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Real lives

Enhancing Inter-ethnic Dialogue and Communication

Students and teachers develop gender awareness in a Child-Friendly School

 

Dynamics of child-friendly school (CFS) theory in practice

Well-equipped and inviting environments that encourage learning and support healthy and attentive minds are hallmarks of child-friendly schools.

Context and challenge: Poverty and marginalization create barriers to equitable access to quality education
Mountainous and landlocked, the country declared its independence from Yugoslavia in 1991. A decade later, ethnic tension erupted in a brief war between the country’s Macedonian majority and Albanian minority. Later that year, the Ohrid Framework Agreement sought to establish a stable political settlement that recognized the civil rights of minority groups, but tensions remain.

Despite its relatively well-educated population, the country is challenged by high rates of unemployment and child poverty. The Roma people, who have experienced a long history of discrimination, are among the poorest and most marginalized members of the society.

The country  is on track to achieve universal primary education by 2015. Ninety-five per cent of its children attend primary school, and there are no significant disparities by gender, rural and urban location, or geographical region. Marked differences do exist, however, for poor and marginalized children. Only 63 per cent of 7-year-old Roma children, for example, attend primary school. Only 10.7 per cent of the country’s children access early childhood education, and as many as 40 per cent of its teenagers do not finish secondary school.

The country also struggles with the quality of its education system as a whole. National scores on international assessments suggest that expected learning outcomes are not being met. The country ranks among the lowest in the Central and Eastern Europe/Commonwealth of Independent States region in terms of average achievement and within-country differences. Girls perform better than boys, and students whose language of instruction is Macedonian achieve higher results than those who study in Albanian.

Despite the fact that the number of hours a child spends in school has been linked to education quality, the country has the shortest instructional day of any education system in the region. Other challenges include maintaining safe school environments; promoting multiculturalism and an awareness of children’s rights; engaging students, parents and community members in the school system; and providing sufficient educational materials and access to information technology.

Administrative inefficiencies and frequent changes in political leadership have hindered country's ability to implement wide-reaching reforms. The Ministry of Education and Science (MoES) , however, has taken significant steps towards improving access to and quality of education.
Its Education and Modernization Project aims to develop an efficient and decentralized education system. And in an effort to achieve these goals, the MoES and UNICEF agreed in 2006 to move towards a child-friendly school (CFS) approach within the national education system.

Action: Developing a child-friendly education system
UNICEF identified individuals from the MoES and area universities to be part of a national CFS team. The team included experts in child rights and child-centred pedagogy, and built upon the experiences of other countries while developing the national CFS initiative.
In the country, child-friendliness was defined by:

  • Inclusiveness
  • Effectiveness
  • Health, safety and protection in school environments
  • Gender responsiveness 
  • Involvement of students, parents and community members 
  • Respect for children’s rights and multiculturalism

Researchers conducted a baseline study in 21 schools, interviewing key stakeholders, reviewing school documents and observing classrooms. The national CFS team and UNICEF then worked with the MoES to formulate a strategy that included CFS initiatives on both national and local levels.
At the national level, the team advocated for legislative change and curriculum development. At the school level, team members worked alongside students, teachers, personnel and parents to find concrete techniques to implement the CFS concept in five pilot schools.

These techniques included setting classroom ground rules to promote mutual respect between teachers and students and motivate children to learn. Teachers received training to identify different learning styles; textbooks and physical education classes were evaluated for gender bias. And children were asked to identify areas they felt were unsafe and to monitor violence during their breaks.

After one year, five more pilot schools were added to the initiative. Since its inception, more than 11,000 individuals – including students, teachers, school personnel, parents and community members – have benefited from the CFS pilot school project.

 

Impact and opportunities: Strengthened policy and curriculum; a more holistic approach to education; increasing movement towards reform
Beyond impacting individual schools, the CFS concept has infused the national education system at large. In 2007, the second year of the CFS initiative, the Parliament adopted the revised Primary Education Law to extend compulsory primary education from eight to nine years. The law was followed by a revision of existing curriculum and the addition of new subjects to ensure consistency with CFS principles such as multiculturalism, gender responsiveness and life skills-based education.

Anecdotal evidence indicates that CFS is having a positive impact on children, teachers and the community. Children are learning about their rights and are more fully participating in classroom activities. Schools are increasingly promoting awareness of multiculturalism. Teachers report positive change in their schools, and life skills-based education is steadily being introduced into the curriculum. In addition, the holistic nature of the CFS framework has allowed various stakeholders – including donors – to build upon existing strengths and bring their different agendas to the table.

Going forward, UNICEF will support CFS pilot schools to increase participation and learning, and ensure that the lessons learned are shared and implemented across the country. The country's education system must put mechanisms in place to measure the impact of this change over time.

Although comprehensive change will happen overnight, the country is slowly seeing the fruit of its efforts to create a child-friendly education system. For the country’s poor and marginalized children, it can’t come a moment too soon.

 

 

 
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