The years of transition linked with sanctions, wars and political and economic crises in Serbia had left serious marks on the quality of school life. Violence in schools — among and against children — however, is not a new phenomenon; it had just been neglected for years. A public opinion survey revealed that the biggest concerns among parents were education and increasing violence in schools. These issues were combined in a “School without Violence – Towards a Safe and Enabling Environment for Children” programme aimed at preventing and reducing violence among and against pupils in the schools in Serbia. The programme was also the first private sector fundraising project in Serbia. A study undertaken in the first 54 schools included into the programme in Serbia emphasized the need for the programme implementation and extension.
After 5 years of implementation, 197 primary and secondary schools, approximately 12% of all schools in Serbia are implementing the programme, involving more than 136,000 students and 12,500 adults employed in 64 towns in Serbia. Most of the components of the programme have been integrated into new legal and policy documents thus becoming obligatory mechanisms and processes in all schools throughout Serbia. Strong and transparent communication campaigns accompanying the programme and establishment of programme structure and processes that would ensure ownership by the Ministry of Education (and other sectors) have led to such success.
Schools are recognized as institutions that provide both education and child development. The years of transition linked with sanctions, wars and political and economic crises in Serbia had left serious marks on the quality of school life and have increased tolerance to violence. Violence in schools among and against children, however, is not a new phenomenon - it had just been neglected for years. However before the programme started, there was only anecdotal data on violence among and against children in schools in Serbia. These often appeared as sensational reports in the media. In addition, major national documents for children (the National Plan of Action for children, General Protocol for Safeguarding Children from Abuse and Neglect) prioritized violence prevention but the Ministry of Education (MoE) did not yet have any strategic approach to it.
As the new Country Programme 2005-2009 introduced UNICEF’s active involvement in private sector fundraising, the first fundraising topic had to be identified. A market survey on what people would contribute funds for in Serbia revealed the biggest concerns as education and increasing violence in schools. These issues were combined in a decision that the “School without Violence – Towards a Safe and Enabling Environment for Children” become programme for private sector fundraising.
The Institute for Psychology at the Belgrade Philosophy Faculty conducted a study in the first 54 schools in Serbia (research within school is one of the first components of the School Without Violence programme). The results of the study suggest that violence is ubiquitous in schools in Serbia. The study covered 32,617 people (28,931 students and 3,686 adults). 65% of students said that they had been affected by some kind of violent behaviour at least once, while 24% said that they had been affected more than once within three months prior the study. Verbal violence (teasing and name-calling) was most common, followed by other types of violence like gossiping and intimidation. According to the results of the study, physical violence was the third most common form of violence after verbal and social abuse. Interestingly enough, the study revealed that a significant group of children engaged in violent behaviour are both acting violently and being violated upon. Girls and boys, old and young, are equally behaving violently, with the difference that the former tend to practice social violence more and the latter physical violence. In addition, the study found that as many as 22% of students experienced some form of violence from the adults in school.
Lessons learned through the implementation of the School without Violence Programme (SWV) indicate that:
Leadership by the Ministry of Education (MoE); involvement of various sectors up to the highest (Ministerial) level (health and social policy, and from 2009, police, youth and sports) and building extensive partnerships (between governmental and non-governmental organizations; local communities; media; private sectors including individual donors; sports clubs and institutions) have increased the programme scope, enriched the programme, widened the ownership, and facilitated successful results.
Introduction of the ‘whole school’ concept reduced the burden of a few and increased the responsibility and engagement of everyone, including school principals, teachers, other school staff, children, parents, and local community boards. It has also ensured awareness and respect of the same core programme principles among everyone (calling violence its real name, no tolerance to violence, usage of constructive ways to solve conflict situations, value of respect, solidarity and non-violent communication etc.).
Support was provided to the Government in implementing the existing and to develop new policies, thus adjusting the programme to maximize their implementation, such as the National Plan of Action for Children, the General and the Special Protocol for Protection of Children from Abuse and Neglect, National Strategy and action plan for protection of children from violence, have enhanced the scope, importance and sustainability of the programme. The programme experiences have influenced incorporation of changes in the Law on education, development of the MoE’s action plan for violence prevention, and their integration within major MoE programmes supported by other donors.
Recognition of the critical and powerful role that children play in the programme and providing them with skills and a significant role and space in its design and implementation has a positive effect on the change of norms and beliefs.
The use of the National Ambassador for UNICEF as promoters of the programme combined with the development and implementation of the programme with wide-scale awareness raising, mobilizing and fundraising campaigns through which the citizens and the private sector participate with their contributions (e.g. only Direct Mail letters with information about the programme have reached 50,000 companies and 700,000 private individuals) has significantly increased awareness and knowledge on the issue and programme among public.
Organizing external evaluation of the programme implementation and wide dissemination of results, both successes and remaining challenges, ensures credibility of the programme and represents important tool for further mobilization of the community and partners to intensify joint work on overcoming remaining problems.
Scaling up of the programme to all primary and secondary schools in Serbia by integrating it into the education system. This is planned to be achieved by ensuring the implementation of the relevant legislation and adopted national frameworks and action plans, strengthening capacities of the MoE in supporting and monitoring violence prevention within schools through their regional branches, school advisors and inspection. Education components of the programme will be proposed for integration within professional development programmes. Other planned mechanisms are the creation of model Schools without violence and strengthening the School without violence network. In addition, every year a number of new schools will be involved in the programme implementation.
Further strengthening the cooperation with local communities and more intensive use of sports for development for prevention of violence
Changing social norms and practices is long term process that requires a long term investment and well-planned ongoing campaign. Communication is one of the key strategies to achieve this change.