Author: Harshani Samarajeeva
The concept of Child Friendly Schools was formulated so that for a child, schooling should mean the joy of shared learning, the development of their potential and the enrichment of their lives, a very positive experience that can change their future for the better. It attaches equal importance to creating a space for children to express their opinions as well as learning to follow rules and regulations and showing deference to the school authorities. It concerns itself with the health, security and psychological wellbeing of the child. It envisions school as a pleasant, safe, protective and caring environment; one that encourages the child to enjoy learning, to achieve the desired levels of competence and complete the school cycle. It views the involvement and participation of parents and community as vital and actively attempts to change their views and attitudes towards the child’s education in a manner that will ultimately benefit all of them.
Child Friendly Schools (CFS) are schools which proactively fulfil the needs of all children as defined in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
These are the currently accepted CFS dimensions in Sri Lanka:
Rights-based and proactively inclusive
Promoting quality learning outcomes relevant to children’s need for knowledge and skills
Healthy, safe and protective of children
Actively engaged with students, families and communities
Supported by child-friendly systems, policies, practices and regulations
The CFS concept was introduced to Sri Lanka in 2002. A new phase of the CFS programme, led by the MoE, supported by Unicef was launched in 2007, aimed at consolidating and mainstreaming CFS as a key approach to improving quality in primary education, with prospects for extending it to secondary education as well. A national framework has been developed to fully integrate, extend and deepen the scope of the CFS approach. The programme is shifting from a project-based approach to a more systemized and coordinated national strategy for school development, with the goal of mainstreaming the CFS concept into the overall national plan for education.
The AusAID funded education programme is implemented in six districts in Sri Lanka with a view to improving both access and quality of education in primary schools within the framework of Child Friendly Schools. The purpose of this study is to assess progress to date in reaching the targets set by the project by collecting, collating and analysing selected indicators from the schools where the project has been implemented since 2008.
The study was based on the 6 Dimensions of CFS; Rights-based and proactively inclusive, Schools are gender responsive, Promoting quality learning outcomes, Schools are healthy, safe and protective of children, Students, families and communities being actively engaged with schools, Child friendly systems, policies and practices and regulations are in place.
Questionnaires were designed based on the above dimensions targeted at Principals, teachers, students and Parents. The study covered Badulla District from the Central province and Batticaloa district from the Eastern province.
Qualitative data were collected through Focus Group Discussion (FGD) with the aid of open ended questionnaires. FGDs were limited to 2 districts due to time constraint of FGDs taking longer durations in executing each questionnaire. FGD covered 15% of CFS schools and a limited number of Non project schools (NPS) as a control groups in each district. Fifteen CFS schools from each district and 5 NPS from Badulla and 3 NPS from Batticaloa were covered in the study. Four open ended questionnaires were designed for Principals, teachers, students and parents. Principals faced face to face interviews, while teachers, students and parents took part in Focus Groups Discussions. All primary teachers present in schools at the time of the FGDs were invited to take part in the study. This was possible as most primary schools were small and each grade had only one or two classes (other than in Batticaloa). Five students, each from grade IV & V, mixed (total of 10 girls & boys) selected at random and 10 primary school parents randomly selected were invited to the FGD. In Badulla district, the CFS study covered Passara, Kandaketiya & Meegahakiula Divisions in the 2 Educational Zones. In Batticaloa district, Batticaloa Central, Paddiruppu and Kalkudha Zones were covered.
Badulla CFS: Fifteen principals took part in face to face interviews, of the fifteen (15), only three (3) were women. Each interview took 2 hours or more. Of the seventy one (71) primary teachers, only eleven (11) 15% teachers were male, from all fifteen schools that participated in the FGDs. One hundred and thirty seven (137) primary school parents and one hundred and fifty six (156) children from grades VI & V too were part of the FGDs. Majority of the schools had approx. 100 students.
Badulla NPS: Of the 5 non-CFS that took part in the FGDs, 3 schools were headed by female principals. All schools had a total of 372 students, of which 182 were girls and 190 were boys. 66 students, 175 parents and 29 teachers participated in this exercise.
