Yet, the disappointing truth for many children is that schools are an empty promise. They go there full of hope and encounter constricting systems, overburdened teachers, and unimaginative environments that deprive them of opportunities to grow and blossom. They are controlled through the violence of corporal punishment, sexual harassment, and bullying, and deprived of an opportunity for a meaningful self-definition. As a result, large numbers of children are not thriving at such schools, and many are voting with their feet, emerging with disappointments and a diminished sense of their place in this world.
This violence is profoundly consequential. Its effect permeates every aspect of children’s lives; from when they will marry, the size of their family, to their physical, mental and economic health. From social outcomes to life-span truncation, such a violence undermines the entire architecture of their possibilities. We could do better; we should do better. So why don’t we?
Part of the problem is that there are no easy answers or quick fixes. For many countries in the Global South, the magnitude of the problem is daunting. They have a young population in need of an investment and limited resources to respond to that need. The policymakers have other things
competing for their fraying attention and paternalistic views about children and their place within our society undermines a sustained focus on this problem. In such a context we are unlikely to come up with a magic bullet that solves the problem efficiently. What we need in a multilayered response and an important part of that portfolio of solutions is reexamining the purpose of schools. It will require shifting from an instrumental view of a school to a more expansive conception of what school is for. The status quo signals that a good school teaches children how to score well on tests and obey instructions diligently.
We all imbibe tropes of a good student as someone whose head is buried in books most of the time, whose discipline is measured by their test results. But what if we tried to characterize a good school as one that enables children to emerge to their full potential and access the full diversity of their possible selves. What if we expected our schools to nurture independent thinkers rather than compliant workers. What if we insisted that a good school should not fetishize linear learning but also foster creativity, and cultivate imagination? What if we conceptualized a good school not only as an academic experience but a social one too, and that it should not only transfer information but capabilities too. What if we were to insist that a good school helps a child develop not only cognitively but socially and ethically too. Such an enterprise could be framed as preventing lifelong violence against children at school.