On any given day, more than a billion children across the world go to primary and secondary schools. But schooling is not always a positive experience for all children. It can mean shivering in cold, unheated buildings or sweltering in hot, airless ones. It can mean being forced to stand in unfurnished classrooms, being hungry, thirsty or unwell; it can also mean being frightened by the threat of punishment, humiliation, bullying or even violence at the hands of teachers and fellow learners. These conditions, obviously, are not child-friendly and barriers to conducive teaching-learning. An inclusive, child-friendly school is not just a place for formal teaching-learning, but also a place where children have rights: the right to be healthy, to be loved, to be treated with respect, the right to be protected from violence and abuse, and the right to express their opinion, and to be supported in education irrespective of learning needs. The UNICEF publication ‘Child Friendly Schools (CFS)’ manual aims to provide an introduction to the child-friendly concept, its underlying ideology and the key principles from which the main characteristics of a child-friendly school can be derived in different contexts and circumstances. It also provides practical guidance on the design, construction and maintenance of child-friendly schools as safe, welcoming environments in which all children can learn, emphasizing links with the community, the influence of pedagogic considerations, cost-effectiveness and sustainability.
The CFS manual contains nine chapters. The first chapter focuses on the purpose, scope and concept of CFS models. The most important purpose of a CFS model is to move schools and education systems progressively towards quality standards, addressing all elements that influence the wellbeing and rights of the child as a learner and the core beneficiary of teaching-learning activities. As for scope, CFS model embraces a concept of quality that goes well beyond pedagogic excellence and performance outcomes. The scope of a CFS model includes multidimensional coverage of quality and a holistic concern for the child’s needs: i) How well boys and girls are prepared to start and continue school; ii) How safe the schools are as places for learning and how completely they provide an overall gender-sensitive environment that is conducive to learning; iii) The extent to which child-centered teaching-learning methods are embraced as good practice and standard methodology by teachers and the school; iv) How far child participation is encouraged as standard practice in classroom interaction as well as in the broader operation and management of the school; and so on.
Chapter-2 explores the various options for implementing CFS model. These options mainly depend on the dynamic interaction between theory (including ideology, concepts and principles) and practice (or practicalities such as resources, capacities and opportunities). It is this interaction that determines the nature and features of child-friendly schools. The next chapter examines the planning and design of new spaces and environments for child-friendly schools and sets out quality planning standards for improving existing schools and temporary structures used as schools. It focuses on location, design, construction, operation and maintenance of new child-friendly schools and the important factors for renovating and adjusting existing schools to make them child-friendly. Schools must be anchored in the reality of their location in terms of culture, environment and links to families and the community.
Chapter-4 discusses about school-community links. How child-friendly schools are linked to their communities is crucial. Schools cannot exist in isolation. They must reside within the communities they serve and must cultivate relationships with them. The fifth chapter examines schools as protective environments. This chapter details protection issues and the safety dimension of child-friendly schools. It explores expectations and realities of schools in promoting the emotional, psychological and physical well-being of children. The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) spells out the obligations of governments to facilitate children’s right to learn in a safe and secure environment, whether a conventional school or a designated learning space in an emergency. Child-friendly schools and learning spaces should embrace these principles and standards in creating a learning environment where children are free from fear, anxiety, danger, disease, exploitation, harm or injury.
Chapter-6 focuses on school reform and learning achievement. The school is not the only determinant of how children develop, what they learn, how much they learn and what becomes their ultimate destiny. The school’s main contribution rests on the total learning experience it provides for children. A wide range of planned and unplanned activities is involved, usually defined as the formal curriculum and the ‘hidden’ curriculum. Inclusiveness is a major child-friendly school principle and must be reflected in the nature and quality of learning-teaching materials. The school must embrace diversity and nurture children with different backgrounds and abilities. The seventh chapter examines the costs and benefits of implementing a child-friendly school. What are the costs associated with child-friendly schools, and how do they differ from costs typically linked to schools in a given country context? What are the benefits and added value offered by child-friendly schools, and how do they compare with the levels of investment required to generate such benefits? These critical questions can help a country determine if it will use a child-friendly school model to improve the quality of education in its school system.
Chapter-8 focuses on monitoring and evaluating a child-friendly school. Effective monitoring and evaluation are necessary to improve schools and make them more child-friendly. For a child-friendly school programme, monitoring is usually undertaken by project managers within education ministries and implementing partners who collect school, community and student-related data. A key feature of child-friendly schools is the active and meaningful participation of students and community members, along with teachers, school administrators, supervisors, inspectors and education system officials, in the monitoring process. The manual concludes with the chapter ‘Mainstreaming child-friendly concepts’. Once the child-friendly school model is successfully implemented in a number of schools in a country, the next step is to work with the government to make all schools child-friendly over an agreed time frame. There are two related ways to do this: (i) scaling up child-friendly school implementation throughout the country, and (ii) mainstreaming child-friendly schools within the education system. The path to child-friendly schools may vary, but the goal is the same: to ensure that all children have access to quality education and are nurtured in a child-friendly environment where they can develop their full potential.
The writer is an independent researcher.