Batticaloa CFS: Of the 15, 04 schools that took part in the study had more than 1000 students. None of the schools had less than 100 students. All 15 principals were male. Of the 118 teachers who took part in the FGDs, 95 were female. 163 parents were a part of the FGDs, of whom 129 were women. 163 girls and boys from grade V and IV, too participated in this study. Batticaloa CFS schools were much bigger than
Badulla CFS with comparatively a bigger number of students.
Batticaloa NPS: Schools were from Batticaloa were from Batticaloa and Kalkudha divisions. All 3 principals were male. All three schools had a total of 535 students of which 327 students were girls. Of the 7 teachers who took part in the study, only one was male. Twenty four students (10 boys and 14 girls) and 14 parents (7 each male & female) also took part in the study. Manchenthoduwai Mohiden Vidyalaya and Mandoor 40 GTMS were mixed schools while St Theresa was a girl’s school.
Both CFS & NPS’s children liked coming to school. However, CFS children liked the school better due to having the children’s play area and having a beautiful garden. Also CFS children were relaxed and showed a better relationship with the teachers. This shows the importance of appearance of the school and the role of the teacher or the manner the teacher address the children. NPS were mundane but the children were happy with what they had.
There is much evidence that CFS has reduced absenteeism. This is due to CFS treating the cause for being absent. Principal & teachers would go into the issues of why children would get absent. Most principals would follow up, find out the reasons, and address the issue. This reduced absenteeism. As a result of improved attendance, children have increased their learning capacity and better marks compared to previous years. Absenteeism was still an issue to non project schools.
Reasons for irregular attendance and dropping-out were the same social & economical conditions for both CFS & NPS. Both CFS & NPS used similar strategies to increase enrolment, bring back children but CFSs made a greater effort. CFS used creativity for this purpose. Moreover, CFS principals and teachers made an additional effort to retain them in school. Most non project schools did not show this commitment.
Almost all CFS maintained their gardens. Well maintained school and garden had a ‘pull effect’ that attracted parents to enrol children in the school. First impressions are important and are long lasting. Non project schools did not make an effort to make the school and the garden attractive, although the gardens were kept clean. A NPS with up-to-date facilities, situated centrally in town, still had problems in enrolling children to school.
In both CFS & NPS, parents and children were not certain with the knowledge of CFS and Child Rights. Their limited knowledge on Child rights was mostly due to promotional campaigns in the mass media.
There were instances where children having to walk long distances & having to miss school due to weather conditions and other hindrances. Under these circumstances they would miss lessons for more than a day or two, resulting in children dropping out owing to not being able to catch-up missed lessons.
Not much effort was made by majority of principals to locate children with disabilities in their catchment area and encouraging them to come to their respective schools. This was common to both CFS & non project schools.
In Batticalloa CFS, there were school level committees to bring back drop-outs which were effective. In Badulla, principals were still depending on SAC which were not functioning. Non project schools in Batticaloa still had SAC and they too were not functioning.
CFS schools have tried to reduce corporal punishment as children in several schools confirmed that they were not hit/smacked by teachers. Corporal punishment was more prevalent in non project schools. In Sri Lanka children and parents approve of hitting (without physically harming), for disciplining children. The main reason for having to hit a child was due to the child not keeping up the expectations of the teachers.
Rights-based and proactively inclusive
Further encourage student-teacher relationship building. Motivate and stimulate teachers for commitment and dependability to the children. Develop effective communication skills of teachers that are required for relationship building, that would make teachers needs clearly understood and to understand those of the children. Building relationships and effective communication with children will strengthen closer ties with the school thereby reducing preventable dropping out. It is important to build relationships based on trust.
Develop a strategy to create an interest, stimulate and persuade members of the school level committee to be motivated to actively participate in actions to bring back children to school. Teachers & principals who have successfully brought children back to school need to be encouraged and appreciated. Further support need to be provided to back-to-school children to encourage them to complete their education.
