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In Jordan, school violence begins at home

Teachers say without violence they cannot gain respect of students who are physically abused at home.

AMMAN, Jordan — While corporal punishment has been a longstanding practice in most Jordanian schools, the case of a 12-year-old boy who lost his right eye after his teacher hit him is raising questions about whether it’s time for Jordanian teachers to find a softer approach to discipline.

For the past month, 6th-grader Saleh Dweikat has grabbed headlines across the kingdom as he underwent various treatments to save his eye. The ordeal came to an end when doctors discharged him from the hospital after finally removing his damaged eye due to concerns about infection.

The teacher, who has since been fired and deemed “unfit” to teach in Jordan, slapped Dweikat for trying to drink out of the teachers’ water cooler. The boy fell and hit a closet.

While few Jordanians would support such heavy-handed techniques, those trying to bring an end to violence in the classroom say they often face resistance from parents who view corporal punishment as the only effective means to control a classroom. Aside from physical abuse being an accepted form of discipline, teachers in Jordan receive no official classroom management training, adding an additional challenge.

“Teachers are part of our community and we all know that we have people in our community who believe that abuse is part of discipline,” said Samia Bishara Rizeq, the child safety program manager at the Queen Rania Family and Child Center, a part of the Jordan River Foundation. “We have to change concepts, beliefs and attitudes towards abuse.”

Throughout Jordan, violence is still seen as an acceptable form of discipline for children. A U.N.-sponsored report published in 2007 found that the amount of violence inflicted on children in school did not differ dramatically from what kids experience at home. At school, 57 percent of children were physically abused, while 71 percent were verbally abused. At home, 53 percent experienced at least “mild physical abuse” and 70 percent received verbal abuse.

Additionally, at least 70 percent of parents supported teachers hitting students if they misbehave, don’t do their work, or get bad grades.

Rizeq’s center has been working to on a variety of programs to educate families, teachers and students about how to prevent corporal punishment in the school system. While a number of other efforts have focused on teacher training to curb physical punishment, Rizeq said that a holistic approach that addressed each link in the chain was necessary in making a larger cultural shift away from violent disciplinary techniques.

Although Queen Rania is personally involved with the issue, making a permanent change in Jordanian society will take time, said Rizeq.