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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.

National law in Jordan prohibits teachers from hitting students, but it still happens in many classrooms throughout the country.

Nadel Abu Ahmed, a teacher outside of Jerash, says that he stopped hitting children after the rule went into effect, but now he laments that he cannot effectively control the classroom. Conduct issues that previously could have been solved with a quick swat now require him to discuss problems with children or call their parents to come in and resolve the issue. In many instances the parents arrive and immediately dole out their own brand of corporal punishment, but many parents don’t take these behavioral problems seriously.

Unable to administer the same level of punishment that children receive at home, Ahmed says it’s difficult for him to gain the respect of his students.

When he could hit his students, “they became afraid and more organized. I could control the class and teach very good,” said Ahmed. “As teachers we are suffering so much because of this rule. The students have become very bad with teachers and … it’s very difficult to control our classes.”

As groups like Rizeq's intensify their efforts, some Jordanians accuse them of implementing Western standards for the treatment of children that may not be relevant in Jordan. “There are still people who say that the Jordan River Foundation created this problem, that there was no problem until they started to talk about it,” she said.

Still as the dust settles around Dweikat losing his eye, many children’s advocacy groups are seizing on it as an opportunity to teach parents about why the system needs to change.

“These cases make people realize that violence can be extremely detrimental to the child’s health and well-being,” said Maha Homsi, an early childhood protection specialist at the United Nations International Children's Fund in Jordan.

Aside from changing attitudes within the community, a major step toward reform could come from providing teachers with better training. Presently, teachers can begin working in the classroom directly out of college without any official training about how to teach.

Jordan’s education system is also structured so students with the highest standardized test scores are funneled into prestigious fields like law, medicine and engineering, while the lowest achieving students are sent to study education. Additionally, education courses are largely theoretical, not practical.

As a result, Khalil Elaian, a professor of education at the University of Jordan, said providing new teachers with even a basic orientation to prepare to control a classroom could make a big difference.

“If teachers are not qualified and well-trained the problem will remain,” said Elaian.