Moving towards a child-friendly education environment
Ministry of Education, in partnership with UNICEF, recently launched
the ‘Child friendly schools’ concept as the official framework to
address disparities in quality and access in primary schools in Sri
Lanka. In a presentation to education authorities, along with other key
partners, Ministry of Education outlined an approach which seeks to
improve the quality of education and schools for students, teachers and
communities by mainstreaming child-friendly schools as the national
framework to primary education.
The child-friendly schools approach is already operating in about
1,400 primary schools in Sri Lanka. This framework seeks to take it to
10,000 primary schools in Sri Lanka.
Years ago, UNICEF developed a framework for child-friendly
educational systems and schools that are characterized as "inclusive,
healthy and protective for all children, effective with children, and
involved with families and communities - and children".
classroom environment student-friendly
This framework reflects few important aspects. (1) A child-friendly
school ensures every child an environment that is physically safe,
emotionally secure and psychologically enabling; (2) Teachers are the
single most important factor in creating an effective and inclusive
classroom; (3) A child-friendly school recognizes, encourages and
supports children's growing capacities as learners by providing a school
culture, teaching behaviours and curriculum content that are focused on
learning and the learner; (4) The ability of a school to be and to call
itself child-friendly is directly linked to the support, participation
and collaboration it receives from families; (5) Child-friendly schools
aim to develop a learning environment in which children are motivated
and able to learn. Staff members are friendly and welcoming to children
and attend to all their health and safety needs.
If we, in Sri Lanka, can develop such child-friendly schools, they
will not only help our children realize their right to a basic education
of good quality but will do many other things - help children learn what
they need to learn to face the challenges of the new century; enhance
their health and well-being; guarantee them safe and protective spaces
for learning, free from violence and abuse; raise teacher morale and
motivation; and mobilize community support for education.
Child-friendly schools framework brings together the fundamental
rights that are listed in the Convention on the Rights of the Child in
six different concepts: (1) child-friendly schools are child-centred.
(2) They are inclusive. (3) They are gender-equitable and celebrate all
cultural backgrounds and languages. (4) They are effective - that is, in
child-friendly schools children are learning and being educated. (5)
child-friendly schools are protective, safe, healthy environments; and
(6) they are characterized by democratic participation.
It is obvious, therefore, that the vision of child-friendly schools
for educating children goes far beyond who gets the best score on the
final examination. The mission insists that each and every girl and boy
has the right to participate in her or his own learning in a safe,
protective learning community.
This writer believes that the framework can be used for planning the
transformation of our entire education system, one school at a time,
with everyone’s participation, for the benefit of each and every child.
This framework will enable each and every girl, boy, young child and
adolescent to claim her or his right to education in a learning
community that is child-centred, inclusive, and based on democratic
In order to make this project a complete success, the policymakers
must begin to think about the big picture - the entire country, or
provinces of the country in combination, or a province. That is their
role and their obligation. The educators, too, have an important role to
play because they are responsible for the learning outcomes of children.
We often see that education policies work only when they take the
classroom and the school into account. Policies and programmes can go
wrong if they are designed for the whole country but do not support
building capacity at the local level - that is, the level of the
community, the school, and especially the classroom. The child-friendly
schools approach can establish that common framework, especially when we
examine it through a four-dimensional approach.
This type of approach will help the policy makers and educators to
understand what it means to take a 'child-centred approach' in a
child-friendly school - to keep their policies and their programmes
focused where they need to be focused.
The first step should begin at the extreme left dimension by focusing
on the girl and on the boy so that every child is included in the
programme. For the ideal child-friendly schools concept, being
child-centred and focusing on the child is critical. It is also
important, however, that we talk about schools, since children learn
about their rights in particular places, in the classroom and school.
This is where one child interacts with many other children. It is also
where the teacher has to plan for, manage and assess the learning needs
of 20 or 30 or 40 or more children all at once, on a daily basis, for
eight or nine months of the year.
As they move to the second dimension to the right, they need to focus
on the entire school, where they can see children of all ages, all the
teachers, the Principal and other school personnel, working together.
These people are working together so that all children in every
classroom can learn to read and write, do mathematics, develop critical
thinking and life skills, and become good citizens of Sri Lanka and of
the world community.
As the third step, they need to move out farther to the right see the
school positioned in the community. This is where children live with
their families. It is where their parents work and vote. This is where
the Police have a central role in law enforcement and a desire to
support the school community in its actions to be a safe child-friendly
school within a safe community.
Finally, they need to move out even farther to the right for the
fourth dimension to see the community in the context of the wider
society and the nation. At this level, the national or provincial
government provides the legal structures and finances for child-friendly
schools to develop through legislation that Parliament enacts for the
schools across the country. It is here that the Ministry of Education
designs programmes and policies to support the development of a
child-friendly school system. As we can see, what goes on inside the
school is a microcosm of the larger society, that is, a small slice of
the whole pie of society.
If they once again move back in to the classroom, they would note how
each level of the system supports the learning of each child. This
includes girls and boys who are disadvantaged, and who have learning
disabilities. They too, have a right to claim the benefits of a quality
education and child-friendly schools are inclusive.
As we return to focus on the child in the child-friendly school
approach, we consider not only the children in school, but also the
girls and boys who are not in school - those who have been excluded from
school, those who have dropped out or have been pushed out, those whom
the CRC insists also have an equal right to a quality education.
The four-dimensional approach reminds us that the work we do together
to develop child-friendly schools is a complex enterprise.
The work is complicated, and we need to take each other’s
perspectives into account as we plan future action. The implementation
of the child-friendly school programme will be a long-term process which
will require persistence, perseverance and patience to implement all the
programmes and activities in each dimension. With this in mind the
Ministry of Education will have to make a concerted effort in leading,
managing arid providing support to all offices and schools involved,
with the aim of making the implementation of this policy successfully
and highly effective.