Corporal Punishment in Egypt’s Schools: A Personal Testimony

My son was hit at school today by his teacher.

Again.

This time with a hose and stick.

I have visited my boys’ school, Talai` Al-Mustaqbal School in Dukki, Cairo (translated Leaders of the Future), many times to complain at all levels about my sons being hit.

The last time was about three weeks ago when my son told me he was slapped by one of the school’s vice-principals.

I went to the school and asked to meet the principal of the Arabic section, where my son is. The first question I was asked by everyone – on the way to the principal and at the principal’s office – was: what did your son do?

The logic behind this question shocks me.

Is there any possible thing a child can do that justifies him being hit by a teacher? If I go to a school to complain about a teacher hitting my son, am I to stand instead and defend my 12-year-old child? Am I to spend my time proving he did not deserve to be hit rather than spend our time as parent and school administrators finding out what on earth the teacher was thinking when he hit a child and how to punish him??

When my son was slapped by the school’s vice-principal he was playing a game with the student sitting next to him. The game was: who can step on the other person’s foot first. This was happening during a class. It was wrong. But it does not warrant a slap on the face. Nothing does.

The principal would not allow the conversation to go further without context. What did your son do? He repeated on and on. I eventually told him the story. His response: Islamic Shari`ah allows the hitting of children in some situations.

I was appalled at this response even though it was not the first time for me to hear it at this school.

It is not my place to go into a detailed analysis of Islamic Shari`ah’s stance on hitting. But I know that this is a blatant misunderstanding of Islamic Shari`ah on the part of the teacher. And even if this teacher’s understanding of Islam is as such, this does not mean he has any right to practice his beliefs on my children.

The next question by the principal and attending teachers was: “Well if we don’t hit the child to punish him, what other forms of punishment would you suggest?” This question was asked to mean there were no others they could think of and I was to come up with the alternatives for them.

Am I mistaken to be taken strongly aback by this line of thinking??

Has the school never even thought to consider humanitarian forms of punishment such as detention, extra homework, or bringing in the parents? Have these never crossed their minds?

This conversation with the principal ended when he said that he’ll follow the school code in my son’s situation: if the child does something wrong in the future he will be expelled rather than hit.

I had nothing further to say to this man. I just had nothing further to say.

In Egypt, a ministerial decree was issued in 1992 prohibiting corporal punishment of children in schools.

This decree is of little relevance after the current Minister of Education, Ahmed Zaki Badr, made a statement to the Upper Parliament shortly after his appointment saying, “Teachers have lost their reverence ever since hitting was prohibited from schools.” He continued, “Every father and mother should not register an official complaint against a teacher when their child is hit.”

So you tell me who I can go to to ensure my child is protected when I send him to school every morning.

There have been cases of severe injuries and deaths in Egypt as a result of teachers hitting children. I am not sending my son to school in order to come back to me some day in a casket because he was punished for being a little naughty in class, as most 12-year-old boys tend to be.

What did my son do in school today in order to be hit by a hose and stick by his teacher, you ask?

Here is how my son related the story to me:

Today, Monday March 12, 2010, my son Mohammed was sitting in Arabic language class at his school, Talai` Al-Mustaqbal. My son is 12-years-old and is in the 7th grade. His teacher, Mr Mostafa, was explaining something and asked a question he was not expecting to be answered. Mohammed told the boy sitting next to him what he thought the answer was. He was right. After the teacher gave the answer to his own question, Mohammed turned to the boy next to him and said, “See?”

Mohammed was later told that his teacher believed he laughed at this stage during class.

The teacher asked Mohammed to go stand in the corner for around 15 minutes with his hands held up. Mohammed did.

