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Statement by UNICEF Representative, Sheldon Yett on the response to addressing violence in schools

SKOPJE 14 APRIL 2011:  “UNICEF notes with concern the situation of violence against and among children in schools in this country.  The tragic death of Muhammad Ali Jashari is compelling evidence of the urgent need to re-examine how violent behavior is managed in the education system, and in the community as a whole.

While the media usually report on only the most extreme cases, violence- physical or psychological – against and among children happens every day in our schools.  A UNICEF study found that nearly 29% of seventh graders witnessed physical fights between students in their school at least once a week, while many other students are subject to bullying and psychological harassment on a daily basis. 

This is a long-standing issue and an effective response must involve more than just schools.  It calls for a national strategy that gives priority to preventive, protection and educational measures.  We know from evidence from other European countries that responding to violence in schools with increased control and sanctions is unlikely to solve the problem in the long term.

The situation calls for a change in the way parents discipline their children.  Our studies show that parents use aggression and physical punishment as a method of disciplining their children.  As many as 7 out of 10 children age 2-14 experience violent forms of discipline.  Children see this as acceptable, and mirror the behavior of the adults they look up to.  Parents need to have the skills on how to use positive and non-violent ways of setting boundaries and manage disruptive behaviour in their children, and these skills need to be applied from early childhood.

The situation also calls for schools to implement a whole-school approach to responding to violence.  Installing  video surveillance and introducing  security guards are often  a popular response, but evidence from other countries  has shown that in most contexts, they are unlikely to be  effective,  and risk being counter-productive in efforts to  create a positive environment for learning.

Effective strategies at the school level used in other countries to prevent and reduce violence against and among children are those that focus on creating a culture of positive behavior.  This requires applying a variety of strategies that engage all members of the school community - principles, teachers, students and parents – and focus on preventing violence. 

Successful strategies include Life Skills and other curricular and extracurricular activities, programmes for teachers and other school staff on how to promote positive behavior for learning and how to respond to disruptive behaviour, and policies and plans for preventing violence. Mechanisms and accepted protocols for documenting and reporting cases when incidents happen must also be in place.

Violence in schools is a problem in every country.  What is important is that we do not wait for it to happen to respond to it. 

This holistic approach will not achieve results overnight, however, if the issues are not addressed systematically violence in schools will continue to have a corrosive effect on child wellbeing, the educational achievement of students and will deny children their right to learn in а safe and protective environment.”




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