Devpro Resource Centre


Mainstreaming child-friendly concepts

© UNICEF/China

Context and challenge: Increasing access to child-friendly schools in the world’s largest education system

An old Chinese proverb states, “A nation’s treasure is in its scholars.” Indeed, for China – the world’s largest developing country – education plays a crucial role in national development.

Recognizing this, the Chinese government has increasingly taken measures to promote educational equality and reduce gender disparities in its school system. In 2005, China’s primary school net enrolment rate was 99.5 per cent, and its lower secondary school gross enrolment rate was 95 per cent, with a total of 171 million students enrolled in nine-year compulsory education. With more than 700,000 schools, China has the world’s largest education system.

While these statistics are impressive, they belie the staggering number of Chinese children not enrolled in primary school – at 7 million, that number roughly corresponds to the population of Singapore, and it represents more than 50 per cent of out-of-school children in East Asia.

Furthermore, major rural-urban disparities exist, in both access to education and quality. Schools and children in rural China are at a great disadvantage, with children of migrants all the more marginalized. The nation’s vast tapestry of ethnicities and languages poses even greater challenges, and the examination-driven culture that has traditionally characterized China’s schools fails to nurture pupils’ creative, physical and work skills development.

China’s Ministry of Education first introduced the concept of child-friendly schools (CFS) in 2001, in cooperation with UNICEF. The CFS model promotes inclusiveness and effectiveness; health, safety and protection; gender-friendliness; and the involvement of students, families and communities.

The model was first piloted in 12 rural township primary schools in three provinces. In 2006, UNICEF and the Ministry of Education signed a project cooperation agreement that emphasized a comprehensive CFS approach to quality primary education in rural areas of China. Successful piloting of the CFS model in 1,000 schools soon followed.

© UNICEF/China/2006
China, Gansu Province. 2006. Shuiquan Elementary School in central Gansu Province

Action: Mainstreaming child-friendly school concepts

The next step for China is to make all its schools child-friendly. In general, this can be done by scaling up CFS implementation or by mainstreaming the CFS model within the education system.

While scaling up involves a systematic, project-based replication of the CFS model, mainstreaming entails a more holistic, systems-based approach. The latter infuses key CFS elements into all aspects of the education system, including the processes and parameters that shape it. Planning, implementation, financing, staffing, management, supervision, monitoring and evaluation must therefore all be fundamentally driven by child-friendly values. By making the CFS model an integral part of the education system rather than a piecemeal project, mainstreaming promotes sustainability.

During the consultation stage of the mainstreaming process, key stakeholders use CFS principles to generate desirable characteristics for child-friendly schools. Policy simulation models and costing tools are invaluable at this stage, as they can be used to project feasible CFS development scenarios and to elucidate how the education system behaves as variables are changed. In addition, these simulation tools can help policymakers prescribe appropriate national standards and devise a balanced approach that takes into account both the ideals of CFS and the practicalities of what can be attained over a given time frame.

UNICEF promotes the use of the Education Policy and Strategy Simulation (EPSSim) model, which utilizes country-generated checklists or guidelines in setting national CFS standards and strategies. China developed such a checklist around four categories of CFS principles, which it used to set national standards for child-friendly schools in 2008. These standards call for all students to “be enabled to develop in an all-rounded way; in ethical, intellectual, physical, aesthetic and life-skills dimensions.”

Impact and opportunities: The CFS approach improves the quality of primary and secondary education; continued mainstreaming will enable China to meet the vast needs of its education system.

As the Chinese government addresses its long-term educational development, with emphasis on equitable and quality education for all, the CFS model is increasingly being mainstreamed into national policy and legislative changes.

As a result of the mainstreaming process, which is ongoing, China’s Ministry of Education increasingly views educational policy and curriculum reforms through a CFS lens.

Specifically, a ‘child-seeking’ and rights-based approach is making basic education truly inclusive; the concepts of safety, health and protection are being incorporated, school sanitation improved, and emergency preparedness and sports better woven into the curriculum. In addition, interactive, child-centred teaching and learning is being applied to professional education standards. Going forward, capacity building will be carried out using a school-based, participatory approach, with an emphasis on the quality of training rather than on the number of trainees.

By mainstreaming CFS principles, China can ensure that a rights-based approach informs and shapes its vast and complex education system.

1 July 2010



A focus on

Child-Friendly Schools Manual, Chapter 9, 'Mainstreaming child-friendly concepts', 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, Child-Friendly Schools Case Study: China, 2009 | English

UNICEF China, 'Schoolchildren Redecorate Bricks in the Wall-Classrooms transformed by UNICEF child-friendly learning framework' | website

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