This paper examines various issues regarding to punishment and learning. In the introductory part, the paper clearly describes the concept of punishment. The behaviorism and social cultural theory perspectives to punishment are also discussed in this paper. The reformation, retribution, deterrence, attribution and social control theories of punishment are also identified and comprehensively explained. On the other hand, the paper points out the arguments put forward by those who support and oppose the use of punishment in both homes and schools. The important tips in using punishment, the impacts of punishment on student learning as well as various alternatives to corporal punishment are also examined in this paper. The paper concludes that, corporal punishment should be eliminated because it does not enhance positive student learning instead it brings a lot of negative consequences to both teachers and students.
Key words: Punishment, Learning and Human Rights
Teachers in schools and parents in homes use punishment as one of the most important tool for controlling student’s behavior and discipline. Form the psychological point of view, punishment is defined to as anything that decreases the occurrence of a behavior; physical pain, withdraw of attention, loss of tangibles or activities, a reprimand or even something others would find rewarding, but the particular individual does not like (Lefton, 2002; Kosslyn & Rosenberg, 2002). One of the main goals of punishment is to invoke fear in the student, so that the behavior does not occur again. In the school, teachers punish students for being late to school, for not following the school rules, for not doing classroom assignment and for failure to perform better in tests and examinations and the like (URT, 2006). The kind of punishment given in response to these behaviors includes, caning the child, giving them physical labour such as watering school gardens, farming, kneeling on concrete stones, walking on knees , doing push-ups in the sun and carrying several buckets of sand (TEN/Met, 2008). School is not the only place where children get punished. At home they are also beaten by their parents when they do not go to school, stealing and the like. Children at home are punished by their parents through food denial, burning hands with fire for stealing and being chased away from home to go to sleep in the bush (URT, 2006).
Despite the fact that, punishment seems to be an appropriate technique to control behavior and student disciplines, the UN Convention on the Right of the Child recognized that, corporal punishment employed by teachers and parents in schools and homes seems to be ineffective, dangerous and unacceptable method of discipline as it brings negative rather than positive impacts to learners (Murphy & Vagins, 2010). Due to these impacts, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child declared corporal punishment to be banned. The Article 28 (2) of the UN Convention on the Rights of the child (1989) states the need to ensure that school discipline is administered in a manner that is consistent with the child human dignity and in conformity with this Convention. Thus, severe punishment in this regard is acknowledged to be beyond violation of the fundamental rights to the child as it may cause pain, injury, humiliation, anxiety and anger that could have long term psychological effects (TEN/MET, 2008).
Due to this fact, the Committee on the Rights of the Child, the monitoring body of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child have emphasized that, human rights requires the elimination of all corporal punishment however light and other cruel or degrading punishment. In response to this Convention, several countries have declared themselves to abolish corporal punishment in schools. Despite the changes in the rules related to corporal punishment, the practice of corporal punishment is still common in Tanzanian schools whereby pupils are beaten, kicked, slapped, thrown against the wall and humiliated (URT, 2006). This situation brings a lot of negative impacts to child learning and general mental health.
Types of Punishment
There are two main types of punishment, the positive and negative punishment (Feldman, 2005; Lefton, 2002; Kosslyn & Rossenberg, 2002). Positive punishment refers to the punishment which decreases the probability of behavior recurring by administering aversive stimulus. In this kind of punishment the occurrence of behavior is followed by the presentation of an aversive stimulus and as a result the behavior is less likely to occur in the future. An example of positive punishment is slapping. Slapping is considered to be positive punishment because it involves infliction of pain so as to teach the child not to misbehave. On the other hand, negative punishment refers to the punishment which decreases the probability of behavior to occur by removing a pleasurable stimulus. That means, the occurrence of behavior is followed by the removal of a reinforcing stimulus and as a result the behavior is less likely to occur in the future (Coon, 2001). An example of negative punishment is when a teacher removes a child from the class because she/he is misbehaving or when a parent forbids a child to watch a television when he/she gets poor grade in the school.
