Don’t Let Violence Be an Everyday Lesson
Op Ed by UNICEF Representative, Mr Benjamin Perks
A major challenge for the country in the forthcoming period is to ensure the education system gets back on track and begins to catch up with Balkan and European neighbours. This is key for economic competitiveness and long term social and democratic development of the society too.
But we cannot improve learning outcomes, when our children don’t feel safe and secure in schools. Today UNICEF is launching a global report and campaign on violence and bullying in schools-to draw the attention of policy makers and communities to this problem.
The report gives compelling evidence of the need to re-examine how violent behavior is managed in the education system, and in the community as a whole. No child should be afraid to go to school. Yet for far too many students around the world, school is not a safe place. Half of the worlds students aged 13–15, about 150 million, report having experienced peer violence – both bullying and physical fights – in and around school. In this country 42% students aged 13–15, about 150 million, report having experienced peer violence – both bullying and physical fights – in and around school.
Heartbreakingly, when we see violence in school it is often the outcome of violence, or neglect at home in the family. We now know from research that family violence upsets the delicate evolution of self-esteem and self-efficacy in the evolving mind of the child. It generates a level of toxic, never-ending stress that over-activates the domains of the brain the cause impulsivity and violence and de-activates those that enable self-control, focus for learning, caution and integrity. Children who are affected by family violence and neglect are extremely vulnerable to become perpetrators or victims of violence in the turbulent and risk-prone transition of adolescence. Sometime decisions a child will make in adolescence will have a bearing upon their whole lives.
Family violence is not a marginal problem, according to WHO, 30% of children in this country are affected by neglect and UNICEF data suggests the 52% are affected by physical violence at home. There are similar rates across the world. But education systems should not only try to prevent violence in school. They should also try to mitigate the impact of violence at home, by ensuring all children flourish. There are three key measures needed to reduce violence in schools.
Firstly it is important to create a school environment where everyone feels safe and secure and a sense of belonging. Belonging is particularly important in mitigating the lasting & life-long impact of child neglect at home. Schools need to be places where the integrity and humanity of each child and teacher is uncompromisingly respected and where measures, training and monitoring are in place to enforce this.
Secondly schools need to be trauma informed. That they recognize that family violence is everywhere and that the environment needs to deliver education in a way that soothes and calms the chaotic impact of family violence on the evolving brain of the child and help them find pathways to focus on learning.
Thirdly, schools need to develop character education to enable children to build core competencies and values that help them navigate risks and develop attributes that their families, their community and their country can be proud of.
This needs to be underpinned by increased awareness amongst parents and teachers of the way social media exsacerbates bullying and violence and strategies that respond.
Violence in schools is preventable. And because we can prevent it, we must. Classroom by classroom, school by school, we can #ENDviolence in schools. Students around the world are stepping up to demand the safety and education they deserve. It’s time to follow their lead. We need to join them.
 UNICEF analysis based on data from 122 countries with data from the HBSC and GSHS, covering 51 per cent of the global population of children aged 13 to 15 years. This figure includes number of children who report having been bullied in the last month or having been involved in a physical fight in the last year.
UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.
For more information about UNICEF and its work for children, visit www.unicef.org.