UNICEF has developed a framework for rights-based, child-friendly educational systems and schools that are characterized as "inclusive, healthy and protective for all children, effective with children, and involved with families and communities - and children" (Shaeffer, 1999). Within this framework:
- The school is a significant personal and social environment in the lives of its students. A child-friendly shool ensures every child an environment that is physically safe, emotionally secure and psychologically enabling.
- Teachers are the single most important factor in creating an effective and inclusive classroom.
- Children are natural learners, but this capacity to learn can be undermined and sometimes destroyed. A child-friendly school recognizes, encourages and supports children's growing capacities as learners by providing a school culture, teaching behaviours and curriculum content that are focused on learning and the learner.
- The ability of a school to be and to call itself child-friendly is directly linked to the support, participation and collaboration it receives from families.
- Child-friendly schools aim to develop a learning environment in which children are motivated and able to learn. Staff members are friendly and welcoming to children and attend to all their health and safety needs.
A framework for rights-based, child-friendly schools
All social systems and agencies which affect children should be based on the principles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. This is particularly true for schools which, despite disparities in access across much of the world, serve a large percentage of children of primary school age.
Such rights-based — or child-friendly — schools not only must help children realize their right to a basic education of good quality. They are also needed to do many other things — help children learn what they need to learn to face the challenges of the new century; enhance their health and well-being; guarantee them safe and protective spaces for learning, free from violence and abuse; raise teacher morale and motivation; and mobilize community support for education.
- It is a child-seeking school — actively identifying excluded children to get them enrolled in school and included in learning, treating children as subjects with rights and State as duty-bearers with obligations to fulfill these rights, and demonstrating, promoting, and helping to monitor the rights and well-being of all children in the community.
- It is a child-centred school — acting in the best interests of the child, leading to the realisation of the childés full potential, and concerned both about the "whole" child (including her health, nutritional status, and well-being) and about what happens to children — in their families and communities - before they enter school and after they leave it.
Above all, a rights-based, child-friendly school must reflect an environment of good quality characterized by several essential aspects:
It is inclusive of children — it:
- Does not exclude, discriminate, or stereotype on the basis of difference.
- Provides education that is free and compulsory, affordable and accessible, especially to families and children at risk.
- Respects diversity and ensures equality of learning for all children (e.g., girls, working children, children of ethnic minorities and affected by HIV/AIDS, children with disabilities, victims of exploitation and violence).
- Responds to diversity by meeting the differing circumstances and needs of children (e.g., based on gender, social class, ethnicity, and ability level).
- Promotes good quality teaching and learning processes with individualizd instruction appropriate to each child's developmental level, abilities, and learning style and with active, cooperative, and democratic learning methods.
- Provides structured content and good quality materials and resources.
- Enhances teacher capacity, morale, commitment, status, and income — and their own recognition of child rights.
- Promotes quality learning outcomes by defining and helping children learn what they need to learn and teaching them how to learn.
It is healthy and protective of children — it:
- Ensures a healthy, hygienic, and safe learning environment, with adequate water and sanitation facilities and healthy classrooms, healthy policies and practices (e.g., a school free of drugs, corporal punishment, and harassment), and the provision of health services such as nutritional supplementation and counseling.
- Provides life skills-based health education.
- Promotes both the physical and the psycho-socio-emotional health of teachers and learners.
- Helps to defend and protect all children from abuse and harm.
- Provides positive experiences for children.
- It is gender-sensitive — it:
- Promotes gender equality in enrolment and achievement.
- Eliminates gender stereotypes.
- Guarantees girl-friendly facilities, curricula, textbooks, and teaching-learning processes.
- socializes girls and boys in a non-violent environment.
- Encourages respect for each others' rights, dignity, and equality.
It is involved with children, families, and communities — it is:
- Child-centred - promoting child participation in all aspects of school life.
- Family-focused — working to strengthen families as the child's primary caregivers and educators and helping children, parents, and teachers establish harmonious relationships.
- Community-based - encouraging local partnership in education, acting in the community for the sake of children, and working with other actors to ensure the fulfillment of childrens' rights.
Experience is now showing that a framework of rights-based, child-friendly schools can be a powerful tool for both helping to fulfill the rights of children and providing them an education of good quality. At the national level, for ministries, development agencies, and civil society organizations, the framework can be used as a normative goal for policies and programmes leading to child-friendly systems and environments, as a focus for collaborative programming leading to greater resource allocations for education, and as a component of staff training. At the community level, for school staff, parents, and other community members, the framework can serve as both a goal and a tool of quality improvement through localized self-assessment, planning, and management and as a means for mobilizing the community around education and child rights.