Following up on absenteeism should be inculcated as a responsibility of the principal and should be monitored by higher authorities. Building relationships with parents too would make parents themselves following up on their child’s attendance thereby reducing absenteeism. Children having to walk long distances, having to miss school due to other external factors need to be provided with home learning packages and a mechanism set up, to send work their homes.
The ‘Pull Effect’ due to attractive schools need to be maintained and supported. Schools need to invite outside resource persons eg. NGOs/ persons working on Environment, agriculture etc, to advise the schools how to maximise utilisation of garden space to be environmentally friendly and economical while maintaining the appearance.
A conscious effort has to be made to develop an advocacy campaign for children and parents on the CFS dimensions & Child Rights. In addition to mass media, use of street dramas and other alternative media will make a greater impact on rural communities.
Future CFS training programmes need to emphasise on inclusiveness of marginalised groups especially the differently-able children. Create awareness of the school’s achievements and convince parents to enrol children to the school.
Strong action needs to be made to stop the tradition of parents and children believing that ‘hitting is acceptable to correct’ a child. Zero tolerance of corporal punishment need to be constantly reminded to principals and teachers. This need to be incorporated in the pre-service training provided and in all teacher capacity building training programmes of teachers and principals. Providing advice to principals and teachers on alternative methods of maintaining positive discipline that could eliminate corporal punishment form CFSs should be practised.
Schools are gender responsive
It is essential that higher authorities understand the inequity in gender responsiveness. It is also important that the authorities recognise specific challenges faced by girls and lady teachers. Provide opportunities and encourage lady teachers and girl child to foster exchange of experiences and learning aimed at strengthening the role of girls & women, in decision making and leadership. Girls need to be encouraged to play recognised team games irrespective of gender differentiations. Equal participation in all activities need to be encouraged with comparable representation and actual participation. E.g. Schools with more girls should have more girl prefects, and same should apply for boys. Gender sensitisation training needs to be given to parents, students, teachers, principals, ISAs, DDEs & ZDEs, if schools are to be gender responsive in the future. The training need to be provided to both parents so that fathers too could take responsibility of the child’s education.
Promoting quality learning out comes
To further develop the commitment of staff, team building activities (through goal setting) can be introduced. Teams can be given clear meaningful, quantifiable, goals (or other values that can be verified and measured objectively) to further improve quality learning in schools. This could improve the productivity of the school and improve higher standard of the service that would cater to the satisfaction of children and parents. Team work need to be coupled with delegation, as delegating is the perfect way to get more accomplished in less time. This applies at class room level and school level. ‘Working smart not hard’ concept need to be encouraged so that all parties concerned could be less stresses, relaxed and efficient.
Encourage and appreciate good practices of teachers & principals by higher authorities. Capitalize on the strengths of the children and teachers and provide opportunities for self development.
Introduce practices such as ‘Performance Driven Culture’ which has been proved successful in the private sector. Recognise and appreciate the performances of teachers and principals formally and informally by higher authorities such as DDE & ZED/PDE. Have a rewarding system to recognise performing principals. This could motivate all principals to achieve high CFS standards.
A strategy need to be developed to provide CCM to all teachers by competent trainers. ISA capacities in CFS system too need to be constantly upgraded with success stories and lessons learnt from other districts and other countries. A mechanism need to be developed by the Zonal/DDE office to encourage ISAs visits to remote schools to enhance the capabilities of the teachers. Bringing training to the teachers, than sending teachers to the training is more appropriate to rural schools. More school based training for teachers in the form of quality circles need to be introduced. ISAs & DDEs should be more involved in adding value to the quality circles to sustain them.
Teachers need to be trained to handle multi-grade and multi-level lesson planning and teaching. Principals need ‘relationship building’ training where stronger relationships might keep teachers in the school. Better relationships with the Zonal and Divisional offices could
provide the required number of teachers. Strategy need to be developed to provide appropriate accommodation for teachers.
Educational tours are the only means of expanding the horizons of rural poverty stricken children, a fund need to be built in each school to subsidise needy children’s obligation. This need to be an annual event where children can look forward to & can be used by teachers to enrich the experiences of the children.
