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Sunday, May 19, 2024

Let’s protect children at home, in schools and in communities: ChildFund’s Education For Protection and Wellbeing

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By Bakary Seedy Dampha
Education Coordinator (ChildFund The Gambia)

The continuous rise in reports of missing persons in the media is a cause for concern. Most frightening in this unfortunate development is the fact that most of these victims are children between ages of 7 and 17.  This is aggravated by what can now be described as frequent reports of armed robberies resulting in fatalities in some instance.

This is concerning because it shows signs of increasing insecurity in The Gambia.

Known as “The Smiling Coast of Africa,” The Gambia has earned itself the reputation of one of the most beautiful and safe countries in the subregion, and the African continent.

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I will blame the lack of an effective strategy to deal with the ever-increasing threat to our security.

I also believe that parents and school systems need to do more in teaching our children the basic etiquettes of life. Parents seem to be too preoccupied with work and social events to take the time to sit down and discuss with our children about protection issues.  In schools, we seem to overlook the importance of teaching children basic safety skills.

So, how do we deal with this growing concern posing a serious threat to our children and country?

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The answer is Education For Protection and Wellbeing, (EPW).

Education For Protection and Wellbeing

ChildFund’s comprehensive Education for Protection and Wellbeing, formerly School-Based Violence Prevention (SBVP) Global Program Model, aims to improve the abilities of children (ages 6–12), caregivers, and educators to prevent, mitigate, and respond to violence against children (VAC).

The model consists of four components to effectively reduce the many forms of violence that children encounter at home, at school, and in the community. The model is aligned with ChildFund’s Life Stage theory of change, which covers the ages of six to fourteen, 14), using the school as the entry point to the community fostering the healthy development of social and academic abilities, behavioral patterns, and attitudes towards gender and violence.

Most children go out without their parent(s) or caregivers observing, being aware of their whereabouts, or even knowing who their friends are. This speaks volume in how we train our children at home.

Most children therefore end up facing threats and abuses because they are unable to distinguish between safe and unsafe environments, are unaware of what constitutes appropriate and inappropriate touch when it comes to abuse.

To safeguard themselves and those around them, children should understand safe environments and basic safety precautions.

In a recent survey done under the ChildFund Education For Protection and Wellbeing baseline study, 403 responses indicate that 37.2% representing 149 children believe that touching, hitting or pinching their genitals is not abuse. 84% representing 336 children said their teachers would hit a student if he or she misbehaves.

This demonstrates how we normalize abuse and avoid having conversations with our children about sex, sexuality, safety, and security. I’ve also seen that we don’t keep an eye on children when they’re playing with other kids or make sure the surroundings are free of hazards. Instead of utilizing orienting to correct children’s inappropriate conduct, we scold, abuse, beat, or even caricature them when they misbehave, inflicting even more emotional trauma than the original reason they were scolded. 

Over a two-year period in schools, the EPW program focused on children aged 6 to 12, their educators, and caregivers. Enhancing interactions between children, caregivers, and educators both within and between levels of the ecological model is a key component of EPW. To improve educational outcomes for children and break the cycle of violence, four key components; children, caregivers, teachers, and the school/family partnership worked together to strengthen social cohesion, improve teaching techniques, encourage positive parenting, and increase parental involvement in the educational process.

EPW adapted a cognitive-behavioral skills training for teachers and caregivers, “Thousands of Hands” (ToH; also known as Miles de Manos), ToH is based on existing evidence-based teacher training, positive parenting, and violence prevention interventions. ToH reinforces SEL and in adults while children participate in SEL and self-protection (SP) activities delivered in classrooms settings through lessons and a comic book, thanks to Janella Nelson Education Director ChildFund International.

Specific to our monthly sessions, we trained teachers on orienting through positive discipline which seeks to establish consequences that help to orient students in terms of the expectations for a harmonious environment in the classroom and at school. Happy to also mention that we at ChildFund The Gambia are the pioneers of Social Emotional Learning (SEL) in the Gambia.

To effectively orient children through discipline, parents, caregivers, educators, teachers, and other caregivers must understand that problem-solving strategies must be collaborative in nature, allowing the child to take ownership of their behavior and determine how to modify it. To prevent stigma and repair harm, this approach focuses on the issue rather than the person. Orienting through discipline supports three fundamental concepts and strikes a balance between restrictions and encouragement.

·  It recognizes the role of behavior, that is, the reasons why children act in a certain way. This conduct may be to seek attention, out of boredom, dissatisfaction, or in response to a problem in the child’s life.

· It understands that inappropriate behavior goes beyond the expectations and group agreements for a harmonious school environment but is not necessarily a personal offense toward a teacher or classmate.

·  It sets consequences that provide guidance when the expectations are not met. These consequences produce responsibility for actions, recognize harm, and seek to repair the harm done. This way, the focus is on restoring relationships, not on the rules or on punishment.

Difference between discipline and punishment

It is important to note that there are clear differences between disciplining a child and punishing them. I’ve had good interactions with teachers, but it pains me to hear some of them claim that “beating is the only way for some children to behave.” You are correct to relate to and comprehend the mindset (reasoning) of certain teachers, which also indicates to me that there is still more work to be done in changing the mindset, pedagogy, and beliefs of certain teachers.

As we tend to use the words discipline and punishment interchangeably, they are different in meaning and context. The word “discipline” comes from the Latin word that means to follow or learn from a teacher. In this sense, discipline is used with a child by adults so that they can learn what the expectations and limits for their behavior are. Discipline is an opportunity for teaching and learning while punishment teaches children to fear authority, lie, and cover-up their actions to avoid being discovered.

This is exactly our current predicament in schools and at home environment and we must be willing to unearth it for our children’s growth and wellbeing.

Discipline can orient a child or adolescent to learn that:

1.         Ther actions have consequences.

2.         Appropriate behavior (established in the expectation or agreement) produces positive feedback and encouragement.

3.         Inappropriate behaviors (failing to meet expectations) produce corrective and orienting consequences.

Understanding abuse and self-protection

Our weekly activity with children exposes them to know and understand what the characteristics of safe places are through hand on activity in the classroom and school environment focusing on six competencies of our self -protection model, these includes.

1.         Types of touch: Differentiating between safe, unsafe, and confusing touches

2.         Assertiveness: Learning how and when to say “no” and calling for help

3.         Unsafe situation: Identifying safe and unsafe situations and opportunities to keep themselves and others safe.

4.         Network of adults: Identifying adults who can be trusted.

5.         Recognizing, reporting, and protecting: Knowing when and how to ask for help.

6.         Safety within the community: Identifying safe places in the community.

To sum up, I firmly believe that the EPW model is one of the best approaches to guarantee academic success and child protection while encouraging the ecological community to actively participate in its affairs. We pledge to the Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education that, as pioneers in Social Emotional Learning (SEL) in the Gambia, we would keep collaborating with them to streamline the models for use in all the country’s schools. ChildFund is willing to work with any Organization to establish the SEL framework for the Gambia.

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