In a tiny village in India, when a group of children talk, laugh and make their way to school, one can smile and think that education has reached even the remotest parts of the country. But how many of us introspect what the children actually feel at school?

A study by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) says that schooling may not be always a positive experience for the children. It may mean spending the day in hot, humid, unfurnished rooms, being thirsty or hungry, facing threat of punishment, fear of humiliation, bullying or even violence at the hands of fellow students or teachers. The situation can aggravate when they do not have adequate study materials and competent teachers. All these factors can hamper the children’s education.

To tackle these issues and to ensure that all the children not just attend school but actually enjoy their studies, UNICEF launched a set of guidelines that aim at making schools child-friendly. The ‘Child-friendly Schools and Systems (CFSS): Guiding Principles,’ which is specific to India, concentrates on securing a safe and secure environment with focus on quality education for each and every child.

The aim of CFSS is also to serve as a guide to planners and practitioners. Extensive research has gone in to come up with the measures mentioned therein. For policy makers, the CFSS can act as a guideline to improve the quality and standard of education and take Right to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) to every child in the country. (The RTE ensures free and compulsory education for children in the age group of 6-14 years.)

Developed in association with the Ministry of Human Resource Development, the CFSS was released on the occasion of Teachers’ Day.

Let’s now look at the various aspects of CFSS and see how ordinary schools can be transformed to child-friendly schools.

CFSS: Focus Areas

Introducing child-centric system in the schools: This would mean redesigning the existing school and its system to ensure that the systems fit the children rather than the children fitting into the system.

Safe schools: Safety is given prime importance. The system urges schools to have adequate staffs who are trained, responsive and possess the requisite resources to offer a conducive environment for learning.

Each child is different: The system recognises that each child is different and may have varied needs and responses. Hence, it focuses on building on the inherent values that children bring along with them. It also understands the constraints that the children may be facing and adequately finds ways to address them.

Facilitating the blossoming of a child: The system promotes children’s ability to think and reason; teaches them how to respect others while respecting self; and guides them to explore their complete potential as individuals.

CFSS: Catering to different dimensions

In order to facilitate the schools to provide quality education to students, CFSS dwells upon different areas and explores on what needs to be done in each to make it child-friendly.

Learning environment

Learning environment relates to providing a conducive child-friendly environment for children in schools and simultaneously developing the proficiencies of the teachers. The focus is not just on providing training to the teachers but also in nurturing their attitudes, behaviour and human values. The learning environment also relates to developing life skills in children that will enable them to face challenges even outside the classroom. The focus is also on promoting and protecting the mental and emotional well-being of the students. The effort is to make the learning environment such that the transition from home to school is a smooth one, as the belief is that parents are a major contributor to a child’s education and the school should give the children a feel of home.

Some of the key elements include:
• There should be no discrimination against any child on the basis of sex, caste, creed or colour.
• No physical, emotional or verbal punishment should be awarded. Only positive methods to be used to encourage learning.
• Children’s mother-tongue to be given importance and should be used in the class to facilitate understanding.
• Teachers must move beyond textbooks and encourage students to use different sources, like libraries and multi-media, to gain knowledge.
• The learning space has to be vibrant and can display children’s work and teaching aids.
• Teachers to assess the students on a continual basis without causing stress or anxiety to them. They must identify the weak areas and modify the teaching methods to cater to the development of weaker children.
• Teachers to focus not only on academics but also on the overall development of the students.
• The report cards to be shared with parents from time to time.

School environment 

The school environment ensures that all children have access to schooling and that they are cared and supported by everyone concerned and also that the children are protected from any harm, harassment or violence from the family or the society.
Some of the key elements include:
• The class rooms should be clean, bright, well-lit, properly ventilated with adequate seating arrangements for children to sit comfortably and learn the activities.
• The school building should preferably have libraries, play ground, music room, sport equipments, gardens, etc.
• Clean drinking water to be ensured to all the children and there should be separate toilets for boys and girls.
• To promote a healthy environment, nutritious food to be served to the children and annual health check-up to be conducted. Also, health and sanitation topics to be included in the learning material.
• Children to take active participation in framing rules in the schools and classrooms and also to participate in important decision-making.

Development of teachers

The parameters for teachers’ performance are clearly defined so that the quality of teachers is uniform and every child gets appropriate learning. The teachers are to be evaluated from time to time and will have to undergo regular trainings and development programmes. These programmes address teacher’s knowledge, skills, motivation and attitude and ensure an improved classroom experience. In a bid to support teachers and improve the learning process, annual plans are to be developed and implemented.

Community participation

This relates to the participation of children, families and the communities in managing their local schools. Parents and communities will audit the schools and help identify the gaps through constant feedback, while the school will help the communities with the right kind of learning and provide parental guidance and other forms of education to the parents.

Policies and systems

These ensure that there are standardised child-friendly norms that will help evolve a ‘child-friendly inclusive school policy’ in all the schools. These also refer to various levels of the education system coming together to support schools in improving the quality of education.

Conclusion

It has been four years since RTE Act was enacted by the Government of India. Since then the number of children attending the school has been on the rise. However, with the launch of the CFSS, the focus will now move beyond quantity and accelerate the shift from ‘Right to Education’ to ‘Right to Quality Education’.

 

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