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UNICEF contracted with the American Institutes for Research (AIR) in 2008 to conduct a global evaluation of its Child Friendly Schools (CFS) initiative. The evaluation was expected to serve as a baseline assessment, examining the effectiveness of UNICEF‘s CFS programming efforts in the areas of inclusiveness, pedagogy, architecture and services, participation and governance, and systemic management. South Africa was selected as one of six countries for this evaluation. The purpose of this report is to present an evaluation of the effectiveness of UNICEF CFS intervention efforts in South Africa.
Since 2005, CFS has been implemented by South Africa‘s National Department of Education in partnership with UNICEF under the banner of Safe and Caring Schools. CFS programming was launched in 585 schools across South Africa (65 in each province). These schools were chosen because they were under-resourced and/or had experienced considerable student violence. In 2005 UNICEF supported 135 of these schools, with the number increasing to 257 by 2008 (UNICEF, 2006, 2008).
For the CFS global evaluation, AIR visited 25 schools in South Africa that had received support under the CFS initiative. During school visits, AIR researchers and local trained data collectors observed the school grounds and buildings; watched teachers in action; surveyed school heads, teachers and students; and conducted interviews and focus groups with school heads, teachers, families, students and other key stakeholders.
South Africa has made substantial progress in a number of ways toward the provision of schools that are child friendly, although there are still some significant areas of concern that have a long-term impact on children‘s well-being. The majority of students felt that the topics they studied in school were interesting and that their school was teaching them what they needed to know in life. Most classrooms were able to provide students with adequate seating, work space, lighting, ventilation and protection from the elements, but only about half of the classrooms were kept clean and orderly.
Most teachers believed in and used child-centred pedagogical approaches, and students felt that their teachers listened to them and were aware of their academic needs. Teachers were very positive about their professional support and development opportunities, and most indicated that they worked in an environment of trust, respect and mutual support. School heads, teachers, parents and students had a high level of agreement that girls and boys should and did receive equal opportunities and encouragement at school. Schools had taken steps to increase girls‘ educational opportunities by encouraging pregnant and parenting girls to attend school, but some stakeholders acknowledged that such girls still faced significant challenges to attending school due to issues and responsibilities at home. While there was an effort at the national level to ensure that children with disabilities were enrolled in school, the practical application of this policy proved difficult due to a lack of trained teachers, a lack of special education support programs and inaccessible school infrastructure.
Safety was a significant concern in rural and urban areas, with students facing threats from both outside and inside of their school. Students were targets for mugging and sexual assaults while travelling to and from school. Within schools, bullying, student-against-student sexual abuse and student drug and alcohol abuse were cited by students, teachers and school heads as substantial threats to student safety. In many schools, students believed that fighting was an acceptable response to disagreements or perceived insults. Boys seemed to be particularly likely to have been subject to disrespectful treatment by teachers, including corporal punishment. Students who attended schools where they felt safe and students who attended schools with a respectful peer climate had a significantly higher level of academic engagement when compared with students who attended schools with a low level of safety and/or a lack of mutual respect among students. This point is important because it suggests that improving school safety could increase student retention in school, supporting South Africa‘s progress toward both universal primary education and increased enrolment in secondary education.
All schools provided health education to students regarding the avoidance of high-risk behaviours, and most provided health education to students, but schools faced challenges in providing a health-promoting
American Institutes for Research environment within the school. There was a high risk of disease transmission at many schools due to the poor condition of school sanitation systems, the presence of excessive trash on school grounds, and/or low rates of hand washing. Many schools also had risks to student safety such as broken windows and open drains. School feeding programs were available at a number of schools – especially primary schools – and were operated in conjunction with support from the community. School staff felt that these programs had been very beneficial for students. Where feeding programs were unavailable, stakeholders expressed concern about student hunger and its negative impact on student learning.
The majority of students and teachers indicated that they felt involved in making decisions that affected their school, but this sentiment was not universal. Nearly all school heads reported that all types of families were encouraged to participate in decision making at their school, but a sizeable portion of students and even more teachers did not feel that families were involved in this way. All school heads reported that the community was informed of what was happening at the school, and about half reported that the school and community were engaged in mutually supportive relationships. These relationships were more common in rural than in urban settings.
The purpose of this report is to present an evaluation of the effectiveness of UNICEF CFS intervention efforts within South Africa. To that end, findings have been organized around the desired characteristics of Child Friendly Schools in South Africa presented above in section 1.2. For each, we address the extent to which the CFS initiative has been successful in creating these desired characteristics in South Africa.
The core research questions addressed in this report are as follows:
1. To what extent have Child Friendly Schools in South Africa created an environment that is rights based and inclusive?
2. To what extent have Child Friendly Schools in South Africa created an effective environment that provides quality education?
3. To what extent have Child Friendly Schools in South Africa created a safe, protective and supportive environment?
4. To what extent have Child Friendly Schools in South Africa created a gender-sensitive environment that promotes equity and equality?
5. To what extent have Child Friendly Schools in South Africa created a health-promoting and health-seeking environment?
6. To what extent have Child Friendly Schools in South Africa created an environment that builds linkages and partnerships with the community?
We conclude with a section that summarizes themes that emerged in the course of this evaluation and provides recommendations for the future success of CFS initiatives in South Africa.
This country-specific report is based upon data collected for AIR‘s (2008) global evaluation. The global evaluation utilized mixed methods to describe how CFS models were implemented in multiple contexts (Guyana, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Philippines, South Africa, and Thailand); provided data on the extent to which the key principles of CFS – child-centeredness, inclusiveness and democratic participation – were being realised; and provided a baseline and create tools to monitor future progress. The global evaluation combined quantitative, qualitative and visual data from diverse sources, which permitted the triangulation of data to test the consistency of findings. We have drawn upon extant data from the global evaluation and have undertaken additional analyses to produce this country-specific report for South Africa.
Based on South Africa‘s goals for child friendly schools, we recommend the following:
* Schools should implement a comprehensive social and emotional learning initiative across all grade levels to reduce the high levels of aggressive behaviour, student-on-student sexual abuse and student drug and alcohol use found in schools. Improving student social and emotional learning and behaviour would also make classrooms more manageable for teachers.
* Teachers should be provided with training, guidance and professional support to implement more positive behaviour management techniques in the classroom and to create a more respectful environment for students.
* Schools should work with their local communities to improve the safety of students travelling to and from school.
* Ongoing efforts should be made to increase the number of teachers trained to meet the needs of children with disabilities – perhaps both by increasing the number of new teachers who graduate with specialized degrees and by providing additional training to experienced teachers.
* A comprehensive school health initiative should be undertaken to improve sanitary conditions and practices at school, such as encouraging routine hand washing among staff and students.
* Students should be actively engaged in maintaining a clean school environment. This will increase a sense of ownership among students while improving the cleanliness of schools. Responsibilities should be allocated without regard to student gender or social class.
* Efforts should be made to extend school feeding to students who need nutritional support. School feeding programs encourage attendance while also improving student health and learning.
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