Discipline in Jamaican Schools and teachers' experience of control in the classroom. An Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis

Bachelor Thesis 2015 32 Pages

Psychology - Social Psychology






Cultural Norms – Clouding Judgement And Influencing Opinion
Experience As A Teacher – Teaches A More Child-Centred Approach
Change of ideology brings perception of control
Respect is better, Fear is restrictive
The Need To Still Rely Of Fear As A Tool For Control.
No support from society
Failed by the Ministry of Education



Appendix A

Appendix B

Appendix C



This qualitative interpretive phenomenological study uses semi-structured interviews from 5 Jamaican teachers to investigate their experiences of control in the classroom.

Since 2005 the Ministry of Education in Jamaica prohibited the use of corporal punishment (CP) in early childhood settings but there is research to show that children are still receiving physical punishment and teachers have been reported to still be using CP in schools.

Using Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis across all 5 participants revealed a strong influence of cultural norms that encourages the use of CP, a lack of support from the Jamaican Teachers Association and the Ministry of Education, ineffective teacher training courses and lack of support from the community causing these teachers to still rely on CP, for want of a better solutions.

In light of these findings, this study hopes to provide insight for education policy makers to provide effective classroom management modules at Teacher Training College, introduction of school intervention programmes, parenting programmes and to better support its teachers to eliminate the use of CP across Jamaica, not just in schools alone.


It is through understanding the experiences, the perceptions and the beliefs of teachers that one can guide, enable, and empower them to become more effective. (Garrett, 2008).

Research has determined that the teacher, as the classroom manager has been identified as the most critical factor in the success of a student and the variable which has the most significant impact on student learning is classroom management (Hargrove, 2008).

Teachers have been reporting growing levels of behaviour problems and disruptions in the classroom and the children who are at the highest risk of developing conduct problems tend to be taught by teachers who do not have strategies in place to deal with disruptive students ( Hutchings et al., 2012).

The use of corporal punishment (CP) as a form of discipline is common in the Caribbean region, especially in Jamaica and the support for its use for prevention, correction and punishment of unwanted behaviour is widespread (Joseph, 2002). CP is common not only in the home context but also in schools. in a survey of 11–12 year old children in Jamaica, 75% reported being beaten with an object, by teachers (Samms-Vaughan, Jackson, Ashley, & Lambert, 2000). In another study of 74 school teachers from 4 schools in Kingston, Jamaica, 80% of the teachers reported that they often or occasionally used CP as a means of punishment (Pottinger & Nelson, 2004).

CP is discouraged by the Ministry of Education, it is prohibited in early childhood settings, but is not illegal in Jamaican schools, it is also found to be endorsed by Jamaican society, in a newspaper poll in 2006, 60% of respondents were in favour of hitting and caning in schools (Jamaica Gleaner online, 2006).

CP is associated with weakened parent–child connectedness, an increase in aggressive behaviour by young children and higher rates in mental-health problems, adolescent delinquency and abusive relationships.(Gershoff, 2002). These are not desirable outcomes for any country and research should be undertaken to reduce such effects by eliminating the use of CP.

Exploration of the teachers experiences was an important consideration as decisions regarding educational policy are made by ministers and not teachers, to quote from one of the teachers in this study, known as Kelli, “ what I realise in Jamaica for the ministry of education, the persons that are stipulating the rules weren't persons that were in the classroom or are in the classroom. They have no hands-on experience of the day-to-day things that teachers go through” 6:272-277.

So, it was important to use interpretative phenomenological analysis to explore the teachers experience of control in the classroom, not the students or the policy makers.

Much of the previous research in these areas is quantitative and focuses on percentages, comparisons and statistics, and often focuses on the children. While this information is still necessary, it is also qualitative understanding that is needed to explore the experience of Jamaican teachers in their classrooms, and to be immersed in their world to find out what experiences and circumstances still lead many teachers to still use CP as a means of classroom control.

Analysis across all 5 participants revealed 3 superordinate themes, the first being cultural norms, clouding judgement of what is acceptable or deemed abusive in CP and deservedness of CP with children. The second theme was 'experience as a teacher', which challenged the cultural norms they had been exposed too and changed ideas about the use of fear and respect. The third theme , 'still needing to rely on fear', emerged from the confusion caused by changing ideas from experience but there being no change in cultural norms to support that change from the Ministry of Education or parents, causing the teachers to still need to rely on CP for control in the classroom.


For this study consent forms ( Appendix A) were given to 3 schools in the Kingston area of Jamaica, an inclusive school for mixed abilities, (ages 2-18), a basic school (ages 2-6) and a primary school (ages 6-12) . The were only 3 stipulations, to be eligible, participants must have been born and educated in Jamaica and must have been trained and qualified to teach by an official Teacher Training College in Jamaica.

