Ending violence in school and promoting mental health: Learning from Africa

Children can't learn if they are afraid when they are in school. In Africa, several organizations are studying good practices against school violence to draw recommendations that can be applied elsewhere.

November 03, 2023 by Delia Mamon, Graines de Paix, Dipak Naker, Coalition for Good Schools, and Quentin Wodon, UNESCO IICBA
4 minutes read
Girls play in the school yard during recess at Bengo Primary School. Côte d'Ivoire
Girls play in the school yard during recess at Bengo Primary School. Côte d'Ivoire
Credit: GPE/Rodrig Mbock

Yesterday, November 2, was the International Day against violence and bullying at school including cyberbullying. The theme this year was “No place for fear: Ending school violence for better mental health and learning.” 

Violence in schools is a major issue in Africa as well as globally, and there is a strong connection between such violence, mental health, and learning outcomes.

In this blog, we highlight evidence on this interconnection and, more importantly, suggest what can be done to end violence in schools, improve mental health for both learners and teachers, and boost learning outcomes.

Violence in school negatively affects learning

Consider first the evidence of the harmful effects of violence in schools. Two years ago, an investment case to end violence in schools was published by the World Bank and the Safe to Learn Initiative (see also the action-oriented summary).

The argument was simple. For education to be transformative, learning is needed, yet less likely to happen if a child experiences fear or trauma in school. Violence in schools affects learning negatively and leads some children to drop out of school.

In addition, being the victim of violence in school has a wide range of other negative effects, including for health (not sleeping well, headaches, injuries from corporal punishment, and poor mental health), engaging in risky behaviors (using drugs and alcohol or having sex at a younger age), and even considering suicide.

For virtually all education and health variables for which data were available in school health surveys, violence was associated with negative outcomes in a statistically significant way. 

Individuals and societies are paying a heavy price as a result with an estimate of $11 trillion in lost lifetime earnings globally (just including impacts on schooling and learning, not additional impacts on health, including mental health).

Cost-benefit analyses suggest that interventions to prevent violence in schools are a smart economic investment. 

The benefits of investing in preventing violence in and through schools are likely to far outweigh the costs, and beyond the issue of violence in schools, the education system is in effect a great entry point to prevent violence more broadly.

Examples of good practices against school violence

So, what can be done to prevent violence in schools? The Coalition for Good Schools has published an evidence review (see also its summary). The report suggests that it is best to:

  1. Implement multi-component and integrated interventions engaging a variety of stakeholders
  2. Consider whole school approaches that address not only policies and practices, but also values
  3. Promote group-based learning which can help in developing shared values while also tackling gender norms
  4. Provide leadership opportunities for school staff and learners including through short practical courses
  5. Adapt interventions to the school context (e.g., different types of violence require different strategies)
  6. Adopt an iterative learning process, considering the “how” of interventions apart from the “what” and due attention to monitoring outcomes along the way.

Several interventions reviewed were implemented in Africa, especially anglophone countries. This includes the Good School Toolkit, for which an evaluation suggests that the program reduced the risk of physical violence by teachers and school staff by 42%; halved the number of teachers who reported using physical violence against students; and improved students’ connectedness and sense of safety and belonging with their school. 

Importantly, the cost of implementing many interventions can be low, as simulations illustrate.

From francophone Africa, a great experience is that of Graines de Paix, a non-profit operating currently in Benin and Côte d’Ivoire that received the prestigious UNESCO-Hamdan Prize for Teacher Development in 2022. In Côte d’Ivoire, Graines de Paix worked with the Ministry of Education to develop the Apprendre en Paix, Eduquer sans Violence (Learning in peace, teaching without violence) program in 2016-2017. 

The project aimed to upgrade teachers’ capacities to use more efficient classroom management techniques than violence-based authority, and improve classroom dynamics (see the findings from a formative evaluation of the program).

The program has now been remodeled and replicated in Benin since 2018. It now  incorporates the move from passive to interactive learning and includes a gender transformative lens and attention to extreme violence prevention. 

In Côte d’Ivoire, the program has also been implemented in Islamic schools jointly with local teacher Imams and ministry officials.

More resources on ending school violence

These are just a few examples of promising interventions from Africa.

In terms of global guidance, UNESCO is providing various resources including:

A number of UNESCO and other United Nations publications may also be useful, including:

At UNESCO IICBA, we have been working for the last few years on a program to promote mental health and psychosocial support for teachers and learners. 

You may in particular find useful  a study assessing the psychosocial impact of Covid-19 on teachers, teacher educators, and learners and psychosocial support needs; and a training guide to strengthen mental health and psychosocial support for pre- and in-service teachers in Africa.

Also relevant is the recent launch of the African Union’s Continental Strategy on Education for Health and Well-being of Young People.

Related blogs


It is possible to end violence against children. Good Job Raising Voices and Partners

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. All fields are required.

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.

Plain text

  • Global and entity tokens are replaced with their values. Browse available tokens.
  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.