Safe to Learn: Tracking progress in Nepal, Pakistan, South Sudan and Uganda

The Safe to Learn initiative calls on governments and education authorities to adopt a five point Call to Action, which sets out in high-level terms what needs to happen to end violence in schools and create safer learning environments.

February 11, 2021 by Stephen Blight, UNICEF
5 minutes read
UGANDA, 2020: Letasi Rachel (right) receives report and referral forms from the Peer coordinator of Bondo Straight Talk School Club. Credit: Bongyereirwe/UN0385457.
UGANDA, 2020: Letasi Rachel (right) receives report and referral forms from the Peer coordinator of Bondo Straight Talk School Club. Through club dialogues and drama, adolescents get an opportunity to have cases of violence and harassment heard for arbitration and support. The groups also discuss issues that concern them as well as finding solutions to address them.
Credit: Bongyereirwe/UN0385457.

The Safe to Learn Secretariat contributed to this blog.

“The good practices identified, as well as some common gaps and challenges among the country studies, provide the basis for recommendations to policy makers and partners worldwide”.

Safe to Learn Diagnostic Exercises - Synthesis Report

In 2019, UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore and Global Partnership for Education Chief Executive Officer, Alice Albright introduced readers of this blog to Safe to Learn – an ambitious initiative dedicated to ending violence in and through schools so children are free to learn, thrive and pursue their dreams. Since its introduction at the Education World Forum in January 2019, Safe to Learn has galvanized a broad coalition of education leaders, development partners and youth movements to make schools safer for all children.

The Safe to Learn Call to Action

The Safe to Learn initiative calls on governments and education authorities to adopt a five point Call to Action, which sets out in high-level terms what needs to happen to end violence in schools and create safer learning environments. To date, some 15 ministries of Education around the world have committed to the Safe to Learn agenda through endorsement of the Call to Action.

The Safe To Learn Call to Action

  1. Implement policy and legislation
  2. Strengthen prevention and response at the school level
  3. Shift social norms and behavior change
  4. Invest resources effectively
  5. Generate and use evidence

Implementing the Call to Action

  • How can we translate the Call to Action into practical actions to end violence in and around schools?
  • How can we support ministries of Education in appraising current measures in place to respond to violence, and identify gaps?
  • How can we establish a baseline and measure progress against the Call to Action at both country and global level?

With support from the UK Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office (FCDO) and UNICEF, Safe to Learn partners have developed a technical package, which includes a Programmatic Framework and Benchmarking Tool, that provides guidance on translating the Call to Action into practical actions; highlights technical resources to assist in the design of interventions; and sets out a framework for monitoring of results.

It is supplemented by a detailed Diagnostic Tool to inform country-level collective dialogue with national counterparts by assessing the quality of national efforts to prevent and respond to violence in schools.

Developing the diagnostic tool

In order to establish a baseline and measure progress towards ending violence against children in school, the Call to Action was translated into a series of standardized “benchmarks” and checkpoints, which national, sub-national/district and school-level efforts could be measured against.

These benchmarks, developed in relation to the international child rights frameworks, United Nations guidance and minimum standards and good practices from the field of child safeguarding, formed the basis for a diagnostic tool, which was an affordable and practical tool to: measure progress, allow for cross-country comparisons and assess the impact of policy reforms at the school-level.

What we learned from implementation in four countries

From November 2019 to March 2020, Cambridge Education was contracted to provide technical support to national research teams in completing a diagnostic exercise in Nepal, Pakistan, South Sudan and Uganda. Findings were presented to stakeholders for feedback at national round tables or regional events.

The diagnostic exercise found examples of good practices in all four countries, across all five points of the Call to Action. Each had strong legal and policy documents in place prohibiting violence against children. Each had included reference to violence prevention within education sector plans. In all four countries, development partners are providing targeted funds and technical assistance to address violence in schools - although there was no specific earmarked domestic budget for this purpose.

There were great initiatives that could be shared with other countries, including:

  • In Nepal, prevention and response mechanisms were highly visible at school level, including a safe and confidential complaints mechanism for children, and the frequent display of codes of conduct on school walls;
  • In Pakistan, most teachers had received training on positive discipline, which was reinforced in some provinces through the policy "Maar Nahi Pyar – Affection rather than punishment”.
  • In South Sudan, where the reach of national policies is sometimes weak, some states and schools have gone ahead to work with NGOs and established their own guidelines for child protection and safeguarding, and mechanisms and procedures for responding to incidents of violence in schools;
  • In Uganda, a comprehensive approach was adopted through a National Strategic Plan on Violence against Children in Schools (2015 – 2020) that provides a multi-sectoral approach, accompanied by the Reporting, Tracking, Referral and Response Guidelines.

Recommendations for safer schools

In each country, a detailed set of recommendations were developed in consultation with national stakeholders to make their schools safer for children. Looking across the four countries, the Synthesis Report puts forward some more general observations. Among others:

  • Strategies to prevent violence in and around school should be explicitly included in the education sector plan and accompanied by key indicators, action plans and budgets and should be resourced.
  • Support for coordination, monitoring and evaluation of violence prevention initiatives should be included in all education sector plans.
  • National policies, plans and guidelines on preventing violence in schools should be strongly disseminated to sub-national and school levels accompanied by measures for enforcement at these levels.
  • The ministry of Education must be a major role player in the national child protection policy framework and participate in the multi-sectoral child protection coordination mechanism.
  • There needs to be increased focus on shifting social norms to end violence against children in school, including through greater use of existing platforms (for example: student curriculum, teacher training, etc.).

A complete set of methodological resources that were used in the exercise are publicly available for use by partners or other governments that wish to strengthen ministry of Education accountabilities in protecting children from violence.

Developed before the COVID-19 pandemic impact on schools, these resources can be crucial to ensure schools provide the safe and supportive space that children need, wherever education is provided; and to support governments to build back better.

Safe to Learn partners include: include the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), the United Nations Girl’s Education Initiative (UNGEI), the Civil Society Forum to End Violence against Children, the World Bank, Education Cannot Wait (ECW), the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), the Global Business Coalition for Education, Global Affairs Canada, the World Health Organization, the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack, the United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence Against Children, and the Global Partnership to End Violence Against Children. Read more about Safe to Learn.

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