UNICEF’s Child-Friendly Schools (CFS) model is a programming strategy that is driven by a very simple idea; schools should operate in the best interests of the child. CFS seeks to improve education quality by transforming schools into healthy, proactive and protective learning environments; environments that promote inclusiveness, gender-sensitivity, tolerance, dignity and enable personal empowerment. UNICEF is involved in partnerships for CFS implementation in more than 60 countries around the world, where each country has adopted the model to better serve its local context.
In 2008, UNICEF contracted a team of evaluators from the American Institutes for Research (AIR) to investigate what the underlying principles of CFS are, what ‘child friendly schools’ look like in practice, and if CFS programming has the desired effect of improving education quality and contributes towards system strengthening at the national level. The global CFS evaluation utilized a mixed-methods approach which included a desk review of all CFS documentation; field visits six countries in three regions where primary data was collected using students, teacher parents and school administrators’ surveys, interviews and focus group discussions. The methodology also included a delphi survey of perceptions and experiences of implementing CFS from UNICEF education officers around the world.
The evaluation found that there are several CFS models, all successfully applying the key principles of inclusiveness, child-centeredness, and democratic participation in varying contexts and with varying emphasis. Learners in child-friendly schools felt safe, supported, and engaged, and believed that the adults in the school support the inclusion and success of all students in schools that had high levels of family and community participation and were implementing child-centred pedagogical approaches. More importantly, child-friendly schools were found to be successful in creating environments where female students experienced a positive school climate than their male counterparts.
The evaluation identified as one of the major challenges, a lack of infrastructure and strategies to fully accommodate students with physical and learning disabilities, and the inability to fully implement child-centered instructional methods due to inadequacies in teacher preparation and teaching skills. Also, schools were finding it difficult to come up with strategies to involve communities in a meaningful and mutually rewarding way.
Recommendations for improving CFS programming included identifying strong school leaders and equipping them with more skills and capacity to implement CFS, as well as developing and instituting strategies that will improve readiness for CFS implementation at the school and community level. CFS was also identified as a good model for teaching lifeskills.
PDF files require Acrobat Reader.