Teaching and Learning Theories Perspectives to Punishment
According to skinner’s theory of operant conditioning, punishment and extinction are the two methods of decreasing a behavior or response (Kosslyn & Rosenberg, 2002). Despite the fact that, the two serve to decrease behaviour, skinner stressed that extinction is the more powerful of the two. To him only by completely eliminating the rewards (positive reinforcement) that follow a particular behavior people will be sufficiently discouraged from repeating those behaviours (ibid). Thorndike on the other hand stressed that; reinforcement is more potent in increasing the probability of the reinforced behaviour to recur than pain (punishment) is for eradicating the punished behaviour (Westen, 1999).
Social Cultural and Cognitive Theory Perspectives
Theo theory suggests that, children’s cognitive development emerges out of social interactions (Myers, 1999; Gazzaniga, 2003; Nairne, 1999). Social relationships such as early attachment to caregivers, friendships and collaborative learning between peers and relationship between children and teachers, directly or indirectly influence children’s learning and motivation to learn. The use of verbal methods of discipline through explanation and reasoning are likely to provide more cognitive stimulus than the use of corporal punishment without induction (Coon, 2001). Thus, poor cognitive outcomes may result if parents who are physically punish their children make use of inductive methods of discipline such as explanation and reasoning procedures that are likely to enhance cognitive growth.
Bandura (1973) also suggests that, physical punishment enables children to learn aggressive behavior through modeling. If parents try to modify their children’s behavior through inflicting pain, then those children are likely to do the same to other s when they want to influence other people’s actions. Social cultural cognitive theorists also insist that, punishment may legitimize violence for the children interpersonal relationships because they tend to internalize the social relation they experience (Kail, 2006).
Theories of Punishment
There are three theories which describes punishment in regard to learning; the reformation, the retribution and deterrence theories (Nichols & Newman, 1986; Tarimo, 2006). The reformation theory views punishment as the only possible way to reform or recreate an individual. It assumes that, punishment have corrective effects to learning (Tarimo, 2006). Likewise, the theory assumes that, there will be a suppression of a bad behavior following the administration of punishment, as punished person will not pretend to repeat misbehaving.
On the contrary, retribution theory is the theory which is based on the law of retaliation that is vengeance (Ibid). It is a desire to see other persons suffer or being punished for their wrong action. According to this theory, if corporal punishment results into injury or death, the situation will reinforce rebellion, resistance, revenge and resentment to the victims (Cicognani, 2004). The retribution theory insists that, severe punishment may cause negative relationships between a student and the teacher as the student could try to find different ways to retaliate (an eye for an eye or tooth for tooth concept) for an action which has been punished.
The deterrence theory of punishment is based on the assumption that, if other people see or hear severe punishment given to offenders, they will refrain from doing that offence in future. It also assumes that, punishing a student violently in front of others will be the lesson to other students. In the society today, teachers and judges tends to provide severe punishment to those who commits offence by saying that “we punish you for doing this offence as a lesson to others who misbehave similarly”
Gershoff (2002) adds two theories which explain punishment; the attribution and social control theory. Theattribution theoryposits that, association between corporal punishment and child delinquent or antisocial behaviour results from the inability of corporal punishment to facilitate children’s internalization of moral and values. While, thesocial control theorysuggests that, parental corporal punishment erodes the parent-child relationships and in turn decreases child’s motivation to internalize parents’ values and those of society, which in turn results in low-self control.
Argument For and Against the Use of Punishment
Different people like teachers, parents and other educators have different views regarding to the punishment. There are those who support and those who oppose the use of punishment particularly corporal punishment.
Those who support the use of punishment believe that if children are not punished, they will develop into unmanageable and uncontrollable citizens. In the large classrooms for example, punishment is seen by teachers as proper way to deal with discipline when they find it difficulty in maintaining silence and instructions (Gershoff, 2002). In this context, teachers have the belief that, without the use physical punishment students will not keep silence and concentrate on learning. Furthermore, some parents feel that they, themselves receive punishment and therefore schools should continue with this style of disciplining (Cicognani, 2004). In South Asia, Kenya and Botswana, punishment is often considered necessary to children’s upbringing, to facilitate learning and to instill discipline. To some countries like Australia, teachers are unhappy about the ban of corporal punishment and fear that it will result in students becoming more aggressive (ibid).
People who oppose the use of corporal punishment view the harmful effects of punishment (physical punishment) as not only lasting in childhood, but often well into adult hood. They also believe that, punishment de-humanizes the children, violates children’s right to equal protection under the law and have negative rather than positive consequences to children. They generally believe that, punishment makes children worthless, scared and ashamed, increase child aggression, increase antisocial behavior, lower intellectual achievements and it can lead into mental health problems (Gazzaniga, 2003; Bootzin et al., 1986; Martin et al., 2000). Therefore, those people advocate and support the campaign towards the abolition of corporal punishment. Some countries persuade their parliamentians to adopt the legal and support measures needed to abolish all corporal punishment. Physical punishment of children in school is now banned in (108 nations) more than half of the countries of the world (Global Initiatives to End all corporal punishment of children, 2009)
Some Useful Tips (Guidelines) When Using Punishment
Most psychologists believe that punishment, especially corporal punishment is a poor way to eliminate unwanted behavior in most situations. However, there are times when punishment may be necessary to manage the behavior of a child or even another adult. When punishment must be used, these guidelines should be kept in mind:
One among the important tips is that, without being abusive, a punisher should make sure that the punishment is immediately and noticeable enough to eliminate the undesirable response (Cicognani, 2004). It is important for the teacher or parent to administer punishment directly after the student committed the mistake, not late hours. This should be done so in order to maintain clear relationship between the unwanted behavior and punishment. However, Coon (2001) argues that, applying punishment during or immediately after misbehavior is not always possible. But with older children and adults, a punisher can bridge the delay by clearly stating what action you are punishing. In fact, the effectiveness of punishment depends greatly on timing. Punishment delivered immediately after a response is most effectively; the longer the delay between the response and the punishment, the greater the change that the punishment will become associated with other intervening events (McNeil & Rubin, 1977).
In order to ensure its effectiveness, punishment should be accompanied with an explanation for why the child is punished and how that can be avoided for the future or what kind of behavior would be appropriate. The teacher or the parent should give this information before but no after delivering the punishment. Giving explanations helps to prevent the development of general fear of the punisher (Bernstein & Nash, 2002) and would help to change the behavioral and understand well that doing such behavior in the future is not appropriate at all. It also enables the child correctly connect an action with the punishment. However, Westen (1999) insists that, punishment tends to be most effective when it is accompanied by reasoning and when the person being punished is also reinforced for alternative, acceptable behavior.
On the other hand, punishment should not involve physical abuse. This is to say that, the punisher should avoid harsh physical punishment; instead he/she can use the minimum punishment necessary to suppress misbehaviors. Obvious, physical punishment can become abusive when given in anger as children tend to imitate what they see; hence they may become very aggressive (Cicignani, 2004). Corporal punishment in this context should be used as a last resort. Taking away privileges or positive reinforcers is usually the best for children than corporal punishment.
A punisher should also be consistent when delivering the punishment (Coon, 2001; Kosslyn & Rosenberg, 2002). He or she should be very clear about what he/she regards as misbehavior. This is to say that, he/she should punish every time the misbehavior occurs. if the punishment is delivered inconsistently or without reference to the organism’s behavior it may lead to learned helplessness, the reaction of a person that feels powerless to control the punishment and so stops making any response at all (Nairne, 1999). Likewise, frequent use of punishment by the teacher or parent may prevent the child from learning what behavior is being punished, under what circumstances and how to avoid it (Lefton, 2002; Westen, 1999).
Also to make it effective and meaningful, punishment should be followed with positive reinforcement for appropriate behavior to be controlled and maintained (Martin et al, 2000). If punishment is not followed by reinforcement for subsequent behavior that is more appropriate, little will be accomplished (Feldman, 2005). In short, reinforcing desirable behavior is more appropriate technique for modifying behavior than using punishment. It is very important to recognize that positive and negative reinforcement are crucial aspects in altering behavior after delivering punishment. Teachers and parents for example may make a point of a rewarding a child’s good behavior and ignoring the child’s misbehavior.
