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Scared at school: how Uganda cut violence against schoolchildren by 42%

96% of primary school children experience violence — Uganda is taking action

(This article first appeared at Apolitical)

Uganda has cut violence against children by 42% in primary schools by using the Good School Toolkit, a six-step, open-source programme aimed at ending teachers’ use of corporal punishment.

 

Corporal punishment was banned in Uganda in 1997 but tangible reductions in violence have been elusive: a study in 2012 found that over 96% of primary school pupils experienced violence from teachers at some point in their lifetime, and over 50% had been subject to violent punishment in the previous week.

 

Dipak Naker, Co-Director of Raising Voices, the Ugandan NGO behind the toolkit, saw a primary barrier to a change in teachers’ attitudes: “Few teachers thought of what they were doing as violent – they just thought it was discipline,” he said.

The toolkit works by encouraging more equitable relationships between students and teachers, creating opportunities for students to contribute to school governance, and making the school administration transparent and accountable. It is now used by over 750 schools.

The toolkit takes eighteen months to implement and comprises six stages. First, a committee is formed including teachers, students and members of the local community, all of whom pledge to take responsibility for the toolkit’s implementation. Second, the committee leads activities and assemblies in school to raise awareness around violence and promote the project to the student body.

The following two stages focus on teachers: an initial programme of activities encourages teachers to shift from rote learning to a focus on creativity and experimental education. Then come sessions on discipline involving students and teachers to shift towards forms of “positive discipline” that avoid recourse to violence.

The fifth stage includes workshops to design new school policies that protect students. The final stage transfers responsibility for the project from the committees to the school administration – ensuring that the toolkit’s ideals are enshrined in the highest levels of school governance.

The project’s success, according to Naker, is in redefining violence and punishment within schools.

“There was a fundamental difference in the way adults and students understood the question of violence,” said Naker. “Adults tended to think of violence as an event: I slap you, and then it’s over. Children, however, tended to think of it as more of a context of their life – the event was merely the beginning of a process. They tried to extract meaning from the violent act about what they should do and how they should feel about themselves.”

The lessons they drew were often to the detriment of their self-esteem, mental health and negatively impacted their performance at school.

Some 16 published papers all corroborate the success of the toolkit, which in addition to a reduction of children’s self-reports of violence also found that 50% fewer teachers in “Good Schools” reported using violence compared to control. 

The potential of the project has piqued interest in the highest levels of government.

The Ministry for Education has made step four of the toolkit – alternatives to corporal punishment – official policy for all state schools in the country. Naker and Raising voices are now in discussion with the Minister to take the full toolkit nationwide by early 2018.

“The real problem we’re grappling with is scale,” said Naker. “We’re in 750 schools, and monitoring that process when the toolkit is available to everyone is difficult.

“With the help of government, we aim to reach 20,000 schools. We hope to become standard practice across Uganda.”

(Picture credit: Raising Voices)

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