For many people, caning seems a thing long since forgotten, as though it is something only known from the pages of a Dickensian novel.
It is, in reality, not such a distant memory. My parents remember caning taking place when they were at school and, you might be surprised to learn, it was only completely banned in the UK from 2000.
In Uganda, it is very much an issue of the here and now. It is a sensitive subject, so let’s first deal with the facts.
Caning is illegal in Uganda, but is culturally acceptable. It is expected by some parents. Many teachers will never use a cane, but for others it is as much part of the teacher toolkit as chalk. Children can be caned for anything, from laughing while waiting in the lunch queue to sharing needles to tattoo themselves – both examples which I have personally encountered. It is generational, with older teachers much more likely to strike a child than their younger counterparts. It happens every day.
Here is another fact, it is wrong.
That is the unequivocal view of Volunteer Uganda. VU is working towards eradicating caning by exposing Ugandan teachers to methods which they have neither been brought up on nor witnessed in their teacher training.
It is a long, and sometimes frustrating, process. We are guests in the schools and if we demanded an immediate end to the practice then we would be unlikely to be able to continue teaching in schools and slowly but surely introduce modern classroom management techniques.
But there are challenges to overcome. Some teachers still believe caning to be legal and part of the teaching regulations. Others believe it to be the best way to “teach children a lesson” as other methods “take a long time.”
It is Volunteer Uganda’s aim to show teachers that it is better to be respected than feared, that a child is more likely to learn from mistakes if explained through words rather than the whip of a cane, that caning is a form of child abuse.
To put it another way, we can snap as many canes as we like, there will always be another tree. The only way to stop caning is to tackle the root of the problem which is deeply embedded in Ugandan culture.
It might be a long road, but it is one worth travelling.