Respecting children’s views in the classroom: Yashasvi’s story

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child: Article 12 – the right to be heard and respected

UNICEF Sri Lanka
Yashasvi, in her blue school uniform, smirks at the camera with a classmate behind her.
UNICEF Sri Lanka/2019/Jayawardena
17 September 2019

Kotmale, Sri Lanka – In Kotmale, Sri Lanka, 12-year-old Yashasvi is finally getting the space she needs to learn, grow and speak up in the classroom.

“Discipline used to be a big part of our school life and keeping us quiet was a big part of this,” said Yashasvi. “For a long time, we were afraid to speak out about anything that affected us. Punishment was a word we heard – and experienced – a lot.”

However, in 2017, everything changed for Yashasvi and her classmates, when a new way of teaching called positive classroom management was introduced into her school.

“The principals and teachers started talking to us differently,” she says. “They began to encourage us to say what we felt, and not just about our lessons. The school is also showing more concern about the mental and emotional well-being of children – and as a result, the staff and the students are growing closer. Teachers are more patient and listen to us more."

"They no longer use the cane to submit us to good behaviour.”

– Yashasvi

At first, this new way of teaching took time to get used to. Many children were not comfortable speaking up, Yashasvi said, and were afraid of the repercussions of doing so. Realising this, her school created a recommendation book for students. In this book, students were invited to write their suggestions on making the school a safer, more productive learning environment. Almost immediately, the recommendations began pouring in. 

“Our first request was for a physical education teacher. We convinced the principal that physical exercise and activity was something that would be good for us – and within weeks, we had a new teacher.”

Yashasvi, in her blue school uniform, stands in front of a chalkboard and uses a wooden pointer-stick to point at words written on a large pink sheet of paper in Sinhala script.
UNICEF Sri Lanka/2019/Jayawardena
Since positive classroom management has been implemented in their school, education has become a more safe, engaging and empowering experience for Yashasvi and her classmates.

Today, Yashasvi and her classmates have stopped using the suggestion book. Instead, they speak to their teachers or principals directly. They listen to the students’ input, and if appropriate, incorporate feedback into the school system.

“It’s good to see our school progressing, as the classroom has become a better place for learning,” Yashasvi says. “The way we are taught certain subjects is changing. In our civic education class, for example, we use games to learn the material. I used to find civic education a boring subject, but it’s different now. There is teamwork involved, with all of us working together and helping each other. A few of us may find it difficult working in a group, but even they are beginning to understand that all students should be given an opportunity to contribute their points of view.”

Of course, children’s lives revolve around more than just the classroom. In Yashasvi’s school, students are also given the chance to speak about everything else affecting them.

“In a recent classroom exercise, we were asked to form into groups and discuss the challenges we face as young members of society. Our concerns included environmental issues, substance abuse, the inability to access and use new technologies, and being marginalised in society. Then, we had to list out the capacities we needed to meet these challenges.”

“I am becoming more optimistic about the future. I like coming to school because I know the next five years here will be better than the seven years I’ve already spent here.”

– Yashasvi