Punishment and Its Effect on Student Learning
Punishment, particularly the corporal punishment is an area of concern for schools and school officials because it has been found to have negative impact in academic performance (Cicognani, 2004). Despite this fact, punishment is also recognized to have some positive impacts. Thus, the following are the negative and some positive impacts of punishment on students’ learning;
Punishment creates fear to students especially during teaching and learning processes (Myers, 1999; McNeil & Rubin, 1977). Children learn simply to please the teacher and not to acquire skills and knowledge for their own development. Physical punishment influenced by fear distorts a student’s motivation to learn. Students who are physically and emotionally abused develop anxiety that causes loss of concentration and poor learning (ibid). Guthrow (2002) argues that, if school becomes an anxiety-producing environment for a student, it is likely that academic performance will be negatively impacted. Likewise, a student receiving the punishment associates the fear not only with undesirable behavior, but also with the person who administer it or with the situation in which it occurs. The teacher who enforces corporal punishment enables the student to loose interests to the subject and come to have negative feelings against the teacher as well as the classes that the teacher handles; hence the student ends up getting low grades (Coon, 2001). Nevertheless, teachers who just carry a stick in the class while teaching significantly affect students’ learning. The study carried by kuleana with regard to corporal punishment realized that, teachers who walk into the class holding a stick make the children fearful and tremble (URT, 2006). This situation makes students not to pay attention in learning. Because of fear, sometimes students may not effectively participate in giving contributions, ideas, experiences and opinions about what they know in regard to the lesson.
The teacher who enforces corporal punishment may be avoided by the student, the situation which may disrupt the child’s educational development. In some cases, the student may even stop attending school in an effort to avoid the teacher. Studies show that corporal punishment is a direct and significant reason for children dropping out of school. In Nepal for example, it is reported that 14% of children claimed to have dropped out of school because of fearing of their teachers (UNICEF, 2001). Many children who have been subjected to hitting, paddling or other disciplinary practices have reported to frequently withdraw from school activities and disengage in academic. Teachers in schools maintain that, the number of student drop out in Tanzania is now minimal since the introduction of the law to reduce the number of strokes administered to students (URT, 2006). Before the initiation of the law, the number of drop out due to truancy was very high which is probably attributed by punishment as indicated in the table below. The table is inclined to only ten selected regions of Tanzania.
Table 1.1: Drop Out Trends Due To Truancy in Primary Schools in Tanzania
Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten
Source (URT, 2003; URT, 2004; URT, 2005; URT/BEST, 2006)
The statistical data shows that the main cause for drop out in primary schools in Tanzania from 2003 to 2005 is truancy (77.6%). Studies, however, indicates that the drop out rates was highest in grades IV to V being 7.2% and lowest is for grade V-VI of 1.4%. On the contrary, although drop out rate in secondary schools from 2002 to 2006 is slightly constant, truancy is the leading cause of the drop out. It stood at 67% in 2003 and at 62.6% in the year 2006 (URT, 2007). Physical punishment is among the causes of the problem in most schools in the country. Remedy for truancy is urgently called for. Among these remedies includes the banning of corporal punishment in both primary and secondary schools.
Corporal punishment also sets up a powerful environment for learning aggression and promotes violence in the society. Moreover, corporal punishment strengthens ill-behavior. This is because there is a tendency for the student to imitate aggression. Thus, teachers and parents who punish children physically are likely to have children who are physically aggressive in the future (ibid). Bandura (1973) and lefton (1979) argue that, aggression can be learned by following the model’s aggressive action, and the more students are exposed to corporal punishment, the more they become aggressive. Often children who experience or witness physical violence will themselves develop disruptive and violent behaviors. Furthermore, they may disturb their classmate’s learning as well as their own. It also encourages children to resort to violence because they see their authority figures (teachers) using it. Mason and Gambrill (1994) add that, physical punishment makes children learn that, violence is acceptable behavior, that it is all right for a stronger person to use force to coerce a weaker one. This therefore, helps to perpetuate a cycle of violence in the family and in the society in general. Sometimes these students who are severely punished may later enter the criminal world that is they may become terrorists, extremists and offenders (Arif &Raf, 2007)
Moreover, punishment lowers student self esteem to learn and make them develop the feeling of learned helplessness. Being physically hurt by parents or teachers may cause the child to feel angry, helpless, powerless, guilt or ashamed and this can affect the child’s emotional, mental development and school performance (Gershoff, 2002). In actual fact, the prevalent use of physical violence against students creates an overall threatening school atmosphere that impacts student’s ability to perform academically. A student who witnesses their fellows being punished, they tend to develop low-self esteem, magnified guilt feelings and various anxiety symptoms (Nichols & Newman, 1986). Such situation can have baneful (bad) results in psychosocial and educational development of a student. Similarly, children who are subjected to physical punishment commonly experience humiliation and shame, and they have the tendency of developing a strong feeling of helplessness (Gazzaniga, 2003; Greitman et al, 1981). Normally, this happens if punishment is delivered inconsistently. In this aspect it is important to note that, punishment causes the child to lower the feeling of adequacy, self confidence and being worthwhile in terms of learning. Thus, in such nature of environment, students would not participate fully in learning and they may even not devote to contribute anything during learning and teaching processes.
