Devpro Resource Centre

South Africa

Schools as protective environments

© UNICEF/NYHQ2006-1382/Pirozzi
Children, caretakers and trainers link hands to form a circle at Asiphilisane Camp for HIV-positive children.

Context and challenge: AIDS and the legacy of parallel education systems create obstacles to quality education.

Despite its breathtaking landscapes, cosmopolitan cities and rich culture, South Africa faces major challenges. Although the institutionalized system of racism known as apartheid was formally abolished in 1994, its legacy lingers. Crime, economic inequality and an inferior educational system continue to plague the country’s citizens. In addition, an estimated 5.7 million people are affected by HIV – the highest of any country in the world.

South Africa has focused on reforming its educational system to reflect an equality and rights-based approach. The country is on track to achieve universal primary education by 2015 and has already achieved gender parity. But providing a quality education for all of its children – particularly those in the impoverished regions of Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo – will be a challenge. Despite an 89 per cent net enrolment rate in primary school for both girls and boys, approximately 687,000 South African children remain out of school.

Hunger, domestic and agricultural chores, the cost of school uniforms and other fees, disability, HIV and AIDS, and teen pregnancy all prevent students from accessing a quality education, as do poor sanitation facilities and inadequate infrastructure in schools.

Moreover, violence and insecurity, both inside and outside school walls, create enormous obstacles for learners. The Department of Education has pinpointed gender-based violence as the greatest threat to girls’ education. Long and dangerous journeys between home and school, sexual harassment, and increasing incidences of crime in and around the school environment all contribute to poor school performance and high drop-out rates.

© UNICEF/South Africa/2008/Schermbrucker

Action: Developing protective spaces within the context of a child-friendly educational system

In 2004, in an attempt to bolster children’s ability to access a rights-based education, South Africa’s Department of Education launched the Child-Friendly School (CFS) initiative, which it later renamed the ‘Safe and Caring Child Friendly Schools (SCCFS) Framework’. The Department of Education identified 585 target schools across the country that were considered either drastically under-resourced, impoverished or extremely violent. In 2005, UNICEF began supporting several of these schools.

To become effective protective spaces, schools should:

  • Fast-track infrastructure development, especially in areas that affect security such as building protective fences and repairing broken windows.
  • Ensure there is adequate teaching staff available at all times, including during recess.
  • Organize safe transport or walking clubs so children can travel to and from school in groups rather than alone, and create gathering points where children can be picked up and taken home at the end of the day.
  • Make certain teachers know who is authorized to pick up children and only allow learners to leave school premises with specified adults.
  • Train guidance counsellors and teachers to provide psychosocial support and referrals for children at risk and identify warning signs for abuse.

Impact and opportunities: Healthier and more protective school environments; possibilities for widespread implementation

The CFS programme, which included 25 schools in 2006, now includes 257 schools benefiting more than 50,000 girls and boys and 3,000 educators in Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo Provinces. Since its inception, the CFS initiative has resulted in better learner attendance, better results and improved attitudes reported from parents. In addition, anecdotal evidence suggests the initiative has resulted in a healthier and more protective school environment.

Since the beginning of the programme, teenage pregnancies and drug abuse cases have decreased and awareness of HIV and AIDS has increased. Schools are creating stronger linkages with the community, with tangible results: Security has been beefed up and communities have raised funds to erect protective fences around their schools, among other infrastructural developments. In addition, the cleanliness of schools has improved.

Moreover, learner morale has progressed, with school administrators reporting fewer behavioural issues, an increased commitment to learning and a higher level of student engagement. Learners have stated that they feel an increased level of care from educators and increased respect for their rights.

Going forward, the SCCFS initiative faces a multitude of ongoing challenges – all of which are linked to the country’s socio-economic constraints. Schools in impoverished communities lack consistent access to basic services such as water, electricity and sanitation. Learners in these communities still experience food insecurity. Orphaned children, as well as those made vulnerable by AIDS, continue to need care, support and social grants. In addition, school infrastructure and quality of education both need bolstering and improvement.

South Africa remains committed to facing these challenges and recognizes that the child-friendly schools framework has the potential not only to facilitate quality education but to assist the country in achieving the Millennium Development Goals. By prioritizing the creation of protective learning environments, South Africa can provide its youngest citizens with the tools to become tomorrow’s leaders.

14 September 2009



A focus on

Child-Friendly Schools Manual, Chapter 5, 'Schools as protective environments,' 2009 | PDF English

To learn more

UNICEF, Child-Friendly Schools Manual, 2009 | PDF English

UNICEF, Global Capacity Development Programme on Child-Friendly Schools | website

UNICEF, Resources on Child-Friendly Schools | website

UNICEF, 'Quality education and child-friendly schools,' Actions for Children Issue 5, March 2009 | PDF English | French | Spanish

UNICEF South Africa, Child-Friendly Schools | website

UNICEF South Africa, Resources on Child-Friendly Schools | website

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