As ‘children taking initiatives’ is a new area in the CFS system, a methodology need to be developed to encourage giving opportunities to children to take initiatives at class and school level. This methodology needs to be developed at Divisional/ Zonal level and passed down to the school.
Class rooms need to be partitioned with permanent or semi-permanent partitioning. CFS need to have special architectural designs that are child friendly and could provide a better learning environment. To make the classroom a conducive learning environment, more quality teaching-learning material need to be made available & encouraged to use.
Schools are healthy, safe and protective of children
Principals need to be provided health & hygiene training (not just awareness creation) and taken to institutions where clean toilets are maintained. SDPs requesting toilets need to be supported and proper usage of toilets need to be inculcated in children from initial grades. Children too should be given training (not awareness creation) on health & Hygiene.
Children need to be provided strong, safe and attractive buildings that would support learning. Minor repairs that are neglected by the authorities need to be attended or school need to be provided with resources to attend to it. Activities pertaining to safety in the SDPs need to be given priority.
The continuity of the midmorning meal need to be ensured while quality is maintained. It is important that schools look out for alternative sources to continue this activity in the event the present system stops.
Students, families and communities being actively engaged
Public Relations (PR) activities need to be further established in the schools to maintain mutual understanding between the school and the communities. Relationship building is again the key to community participation. Support need to be given to all schools to develop the SSAs & SDPs for a short period, till it is mainstreamed in the school system.
It is very important to maintain the positive image of CFS that is already created in the minds of the stakeholders. Strategies need to be developed to further strengthen the strengths while reducing weaknesses. Close monitoring and constant capacity building of all relevant Unicef staff, principals, teachers, ISAs, DDEs would support the project to bring in effectiveness and sustainability.
CFS capacity building
It is important that principals should be provided with refresher trainings at regular intervals to keep them constantly reminded so that it would renew their interest in their work. This could improve the commitment of the principals towards CFS that would in return improve the quality and productivity, and help the school to keep up with the pace with the CFS system.
Principals must be encouraged to transfer information to the teachers after receiving CFS capacity building inputs. However CFS training to teachers should be provided by professional trainers or ISAs trained for this purpose. Continuous training will maintain and improve quality and productivity of the service provided by the teachers and principals.
As it is difficult for teachers in remote schools to go for training, training programmes need to be brought to the teachers than teachers going to the training. These training programmes need to be organised appropriately according to the time specifications and needs of the school. ISAs who are expected to do this task need to be well trained and they too need to be supported with transportation. School based training need to be systematic with a proper TOR.
Further developing leadership qualities and guiding the principals in maximising opportunities to be effective & efficient, would help principals to do things right and how to find the right thing to do, and concentrate limited resources and efforts on them. Providing principals with skills of ‘Change Management’ would show and enhance better results, especially among principals that have been lethargic. As is it the principals that would be managing the opportunities arising as a result of the school becoming CFS, ‘Change Management’ would enable principals to manage the change towards a proactive stance, resulting in substantial benefits.
Experience sharing need to be encouraged for better understanding and seeing CFS from a different perspective that will enhance wider learning. CFS exchange visits should be an annual event where both parties will learn from each other and will strive to improve the schools to show each other. When the tours are organised priority need to be given to primary school teachers. Culturally bound gender concerns should be addressed eg giving opportunities to 2 lady teachers to travel out of the work station. The knowledge gained need to be shared with others to have a trickledown effect.
Schools are service providing institutions. Managing quality right through out at all levels, is essential for the success and growth of the institution. It is therefore important to have continuous quality improvement programmes integrated with the School Development Plan (school’s strategic plan), so that all stakeholders understand the basis of quality management, quality control and assurance. CFS quality standards need to be documented and disseminated to all CFS schools for repeated use (as guidelines). Encourage principals to invite Private Sector organisations/ quality specialists to make presentations on ‘quality’ at regular intervals. Schools need to be supported to develop a sustainability strategy while assuring quality services.
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