Arriving home rather late, one day last week, I noticed that my nursery school twin grandsons, Baker and Bill, were anxiously waiting for me.
After opening the narrow gate for me, one of them, Baker, helped me with my handbag and took it to my bedroom.
Before I rested my aching muscles, Baker retorted; “Grandpa, Grandma says you are going to beat up mada (madam) tomorrow because he slapped me on the chick today. Are you going to do so?”
“Why did madam slap you?” I enquired. “It is because I was shouting,” he confessed.
His twin brother, Bill, told me not only was his brother beaten but several others in his class.
The twins then quickly dispersed, probably to convey the message to grandma to the effect that grandpa had received the urgent memorandum.
That the boy was actually punished for shouting in class is unquestionable. But considering that the boys had not complained earlier on a similar case, it is surely clear that the twins found it strange.
Slapping and canning by teachers, a practice common in other countries in Africa, is a traditional method used to discipline pupils and students.
History has it that corporal punishment has a long root in Tanzania; dating back to German colonial rule in the 19th century.
During the time, the colonisers, along with other punishments, administered strokes to their subjects as punishment to deter those who infringed the law.
Afterwards, the practice extended to bush schools and later formal schools.
In Tanzania’s school system, canning is used by teachers for students and pupils who fail to abide by school rules – such as reporting to school late or similar other offences.
But the policy on Tanzania’s school law on corporal punishment says the practice is commonplace in homes and prisons.
Tanzanians have mixed feelings on whether corporal punishment should be abolished or not.
“Corporal punishment is not good for children. If he or she commits an offence, let him realize the mistake. With time, he or she will abandon the misdeed,” says Murtaza Ganjee (64), a city based businessman and father of three children.
Andrew Mshotte, a Tanga resident, sees no use in prohibiting caning because even if it is prohibited in schools, parents still cherish it as a way of correcting their children.
On his part, Shabani Kombo (60) says although canning could be outdated in most developing countries, it is improper to emulate them because our traditions are different from theirs.
“Corporal punishment is understood to have helped in grooming characters of many children,” says Kombo.
A headmaster of a city secondary school who opted for anonymity says instant punishment is still the best remedy for offending students.
“Corporal punishment is still effective. It has always deterred offending students from repeating the mistakes,” he says.
He says “alternative punishment outside the class may be used in rare cases. However, these are laborious, since the particular teacher has to oversee the task throughout to ensure compliance”.
Hawa Jongo, another city resident, says she detests caning. “The use of the stick is not good because firstly, some teachers administer the cane on any part of the body when angry with a student. Secondly, if I am punished in front of other students, I may feel ashamed and hate teachers.”
“Alternative punishments are more appropriate, like sending out a student while a lecture is in progress, for example, being one of them, says Luka Shemdoe, a bank clerk.
But Asgarali Lindwalla, a Form lV student at Popatlal Secondary Sch0ool in Tanga, is in favour of the punishment.
“If I have broken school rules, certainly I deserve to be punished.” After all, at home some of our parents mete out more severe punishments, like being starved for some hours.