Practice what you teach: child rights in schools
How UNICEF Philippines is upholding children’s right to an education through the Child Friendly Schools System
In a secret ballot six months ago, Krista Angeli Delica, 16, was elected President of the student government at Jose Panganiban National High School, in the province of Camarines Norte. After the region was hit by the recent Typhoon Santi, she organised a collection among fellow students to help buy food and clothing for those affected. “I got involved with the student government because by serving other students, I find self contentment and fulfilment,” she says.
UNICEF’s work is based on upholding children’s rights, including the right to an education. In the Philippines, UNICEF is supporting the Department of Education in setting up a network of Child Friendly Schools, which has so far reached over 5,000 schools across the country. The scheme is targeted at the most disadvantaged areas and aims to promote child-centred teaching, children’s health and non-discriminatory, protective practices. It also seeks to enhance the participation of children, parents and community members in school improvement initiatives.
“Child Friendly Schools is about engaging the school and community in promoting a more holistic approach to child rights and wellbeing,” Lulay de Vera, Chief of Education at UNICEF Philippines, says. “We want to make schools safe and happy places for children and to reduce the student drop-out rate, which remains a big challenge for a country like the Philippines.”
To tackle congested classrooms, UNICEF has worked with the Department of Education to introduce self-learning modules. These help reduce class sizes by using volunteer-teachers to work through the module with some children, while the teacher concentrates on the remaining students. In multi-grade schools, older pupils are also engaged to help teach the younger pupils “This means the children are exposed to more varied and stimulating learning experiences and have more quality time with their teachers,” Lulay comments. “It’s also a useful learning experience for the older pupils because their communication and leadership skills are enhanced.”
In a child-friendly school, teachers also set up a student tracking system, looking at things like academic performance, children’s health, and family background, to identify pupils who are faltering or at risk of dropping out. They then work with those children and their families to try to keep them in school. “In one instance, teachers observed that six children were often late for class,” Lulay comments. “They realised it was because the children lived a long way from the school, so they had discussions with the local barangay council who decided to relocate the households.”
Student tracking can sometimes uncover more sensitive issues. “In another case, teachers found a girl was being molested by her grandmother’s helper,” Lulay continues. “The grandmother didn’t want to acknowledge the problem so they referred the case to the local social welfare office.”
Edna Yacap has been a teacher for 23 years. She currently works at Santo Domingo Elementary School in Camarines Norte, which has been child-friendly since 2003. “This project is about developing the welfare of children,” Edna says. “We want to make school a more pleasant experience for them. Now the pupils love coming to school and they perform better.”
One of the main causes of school dropouts in this area is low family income. The school has tackled this by providing free, locally-produced, nutritious food for poorer students for two months. They also provide water and sanitation facilities for all children, with support from the GMA Kapuso Foundation.
“We have a regular time for pupils to do hand washing in school time, which is between 12:50 and 1:05 pm,” Edna explains. “They wash their hands and brush their teeth before they pray. Through this, the children learn hygiene and how to look after themselves.”
There is a student government here too. “Taking part in the government helps pupils develop their talents, skills and abilities,” Edna comments. “Their leadership skills are enhanced. For instance, they were the ones who initiated our school motto about saving the environment.”
The support provided by UNICEF has been invaluable for Santo Domingo School. “UNICEF has helped us with books and teacher training on the student tracking systems. Because of this excellent programme, we have reduced the dropout rate substantially. The pupils perform better – and the teachers perform better too!” Edna laughs.
Saving the environment
© UNICEF Philippines/2009/Andy Brown
Back in Jose Panganiban National High School, members of the student government discuss their environmental programme. “We’ve arranged tree planting in the watershed area,” one student says. “This protects the watershed to provide water and survival for the whole community. We also help build homes for people living in squatter areas.”
Students run these projects with money raised from parents, businesses and local government. They are currently fundraising to repair the school’s hand washing area, which was vandalised, and for additional medicines cabinets. “So far we’ve solicited funds for six medicine cabinets but our target is for 60,” Krista says. “We need first aid materials in the school for when pupils get sick or injured. At the moment they have to go to the nearest clinic.”
The child-friendly approach can have a dramatic impact on some pupils. “One high school student said that when her elementary school became child-friendly, she noticed the change in behaviour of the teachers,” Lulay comments. “They became more caring and sensitive to her needs and because of that she was able to concentrate on her studies. She went from being an average pupil in elementary level to an active, successful high school student leader.
“When we talk about improving schools, many adults think about infrastructure but in fact for many pupils it’s more important to be safe and happy,” Lulay concludes.
UNICEF’s Child Friendly School System responds directly to articles in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which was signed 20 years ago this month and has been ratified by almost all countries in the world. The CRC states that every child has the right to an education which should develop his or her personality and talents to the full and that every child has the right to have his or her voice heard.
Children’s rights are based on their need to thrive as human beings. It is up to adults – whether parents, teachers or community members – to ensure that children learn about and understand their rights, so that these rights are enjoyed by all. As we mark the 20th anniversary of the CRC, there is reason to hope that in the future all children in the Philippines will enjoy their right to an education.
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