Sometimes punishment leaves children feeling more resentful (bitter and anger) as opposed to having learned correct behaviors. They are left focusing on the hurt they feel and not the lesson they could learn. Actually, through punishment children can learn to stop the behavior but not the reason why the behavior should be stopped. Nairne (1999) and Wade and Tavris (2003) maintain that, punishment only suppresses behavior; it does not teach someone how to act appropriately. Therefore, it is possible for the student to repeat misbehaving. Punishing students with the belief of improving his or her performance is a wrong option. This is because student will not improve; instead they will continue to dislike the subject and the teacher of that particular subject. Gazzaniga (2003) and Cicognani (2004) insist that, a child who receives compliments for being a good student is likely to show better academic performance than one who is punished for doing poorly.
Furthermore, physical punishment can cause troubles on student’s mind, the situation which can lead into psychological problems such as fear, anxiety and long range mental problems which is connected to the loss of self-confidence and concentration in learning. According to Kim (1999), children who receive corporal punishment usually have lower intellectual power than those who do not receive corporal punishment. Likewise, the use of corporal punishment may lead into alcohol and drug abuse and general psychological maladjustment in those to whom it is applied. This situation tends to have a long term effects to children’s learning. In such context, the children may face the problem of loosing memory and they may generally not remember what is taught by their parents and teachers. Studies show that, the children who are violently punished during their younger age tend to experience poor academic performance and some of them become mentally retarded (Nichols& Newman, 1986). Thus, one among major causes of mental retardation among people is the corporal punishment one he/she has received either from their parents, teachers or any other guardian.
Positively, corporal punishment can help students to develop their responsibility as well s sociality if it is done with student enough comprehensive of their faults (Myers, 1999). Sometimes it can be looked as an effective prevention and reformer of misbehavior in the classroom and in the school because student who has received corporal punishment will try to avoid misbehaving, learn good behavior and will ultimately develop responsibilities. Wade and Tavris (2003) assert that, if the student knows that the consequence for misbehavior involves physical punishment, he/she will not misbehave. In this aspect, punishment appears to be an effective prevention because the physical pain involved with paddling for example, is enough to cause students to stop and think about their own behavior before acting.
Nevertheless, physical punishment seems to be a good method for keeping discipline in the classroom, particularly to the classrooms with many students. The majority of teachers believe that, without the use of corporal punishment, students will ignore them, their instructions and their directives (Mason & Gambrill, 1994). For this reason, immediate and strong corporal punishment appears to be a useful technique to keep discipline effective in the classroom.
Alternatives to Corporal Punishment
Since corporal punishment appear to be ineffective, dangerous and unacceptable method of discipline control and maintenance, it is better to have an alternative to it. In order to ensure that maximum and positive behavior is attained in the school and in homes, parents and teachers should look at these alternatives;
One among the possible alternative way to punishment is taking away privileges. This kind of punishment could for example be not watching a television particularly for a student who fails or score low grade because of much concentration in watching various television programs instead of learning. Sometimes this can involve restricting the children going to visit friends or not receiving pocket money if at all these things seem to be the causative agent for his or her failure in the whole process of learning. By doing so, the child can change behavior by putting much time in studying so as to perform well.
Parents and students should be carefully involved in decision making about school issues. These issues include the development and the implementation of educational goals and disciplinary rules along with positive behavioral support where required. Parents’ involvement in decision making may help them to decide in advance with teachers how they may reward good behaviors and discipline the unacceptable behaviors and later share the intention with students. However, parents and teachers are advised to develop ways to coach ill-behaved students especially by reinforcing the problem student’s positive attitudes with praise and recognition (Garshoff, 2002)
There should be a critical and adequate training for teachers to help them effectively maintain classroom control without resorting to violent or aggressive techniques. This can be accomplished through providing teachers both pre-service and in-service training with the ability to employ behavior management techniques that promote social classroom interaction among students, this would also promote a positive learning environment for those student. Kim (1999) maintains that, one of the best alternative ways to punishment is the provision of in-service programs on communication, classroom management, understanding behavior and individual differences and alternative ways for dealing with misbehavior instead of using physical punishment.
