physical punishment is still a very real issue in this area of Rwanda and it has been for some time. Our trainers who grew up in the Western Province vividly recall stories from their childhood where their teachers would slap them for simply answering a math question wrong. They remember how this pain bred distrust and all the times their friends dropped out of school because they would rather spend their days helping their families earn a meagre sum of money than being beaten with a stick in the classroom. This is why our trainers have such a heart for this region that they are willing to traverse flooding rivers and hike steep slopes just to reach the schools we work in—because they don’t want these kids to suffer as they did, because they know it can be different.

And they know this because they’ve already been part of making it happen in Gasabo District.

Six years ago, Gasabo was just as reliant upon physical punishment as a tool of behavioural management as Rubavu is today. The teachers themselves grew up being beaten by their teachers and didn’t know any other way to control their classrooms. Today, this is entirely different. Our Wellspring trainers have introduced the teachers to positive behavioural management, and the transformation in the classroom has been astounding.

In a recent English lesson at Sha Primary, we were privileged to witness this in action. As soon as we stepped into the classroom, it was abundantly clear just how much positive behavioural management has transformed the lives of these students. Instead of a classroom filled with distrust and fear, the kids arrived with smiles on their faces and eager to learn. Instead of beginning the lesson by being yelled at and threatened with the stick in order to behave, the students were greeted by name by the teacher. Together, they wrote the classroom rules on the chalkboard. The teacher then drew a smiley face, and told them that each time they behaved well and participated in their learning, he would put a star under the smiley face. After they received five stars, the teacher would reward them with a song. The students immediately perked up with excitement, eagerly participating throughout the lesson in order to earn their stars. For every right answer, the students were rewarded with ‘flowers’—a Wellspring-taught technique that sees the teacher and other students praise the speaker with a flower-type hand gesture. There was no punishment for a wrong answer, just encouragement to try again. And when the students earned their five stars, the students and the teacher cheered together before launching into song. The love and respect in the classroom overflowed as they sang together. There was no misbehaving, no acting out, and no talking out of turn throughout the whole lesson. The kids were attentive. They showed the teacher love and respect because he showed them love and respect first.

We know this can happen in Rubavu too. Every child, no matter where they are in Rwanda or in the world, deserves to be treated with respect and dignity. Using positive behavioural management techniques in the classroom is the first step in providing a quality education that will empower these students to fulfil their God-given potential. With your help, we’ve seen this transformation happen in Gasbao. Will you partner with us to see this change spread to Rubavu too?