Friday, October 22, 2010

A Lot of Lashes without Defence

One of the major initiatives that UNICEF in general focuses on is the Child-Friendly Schools programme. Because all of the Eastern Caribbean has attained Universal Primary Education and Universal Secondary, save one country, the main focus is on upping the quality of the education. CFS focuses on creating an environment where children’s needs are addressed individually, positive behaviour is rewarded, respect and responsibility for each student, from teachers and other students, is instilled, and parents are on board to continue the same behaviours and attitudes out of school. Sounds pretty straight forward, eh? (I know aboot where I come from) But in Barbados, and elsewhere in the region, corporal punishment is still a legally sanctioned and used form of punishment, both by teachers and parents, against children of all ages. I am sure I will get a chance to reflect on other child protection issues, but today seemed dominated by CFS and corporal punishment. And an article in Sunday’s Sun has not seemed to help – I’ll post the link when I find it. Here is something else in the meantime.

My supervisor Patrick was explaining to me, after I had contacted a Ministry of Education to see about visiting some CFS schools in Barbados to write a human-interest story, that people in Barbados feel threatened by CFS. The fact that it is a UNICEF initiative, an organization who many people see as a foreign influence coming in to take control of development of the country, there just is not the widespread support that other islands have for the programme.

I helped out at a CFS sensitization workshop for facilitators of extra-curricular activities (think Guides, Scouts, 4H, sports clubs, etc). Heather “big Heather” Stewart, the UNICEF matriarch here, addressed the crowd to speak to child-friendly schools both regionally and globally. She is quite the compelling speaker, and while during most of her talk, people were whispering amongst themselves, as soon as she mentioned the words corporal punishment, the room fell silent. The issue is obviously very controversial. Even within the Ministry of Education, there has been much opposition to CFS, wanting to re-brand the initiative the “positive school behaviour management” model. Many already think their schools as “friendly” enough as they are. I think people have to put their pride aside, and move forward in the best interest of the children, particularly as gang and youth violence in on the increase here.

Also this is Kayla, she's the daughter of a colleague and a ball of energy!

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