After the 15 minutes ended, the teacher asked one of the students to go get a stick for him. The student came back with a thick, rubber hose. The teacher told the student he wanted a stick instead. The student left to look for one. In the meantime, the teacher hit Mohammed on his back around four to five times with the rubber hose. When the stick arrived, a thin, wooden stick about a foot long, the teacher then hit Mohammed again on his back with the stick. I checked my son’s back. There are no marks. But Mohammed tells me the hitting was hard enough to make him cry. Mohammed was then asked to stand for another 15 minutes in the corner with his hands held high.

This is the incident from today. It is not the first. Last year, Mohammed was punched – yes punched – in the side of his head by a teacher.

I have instructed Mohammed that the next time a teacher tries to hit him that he is to run directly out of the classroom to the main principal’s office, a kind woman who is the uber-principal of both the Arabic and English sections of the school. I instructed Mohammed that he is not to allow a teacher to hit him.

Mohammed is only 12-years-old. It is not fair to give him this responsibility. This is the only way I know how to protect him right now.

I have spoken with the children’s father and we have agreed we will remove the boys from this school at the end of the year. This does not mean the problem is solved.

I still have no one to go to when my child is abused at school.

My child is still unprotected.

What happens at this school happens at schools all over the country.

I am a mother who sends my children to school in the morning and all I ask is that they come back safe to me in the afternoon. I could care less any more about the poor education they are receiving in the Egyptian educational system. All I want is for my child to be safe.

Tell me what to do.

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14 comments

  1. I am so sorry this happened to your son. I doubt this would have happened in an American/British school. I understand because this school is Arabic/Islamically inclined it means they can go backwards in time and punish children illegally.

    I would take this teacher to court.

    I would take my son out LIKE NOW.

  2. as salamu aleikum dear nadia,
    I feel so said about your report and I think you`re right to take it seriously. You are a journalist, try to write an article about it. this topic needs a serious open discussion in Egypt!!
    I know from my time as a teacher in Egypt (an international school !), we had this problem with parents too. If there was a problem in school with behaviour or marks, some parents used to hit their children. To feel scared is no basis for learning in a succesfull way!! Even in the clubs I could see all the kids starting to learn swimming, but their scared because of the water or so, the teacher AND the parents startet to hit the kids or speaking in a very bad way, loud and nervous-without any respect. I stopped the swimming lessons for my girls, because I could`nt see that!
    On the other side: what do they, the teachers, learn about the question: how can you motivate your kids, how can you make them interested in their subjects?? how is their education, how is their salary, to be motivated, to bee a really good TEACHER – not only an officer ?!
    Whatìs the concept of the school to handle bad behavoiur, unproper speaking. Do they have any concept which gives the kids the feeling they have to have responsibility, too??
    I think its a problem effected from many points in your egyption society. Parents have to start first, to speak with their children in a proper way, to spend time with qualitiy with them – not with television and food, like you doing with your kids (diving :) , travelling, make creative things). And to trust their children, give them responsibilities for there life, not car drivers, nurses, ladies for the kitchen and so on. They are no puppets!
    Write an article about it and give them the posibility to start to think about it and to discuss it!
    I hug you and wish you son better days in school!!!!!
    wa salam annett

  3. it doesn’t matter what the minister says, you can still raise hell. go to the principal and demand the teacher be publicly reprimanded in front of the class. threaten that you’ll escalate.

    if they refuse go to mante2a ta3limeya, they are bound by law to investigate these claims. threaten to go to neyaba. then actually go to neyaba and maba7eth and file complaints.

    I was severely beaten by my high school arabic teacher in the notorious sa3ideya, everyone told me that’s the norm there but my parents refused to ignore it worked.

  4. This teacher must be expelled. Mohammad’s story is horrifying, Nadia! I second Alaa in his opinion. There must be escalation, and we are with you on it. Tell me what to do to help.

  5. This is disgusting. As I have been born and raised in the United States, the idea of teachers hitting their students is appalling to me. This should not – can not – go on. I agree that you should go to the authorities. Even if there is little support out there, there must be someone with power who will help you. And you seem to have some of the strongest spirit I’ve ever known, so I know you can, and will, fight.
    Good luck.