Interested participants were asked to turn up at a local school to be interviewed.

5 participants were eligible to take part in this study the cohort was of mixed gender, age and length of experience as a teacher, some demographic questions were answered on the consent form and a table of the participants is shown in Table 1.

This is a qualitative study, interviews were semi-structured and each participant was interviewed separately. The method for this study was Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis, as described by Smith, Flowers & Larkin, (2009).

12 semi-structured base questions were used in each interview. ( Appendix C), the questions were formulated to be open-ended in order to allow participants to talk freely about their own personal experiences, feelings and perceptions, which was the goal of the interview and why IPA was chosen as the analytic tool.

All interviews were audio-recorded and subsequently transcribed verbatim. Each participant had a separate transcript and were read and re-read, notations of interest were marked first and then emerging themes on each transcript, then commonalities and clustering of themes across all participants was identified, all related extracts were tabulated by page and line number on a summary table (Table 2) to produce the superordinate themes., however, not all extracts in the table were selected to support analysis.


Cultural Norms – Clouding Judgement And Influencing Opinion

The first superordinate theme to emerge was the influence of cultural norms, all of the teachers in this study spoke about various experiences of some form of corporal punishment (CP) in school, or at home and admit to using minor forms of physical punishment themselves. This commonality between subjects informed the master theme of Cultural norms as these norms make it difficult to define any acceptable consensus between CP and abuse, the first subordinate theme is Punishment or Abuse. The second subordinate theme is Deservedness, due to cultural norms being heavily influenced by Christianity there is strong support for the belief that children who behave in certain ways deserve physical punishment..

Alice talks about the affect of cultural norms of children being physically disciplined at home, “you try every medium of punishment and they don't move and that is probably because they're get beaten at home. So they're used to that and that is they're way of punishment so what can a teacher do she try to break them out of that thinking that when they go home they still get the same punishment so it is very difficult” (2) 8:368-373.

Alice sounds defeated trying to introduce alternatives to undesirable cultural norms and describes the rigidity that comes with an inherent accepted ideology, as almost imprisoning and impenetrable 'break them out of that thinking'.

Annita's opinions are clearly entrenched in cultural norms, guided by the experience of her own upbringing, as she talks about the parents who come to school to argue with the teacher when they have found out their child was physically punished.

“ To me, these parents, as I said have poor parenting that's why the children are behaving like this now because they know that Mummy is going to give me right over Miss even though when I'm wrong Mummy is going to give me right and that what's causing the trouble. We couldn’t even bring home a pencil that wasn't ours, if Mummy ever see that pencil, you have to get a beating and you have to carry it back.” (3) 8: 351-358

Annita seems to imply that the parents who do not use physical punishment, who support and advocate their child’s rights over a teacher using corporal punishment, are bad parents and offers an example of what she believes is good parenting, her Mother's use of physical punishment to punish and correct which emphasises the strength of cultural influence and the cycle of inherited parenting styles.

Corporal Punishment (CP) or Abuse

This subordinate theme addresses how cultural norms can blur the lines between CP and abuse. When it comes to physical punishment there is never a consensus on what is acceptable and what is deemed abuse, especially when considering varying cultural norms across the globe.

Jamaica's level of physical punishment could be considered abusive by law in Western countries, such as, United Kingdom, where cultural norms are very different. A study investigating child-rearing practices in Jamaica interviewed six focus groups with 60 children aged 7-12 and 8 parent focus groups with 44 adults. Every single child in each group described experiencing harsh disciplinary measures, some were beaten with objects such as, belts, rulers, wooden boards and garden hose-pipes (Brown & Johnson, 2008).

To further understand the differences in cultural norms pertaining to Jamaica, a 2010 survey of 1,000 Jamaican adults, carried out by a Market Research Company revealed more than half (51.8%) did not agree that acts such as pinching, hitting the head, biting, kicking and thumping a child, constituted CP. (Hamilton, 2010)

These cultural norms are pervasive and make judging acceptable levels difficult with comparison on a more global level, as evidenced by three of the teachers interviewed.

Kelli discusses how easy it is to lose control when using CP and that can lead to abuse, she admits how fine the line between CP and abuse can be.

“sometimes you would feel like you want to use it but you have to be under control, you are the teacher so, you know what's right and what's wrong you have to be the professional and then you have to consider, ok then if I go too far between the thin line of discipline and abuse then who would be left behind bars? You“. (5) 5:233-238

Kelli also provides a teachers perspective on taking CP too far, usually when the issue of CP versus abuse arises, the main focus of concern is on the receiver. However, Kelli offers a concern for Jamaican teachers not often seen, since the 2005 prohibition on CP in school, teachers could face criminal prosecution and lose their job .

Dex provided his definition of punishment versus abuse when he described the forms of physical punishment he would like to be able to use or had used.

