Basic education and gender equality

Child-friendly schools

© UNICEF/ HQ07-1393/Pirozzi

On any given day, more than one billion of the world’s children go to school. Whether they sit in buildings, in tents or even under trees, ideally they are learning, developing and enriching their lives. 

For too many children, though, school is not always a positive experience. Some endure difficult conditions, like extremely hot or cold temperatures in the classroom or primitive sanitation. Others lack competent teachers and appropriate curricula. Still others may be forced to contend with discrimination, harassment and even violence. These conditions are not conducive to learning or development, and no child should have to experience them.

UNICEF is profoundly committed to securing safe, rights-based, quality education for each and every child, irrespective of his or her circumstances. We understand that schools are not ’one size fits all’ institutions, and that children have diverse needs. With this in mind, we have striven to create a comprehensive, multifaceted and dynamic educational model aimed at helping schools achieve safe, healthy and protective environments that meet the specific needs of their children.

The Child-Friendly School (CFS) model is a simple one at heart: Schools should operate in the best interests of the child. Educational environments must be safe, healthy and protective, endowed with trained teachers, adequate resources and appropriate physical, emotional and social conditions for learning. Within them, children’s rights must be protected and their voices must be heard. Learning environments must be a haven for children to learn and grow, with innate respect for their identities and varied needs. The CFS model promotes inclusiveness, gender-sensitivity, tolerance, dignity and personal empowerment.

CFS environments build upon the assets that children bring from their homes and communities, respecting their unique backgrounds and circumstances. At the same time, the CFS model compensates for any shortcomings in the home and community that might make it difficult for children to enrol in school, attend regularly and succeed in their studies. For example, if there is a food shortage in the community, school-feeding programmes can provide children both with the nutrition they so critically need and the incentive to stay in school and get an education.

The CFS model also builds partnerships between schools and the community. Since children have the right to be fully prepared to become active and productive citizens, their learning must be linked to the wider community.  

At the national level, governments can encourage the development of child-friendly schools by promoting free enrolment, passing regulations that prohibit corporeal punishment, encouraging the use of local languages in schools, integrating disabled children into mainstream schools, allowing pregnant students to complete their education, and mandating that children living with HIV and/or AIDS have a right to attend school and continue learning. 

In the past decade, the CFS approach has become the main model through which UNICEF and its partners promote quality education in normal as well as emergency situations.  UNICEF provides School-in-a-Box kits to temporary child-friendly learning spaces to help children recover from trauma and maintain a sense of normalcy by continuing their education.

Indeed, there is no single way to make a school child friendly. The model may differ from country to country, but the common denominator across cultures is a focus on child-centred education in a safe, healthy and holistic environment.

The success of our work in implementing the CFS model largely depends on partnerships with other actors in the international arena.  Together, we can help ensure that every child – regardless of whether he or she attends school in a building, a tent or under a tree – receives a rights-based, quality education.

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Child-Friendly Schools

Learn more about Child-Friendly Schools (CFS) and quality education


December 2009:
Interview with Dr Cream Wright, UNICEF's Chief of Education about the CFS model
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