  6. May, what does being “born and raised in the United States” have to do with anything? Corporal punishment (paddling) is legal and practiced in more than 20 states. In fact more than 200,000 children in American schools (including schools for the disabled) received some form of corporal punishment last year alone.

  7. This is appalling. I am so sorry to hear this. This would have never happened in my school. You should pull him out of school and transfer him to one with a better reputation. I am sure there are some.
    You could file a complaint and pursue it until the teacher is fired. I don’t know how that will work though.

    When I was in the 2nd grade, a teacher called a classmate “donkey”. She got fired after the parents complained. I don’t know if that is possible in your son’s school.

    Good luck.

  8. This is a terrible thing to happen. I hope your son will be all right.
    Some schools in Egypt are clearly in the dark ages. This is child abuse, this behaviour is not allowed in the UK now. But it took a while for this problem to be addressed. When I was at school boys got the ruler across their hand and some had the cane from the Headmaster.
    You must lobby your local MP( Do you have them there?)
    Do what you can to change things.
    Perhaps if it happens again you could call the police as the teacher is committing assault.

  9. asw, i personally dont support beating a child excessively. however some children are so bad behaved that u just have to beat them. most of those who do not support even light beating are people who are not well behaved themselves and dont train their children to be well behaved.
    their is a saying that says “spare the rod and spoil the child”. is it a wonder that these countries that prohibit beating are the ones facing the greatest juvenile delinquency problem? i was beaten while young and their is no big deal in that .
    i think that what happen to your son was just an exaggeration and you shouldnt make any fuss about it instead you should make effort to make your child better.

  10. I’m from the USA and there have been states that allow abuse of students. There are nonviolent methods that work with students more effectively than beating them like dogs. Why break the spirit in one so young? It is time to send your son to another school altogether; and I agree about filing complaints. The school will learn not to mess with YOUR child anymore. Shaming and terrifying children does not help them learn.

  11. I live in Egypt, Aswan, and I’m in a private school. It’s totally normal to be hit here (only if your a boy- Girls never get hit… Good for me lol, cuz i am one).. They hit in a crazy way, seriously, and alone from my class like 5+ times in a day someone get’s hit (anyhow, teachers keep complaining from my class, and say its worst in the school, so i guess its different in other classes)

  12. I’m an American teacher from Florida who has directed a school in Egypt and can tell you I would never tolerate such behavior in a teacher when I was directing. It is against the law in the state of Florida (USA) to hit a child, and you can lose your license and never be allowed to teach again if you were to do that. You may also be prosecuted in court and pay heavy fines. I myself witnessed abuse against a child in the Futures school in Katemaya, Egypt, when I was hired on as a teacher (on my first day). I spoke to the head of the school who shrugged it off and I refused to work there after letting her know exactly what I thought of allowing such behavior in staff to continue. It’s imperative that you research the school you place your child in and be sure you (or another authorized person) keeps up with what goes on there.
    My area of specialty is special needs education, and that combined with a background in social work taught me how to deal with problem behaviors in a way that is not embarrassing, harmful or damaging to a student. It is extremely important that teachers model respect in the classroom so students learn how to use it themselves. When students learn respect, they become proud of the work they do and strive to do their best. I’ve worked with some of the most “problematic” students that others had given up on, and gave them the tools they needed to behave appropriately and focus so they could learn well.
    There is no excuse for a teacher to hit a child ever. That only teaches the student that violence is the way to respond to a problem behavior and they will grow up to make similar bad choices. Intimidating a child is bullying behavior on the part of a teacher and is also unacceptable.

  13. How difficult is it to set up a private school?

    I know some people who have set up a cooperative school. Pooling resources (money, time and voluntary work) the parents built and set up the place, and hired professional teachers of their liking to work there. Since the parents employ the teachers, they can be fired if they do not perform.

    Hope this helps!

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