It is also important for teachers to use behavior modification technique to enhance good behavior instead of using punishment (Nairne, 1999). Behavior modification involves the use of positive reinforcement techniques that reward appropriate behavior and developing non-violent technique. It also includes teacher observations of the child, extinguishing inappropriate behavior and using reward system to encourage adaptive behavior in the classroom. Westen (1999) insists that, if teachers recommend well-behaved students and give them some prize or rewards, more students will try to become a model person in school. In this aspect, schools and teachers should be encouraged to develop positive behavior support which has proven effective in reducing the need for harsh discipline while supporting a safe and productive learning environment rather than relying on harsh and threatening disciplinary tactics.
Schools should have an ample supply of counselors in school to help teachers provide their problem students with access to another caring adult as they can promote self management as well as anger and impulse control especially for younger children (Gershoff, 2002).This alternative may reduce the use of physical punishment in schools and will increase better school learning environment for all students. Thus, students will like school, teachers and their subject they teach. Drop out also can be reduced when schools is provided with counselors to help teachers and students solve their problems and stress, which in one way or another may enforce them to employ punishment for their students.
Time out is also an appropriate technique which can be used by teachers to maintain discipline in the classroom instead of employing corporal punishment. Time out is the method in which the child is removed from the situation and left to think about the consequences of the offending behavior. Winn (1992) points out three major types of time out; the first form is the non exclusion time out (students are allowed to observe on going activities but not to participate), the second form is exclusion time out (excluding students from participation in and observation of on-going classroom activities without removing the student from the classroom and the third from is isolation (the student is placed in a separate area for a predetermined period of time). The last form is mostly used by the majority primary and secondary school teachers in Tanzania as a technique of maintaining disciplines to their students. To be effective, timeout must be consistent and should not last too long. A teacher should also try to give few warning about time out before actually instituting it and follow it up of a brief explanation of the misbehavior and of the desired behavior. However, Bootzin et al. (1986) suggest four major guidelines for the use of time out that; time out should be used only in a manner commensurate with recommended practice and proportionate to the intensity of behavior, it must serve a legitimate educational function, it should align local policies (district, school, agency) with state guidelines regarding the use of time out and written classroom procedures should be developed prior to the use of time out.
Punishment can be replaced through the use of positive reinforcement. Psychologists insist that, punishment by itself is not an effective way to control or eliminate behavior and they recommend children classroom behavior to be enhanced through reinforcement. Teachers in the classroom for example may reinforce students by appreciating his/her excellence performance in reading a lesson. In Tanzanian educational institutions, students who show good performance are rewarded according to the school or institution by-laws. However, in some schools, those students who perform poorly in various examinations quizzes and tests are subjected to physical punishment. This is because the school leaders have the notion that physical punishment would enable students exerting effort to learn for the sake of avoiding them. Cicognani (2004) asserts that, when teachers discipline children in a positive, non violent ways, children learn that conflict can be resolved without undermining this respect.
Conclusion and Recommendation
Generally punishment in schools seems to be ineffective, dangerous and unacceptable method of controlling and maintaining behavior and discipline as it brings negative rather than positive consequences in the whole process of teaching and learning. Physical punishment (corporal) punishment seems to increase child aggression, increase antisocial behavior, lower intellectual achievements, enhance poor quality of parent/teacher student relation and cause mental health problem. Since punishment tend to de-humanize children and make them feel screed, ashamed and worthless during learning and teaching process, it is better to be eliminated in both homes and schools so s to enhance positive learning. It should be also abolished because it is interfering worth student’s right to be treated with dignity and as a result is interfering with their right to a quality education. However, when a teacher or parent feels it necessary to use punishment he/she should focus on the important tips (guidelines) in order to make it effective towards student behavior change. Nevertheless, more effort needs to be made to educate parents and teachers on the implication of corporal punishment as well as the alternatives that are available to them. It is important to note that, good school discipline depend not only on non-violent responses to poor student behavior, but on skilled and properly trained teachers.
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