Preventing violence against children is a prerequisite for creating good schools
Preventing violence against children is not only a moral but also a strategic imperative. It is critical that we develop a comprehensive response to this problem, and schools are the best and most efficient entry points for such an investment.
More than a billion children experience violence every year and this violence can have profound consequences on their health, development and learning outcomes.
The violence also impacts their families, communities, and societies. Therefore, preventing violence against children (VAC) is not only a moral imperative but also a strategic imperative and it is critical that we develop a comprehensive response to this problem.
However, given the complexity and the magnitude of the problem, there is pragmatic benefit in assembling resources behind approaches that present an efficient opportunity, and a possibility of demonstrating early gains. Schools are our best and most efficient entry points for such an investment.
A school is more than a location for transferring information. It is a place where countless children lay the foundation for their identity. They absorb important lessons about the nature of their society, about how justice manifests and the value of equity.
A good school helps students discover their potential, yet for a large number of students, its workings, power structure, and the mode of delivery of this promise, is confounding
Instead of a secure and a constructive space, students experience violent punishment, humiliation, a lack of ‘voice’, degrading and gendered discrimination, and a systematic undermining of their development. For too many students, school is a violent place.
Therefore, preventing VAC in schools is critical, and here are five more practical reasons why:
More than a billion children spend a significant proportion of their time in school, and this provides a natural opportunity to influence the experience of childhood.
Given that teachers have a duty of care towards students and are seen as custodians of children’s potential, such a space provides an opportunity to both minimize the exposure to violence and to mitigate some of the effects of the violence experienced elsewhere.
For the right intervention, there is no other equivalent opportunity to influence development of any individual in a formative stage of their life, as there is at school.
2. Influenced by policy
Unlike a home environment that asserts social autonomy and sovereignty of domain, most schools are publicly funded and therefore amenable to a planned and a systematic policy and practical intervention.
In most countries, policymakers have a role in defining the objectives, content, and the manner of delivery of education to their young citizens, and therein lies an opportunity of influencing values that such an investment should embody and promote.
3. Multiple stakeholders have a vested interest and a mandate
The entire society has a stake in how schools are run in their community. Every government has a mandate to influence what happens at schools and every parent has a stake in what the school offers their child. Every teacher has a role to play in shaping the learning environment and every student’s life outcomes depend on the quality of their school.
Such converging and intersecting set of priorities give rise to a collective impetus to act on ideas that leverage common interests. In such a fertile environment, if prevention of violence against children is crystallized as an effective catalyst for promoting these converging interests, then it stands a particular chance of gaining traction.
4. Cognitive development affected by violence
Schools are one of the few spaces where children are primed to learn, and adults are mandated to teach. Therefore, furnishing students with the basic building blocks of conceptual architecture is a fundamental task of any school. Yet compelling evidence suggests that experience of violence at school undermines this most ambitious of our projects.
Allowing VAC at schools to continue unabated threatens the collective investment and denies society the human capital that will ensure its survival and success.
5. Social development affected by violence
School is a place where through trial and error, children discover their social selves. They learn to locate themselves within their social spectrum, discern where they belong, and what they are capable of.
Violence and the fear and shame it foments edits this emerging self, and locks children in a poverty of imagination regarding their self-definition and their options for how to navigate the world they emerge into.
Enabling and constructive learning environments produce engaged citizens.
They provide young minds with the basic building blocks for developing agency, and a sense of responsibility for collective problem solving.
They foster individuals who will take their rightful place within their community and become protagonists for developing a vison for their society.
Violence against children at schools undermines this aspiration. However, this outcome is not inevitable. Violence against children at schools can be prevented, and promising evidence-informed interventions exist that are showing what needs to happen.
The work now is to generate sufficient momentum to align investments behind such approaches.
*This piece originally appeared in the Global Partnership for Education’s “Education for All” blog on 15 March, 2022. Read more here.