“ Well you use the strap to slap [ audible hard slapping as Dex demonstrates the strap slapping his hand ] Yes.. its not that you are going to abuse them you straight up the hand [demonstrates opening his palm and slaps it. loudly] You don’t abuse them by over the back, you understand? (1) 9:391-394

Western culture may take issue with the use of a object to hit a child using CP but Dex indicates that he is influenced strongly by his Jamaican cultural norms, pointing out that the location of the slap across the back is deemed abusive not the use of a strap.

Annita explains why, when she hits children, she does not consider it to be abuse, similar to Dex in terms of slapping or 'licking' a child's hand , which they seem to both find acceptable. ( A lick is regarded as a harder type of slap in Jamaica) .

“my slaps are [ demonstrating on her own hand, slap slap slap slap ] you know, its like they don’t even cry [ audible slap, slap, slap ] because I don't lick them for them to cry,” (3) 10:430-433

Perhaps abuse is defined by pain, for Annita, she explains that when she hits a child's hand it does not hurt enough to cause the child to cry. However a crying child is not a reliable method for measuring pain tolerance, especially when crying is presented for many reasons, other than physical pain alone and some children will remain stoic whist suffering immense pain.

She also talks about her own children and physical punishment in this next extract and offers her cultural norm.

“So you can beat a child without murdering them or abuse them. I am not going to, don’t flog my child, if my child is rude, you can flog her but you must know how to flog her, how to slap her, you understand? (3) 5:218-222

Annita makes some strong statements that seem to conflict but if we must understand the cultural norm at its foundation, that beating children is acceptable if they are rude, which is discussed in the subordinate theme, 'deservedness'. The word she chose to emphasis how severe a beating has to get before it is considered abuse, was 'murdering', this is could be considered an indication of her acceptable levels and what is deemed abusive. This is confusing, does she mean that she will not beat a child to make them cry but you can beat her child close to 'murder' without it being abusive? This could be seen as cultural norms clouding judgement, she says she is not going to beat her own child but not because she does not agree with flogging her children but because she has not known them to be rude enough, thus far. However, it is clear from what she says that if some-one else believes that her children have been rude enough to warrant being flogged, then as long as they do it the right way, she has no problem with it and she would not consider it abuse.

The, 'you understand ?', phrase at the end of her statement Is an expression used in Jamaica to confirm that both the listener and speaker are on the same page, it means more along the lines of, “you and I both know the way it works around here, don't we?”. Rather than the speaker checking to see whether what they said was understood by the listener. This phrase 'you understand' demonstrates how normal the content of her statement was to her and illustrates cultural norm well.


The second subordinate theme that emerges under cultural norms is deservedness, most Jamaicans believe that children deserve to be beaten for rude behaviour. Caribbean parents are known to be in the majority, authoritarian parents. This means that they demand unquestioned obedience, compliance and respect for adults, from all children at all times. (Williams, Brown & Roopnarine, 2006). Jamaica is also known to be extremely theologically motivated where the bible is used for moral compass and obedience is highly valued with punitive, physical measures used to manage rude and disobedient behaviour (Baumrind, 1966). When the Jamaican society is conditioned to believe that disobedience and rudeness deserve physical punishment these cultural norms deeply influence perception on what is acceptable globally.

Dex echoed this entrenched opinion that rude children deserve to be beaten in this extract “ beating is not really for the sake of it, you understand? But I think sometimes some of the rude things that they have done really need the strap or some slapping, you understand? (1)8:383-386

Dex used the 'you understand?' phrase twice, as the interviewer has to remain impartial, it seems without an agreeable listener, perhaps his cultural norm was clouding his judgement and making him unsure, so he needed to check at the end of each statement that what he was saying was still acceptable to his non-Jamaican audience..

Dex also highlights how hard this cultural norm must be for children with special needs, who are often unable to regulate their behaviour and arguably do not deserve physical punishment ,

“I wasn’t taught anything pertaining to kids with ...erm...special needs, so when...when you come across them you treat them a way, you abuse them as if they are just rude all the time. You understand? (1)5.194-197.

Again, the use of 'you understand? ' confirming its cultural normality.

It seems that rude children whether they have a valid reason for their unwanted behaviour deserve to be beaten or abused. The strength of these cultural norms have conditioned 'typical' children to feel that without being beating, they are unable to behave themselves or are able to behave badly, which supports research that found the more custodial the teacher the less self-regulation is demonstrated by the students (Hall, Hall, & Abaci, 1997).

Alice speaks about her experience of this in school.

“the same teachers they abuse the kids, I mean, they beat them, so when you have a student coming to your class all they are expecting is for you to beat them and when they realise you not beating them them start to being disrespectful” (2)6:281-285



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Title: Discipline in Jamaican Schools and teachers' experience of control in the  classroom.  An Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis