The diary of a Saudi man, currently living in the United Kingdom, where the Religious Police no longer trouble him for the moment.

In Memory of the lives of 15 Makkah Schoolgirls, lost when their school burnt down on Monday, 11th March, 2002. The Religious Police would not allow them to leave the building, nor allow the Firemen to enter.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Now to beat the children... 

I'm becoming quite impressed with the Saudi Gazette. It's going in for some rather fearless investigative reporting. If the Editor carries on like this, he's going to end up reporting on the camel auctions out in Al Boony.

School beatings still not phased out

Thankfully I avoided the Saudi system for most of my education.The English believed in cold showers and rulers across the knuckles, but that was about as bad as it got. In the US, it was your fellow-students you had to watch out for.

Corporal punishment is now supposed to be illegal in the Saudi system since 1995. However..

A study conducted by Dr. Saad S. Al-Zahrani in 2004 showed that 31 percent of parents overlook the physical punishment their kids get in their schools, and 20 percent don t investigate the bruises their children suffer from being beaten by teachers.

"Bruises"! These guys don't mess around.

Physical punishment rates reached 28.4 percent in secondary schools, 25.3 percent in intermediate schools, and 23.4 percent in elementary schools. Forms of physical punishment comprised 21 percent battering, 20 percent slapping on the face, 19 percent throwing objects on child, and 18 percent hitting with a stick.

Now I have to say that I've never come across this with the young A's, apart from throwing things like chalk (yes, some still use chalk!). I suspect, (and here my social and regional prejudices are coming to the fore), that this is happening mainly in the more rural and remote regions of the country.

It's not just boys, either.Girls suffer, although that shouldn't surprise anyone

Hadeel, 11, says that her math teacher batters students in every class.
I can t concentrate on the lessons, she said. They are too difficult for me. My teacher loses her temper quickly and throws the duster at us. Sometimes she grabs my arm or slams my head against the wall when I fail to know the answer. I can t ask her to repeat the lesson because I m too afraid she would punish me more.
Hadeel s parents know about what their daughter has to go through at school. Her mother talked to the principal, who was passive about the issue. When she talked to the math teacher, she was stunned at the latter s aggressive attitude.
Your daughter is mentally retarded, the teacher allegedly told Hadeel s mother. Take her to another school. If you don t like that, bear the consequences.

No wishy-washy liberal pandering to the "less gifted" students here. And a very Saudi twist -

The mother explained that the teacher s father is a man of position and connections, and for that reason she is never questioned for anything she does.

Tribe and "Wasta" (influence, connexions). Where would we be without them?

Often, however, it's with the connivance of the parents.

Many grown ups and even officials, too thank their parents and teachers for being strict with their students and children, and even object to the idea of a law that does away with beating.

However there is one punishment, where I would send the perpetrator to prison. It's the falakah. The "grown-up" version is the form of torture beloved by interrogators in the Ministry of the Interior. (Ask the "booze bombers", whose story I will cover shortly). It is intensely painful and shows little external evidence, although ultra-scans show the tissue damage that takes place under the skin.

A famous punishment act is called the falakah. A short rope is tied to a thick stick on both ends. The student takes off his shoes, lies on the floor, and has his legs inserted between the stick and the rope.
Two other students hold the stick and the teacher or the principal beat the student on the soles of his feet with a stick.

Thankfully, the 21st century (cynics would say the 20th) is gradually arriving.

Male teachers tend to use corporal punishment more than females, who generally prefer more peaceful methods like advice, dismissing a student from a class, or sending her to the principal s office.
Awatif Atiyah, a teacher of English, says that corporal punishment could never be a proper disciplinary method.
I refrain from beating my students, she said. It s an inhumane practice that ought to be done away with. Principals and teachers should know that good school and classroom environments are the key to student management, not beating.

How enlightened. How refreshing. However, to be fair, the system is often dealing with the products of parental inattention, with early years in the care of some underpaid and despised Third-world nanny.

Many children are left in the hands of nannies all day, she said. Most children are free to hit the nanny and be rude to her. Furthermore, the nanny is not even allowed to scold the children or refuse them anything they want. When the kids come to school, they cannot have their own way anymore, and cannot understand why they should treat their teachers differently.

Like so many things Saudi, it's a combination of steps forward and backward. It's not a good situation, but what is good is the press and academic attention it's getting.

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