Schools are “child-friendly” in the Eastern Caribbean
Barbados May, 2010 - With support from UNICEF and their ministries of education, different countries in the Eastern Caribbean are successfully applying the concept of “Child-Friendly Schools”, where children and adolescents learn and develop the knowledge, skills and abilities for life in a healthy, safe, inclusive, protective and respectful environment.
This initiative, underway since 2007, is centred firstly on the introduction of alternatives to the practice of corporal punishment – a legally and culturally sanctioned practice still present in many societies in the Caribbean. In three year the programme has gone from supporting 425 children in 33 schools to benefiting 9,933 children – many between ages 5 and 11, and others in secondary schools.
The “child-friendly schools” have three fundamental principles: democratic participation, where children and parents have a say in the school curriculum; inclusiveness of ethnicity, ability levels and gender considerations; and child-centeredness so that everything that is done is for their greater benefit.
One of the countries that is most enthusiastic about accepting the challenge of getting its schools to take a more critical look at themselves in the current situation is Dominica. Different primary schools in that country have participated and taken creative measures for promoting positive behaviour, trying new ways of teaching: reaching out to students and relating to parents. On the other hand, the secondary schools, as in the case of some schools in St. Lucia, have focused on student participation and leadership.
In the Eastern Caribbean, all countries offer free universal primary education and have achieved – or are on their way to achieving – free universal secondary education. However, there still is limited access for disabled children and scarce access to second opportunities for formal education –for adolescent mothers or juvenile offenders, for example. These factors, together with cultural acceptance of violent behaviour, determined the need to implement a programme of “child-friendly schools” in the Eastern Caribbean.
These successful experiences have resulted in satisfaction, both for the students, who feel listened to and enjoy a friendlier environment, and the teachers, who now can centre their attention on teaching instead of on punishing misbehaviour.
Rewarding positive behaviour
The Grand Bay primary school is one of the most problematic schools on the island of Dominica. According to Director Charlene White-Christian most of its 212 students have problems of behaviour or low self-esteem.
That’s why one of the strategies used in its “child-friendly schools” programme is the Director’s 200 Club”. To be a member of this club, students must be recognized by adults for their exemplary behaviour by awarding them with tickets the school provides to its personnel, including the cook, cleaning personnel and bus drivers.
Rewarded behaviour varies according to each school’s expectations. In the case of Grand Bay, they congratulate the students that are responsible, respectful, friendly and ready to learn and to cooperate. The students receiving the tickets place them at the entrance to the school, and when a student’s row is filled, he or she is recognized in a special assembly before all the students.
“As students become more aware, they are increasingly calmer and we can accomplish more with them”, notes the school’s director. The Club also seems to improve students’ self-esteem. “They love it when visitors seek the board with their names on it”, she adds.
“Now students behave better during recreation and at lunch hour”, comments 5th-grade teacher Florette Carette. “Before we had at least five fights a week, especially at lunch time, but now there aren’t any. They all want their names on the wall”.
Alicia Maxim, a 13-year-old student, also noted the change of behaviour in her classmates. “Before the Child-Friendly Schools, the students liked to fight. Now almost everybody likes to play and get along with each other”.
The Paix Bouche primary school in Dominica uses a similar method. It rewards positive behaviour with coupons that can be exchanged for school supplies at the school store. The school also encourages parents to make monetary contributions to help in the purchase of school articles. To achieve a friendlier school, Paix Bouche also has focused on creating opportunities for student participation and for promoting healthy life styles.
According to Bridgette Lewis, age 11, these practices have a positive effect on students’ behaviour: “Before students used to not be very friendly. They were just disrespectful towards the teachers and their other classmates”. Lewis insists that now they do things differently and share better.
From his point of view, George Kiel, a nine-year-old, says that children “are cooperating more with the teachers and with each other”, and that the teachers “take more time to listen to the students”.
Change in teachers’ attitudes
The behaviour change is not only happening among students. Over time, teachers that initially doubted the value of “child-friendly schools” have found this to be a positive strategy that produces better results than punishing students
The director of the Castle Bruce primary school in Dominica, Octavia Alfred, admits that at the beginning she was a bit sceptical about the programme, and was not sure that the techniques for positive behaviour control would work with her students. But after the training workshop, she realized that the experiment could be successful.
The school picked the “B” method for defining the behaviour expected of its students, both in class and at lunch or recess: Be respectful, Be responsible, Be safe and Be successful.
“Students’ behaviour has improved. For example, now they don’t throw trash on the ground, they don’t shout noisily like they used to do; recess and lunch hour are much calmer and they take care of each other. They’re all like policemen now. The other day a father came to the school and was running on the stairs and a boy scolded him and told him he had to walk and not run on the stairs”, says Alfred.
“What I can tell you is that if this work continues, the next generation of teachers never will lose their voices”, adds the director of the Castle Bruce school, with emphasis.
For his part, the director of the Salisbury primary school in Dominica, Burton Vidal, also went from scepticism to conviction after learning what the initiative is about. He comments that “Child friendly schools are a good thing. Sometimes you don’t realize that you’re doing something wrong, and blame the students. This programme helps you to see what you’re not doing right. All schools should get involved because the initiative consists of centring on the positive and eliminating the negative.”
For teachers, this also has been a substantial change. Nadette Douglas, a sixth-grade teacher at Grand Bay, admits that before she used to hit the students, but that she has decided to try other strategies.
“Before, the students were noisy and I used to hit them. Now I’m less willing to do so. I spend more time congratulating them, guiding, them, and I’ve noticed that their manners have improved and they’re much more cooperative, says Douglas. She also tells us that now she has more energy for collaborating and supervising lunch period, whereas before she preferred to be alone because she was too tired from so much talking and shouting.
Students also run the school
Bocage secondary school, in St. Lucia, has created a new and exciting group called “Bocage Youth for Change” within the child-friendly schools programme in the Eastern Caribbean.
Formed by 30 students, the group is a good example of how to achieve a positive behavioural change when students are allowed to participate in school government. At this Student Council, which meets every Tuesday and Wednesday afternoon, they don’t just discuss the areas that concern them, but also look for solutions to the problems.
The students have the classrooms and the bathroom dirty and disorganized, and paint a lot of graffiti on the walls, says Arlene Harmon, who is 14 and a Council member. So a group decided to start a campaign against throwing trash just anywhere. They held a raffle and a cake sale to raise funds and buy trash cans and paint for the bathroom.
“We want to make the school a better place”, says Adria Dolcy, age 15. “We need to get people to stop thinking negatively about the school, because that’s why they behave that way” adds Andrea, Adria’s twin sister who also is a member of the group.
At the Paix Bouche elementary school in Dominica, a council was formed to examine school matters from the students’ perspective and then consult their decisions with the school director. Members of the Student Councils are organized into different teams. One team makes sure that the swings in the schoolyard function, while another team washes the plates after eating and another straightens up the classrooms.
In some countries the creation of a student council in each school is required by the ministry of education. Students’ participation is recognized as an important component for the positive growth of children and adolescents.
For more information:
Lisa McClean - Trotman, email@example.com, UNICEF Barbados
Tamar Hahn, firstname.lastname@example.org, UNICEF Latin America and the Caribbean
UNICEF is on the ground in over 155 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence. The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS. UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments.