Crisis Prevention Blog on 9/13/2019 by Heather Vaughn
Your local perspective on violence in schools reflects a global concern.
When you think about violence in schools, what immediately comes to mind? Maybe you remember an incident of bullying that you or a child you know has experienced, or a school shooting that has devastated a local community. These are certainly two significant kinds of violence in schools that are currently getting significant media coverage in the United States.
But according to a new UNICEF publication, An Everyday Lesson: #ENDviolence in Schools, violence in schools is a global concern that links students across cultures, societies, and economies. Students in both the developing world and industrialized nations cope with a continuum of violence that extends beyond bullying—and both globally and locally, adults can do something to help these students end violence in schools.
Are you familiar with all major types of violence in schools?
An Everyday Lesson compiles data from students and schools around the world to illustrate the full scope of major kinds of violence in schools, including:
- Physical violence/degrading or corporal punishment
- Psychological violence
- Violence with an external component (such as gang culture, weapons, or fighting)
- Sexual violence and gender-based violence
The report notes that while there is no kind of violence which is ever acceptable against children, schools may be the only place where adults and children can successfully collaborate to truly address the roots, manifestations, and consequences of violence:
“Schools are monitored environments where students and adults come together for a single purpose: to teach and learn.
Education itself can play a powerful role. Education can transform beliefs and behaviors that lead to violence. It can engage children and adolescents in critical self-reflection and help teachers, parents, and communities work together to promote social cohesion, gender equality, and peace.”
An array of social, institutional, and cultural factors keeps children vulnerable to violence.
Much as we would like to point our fingers in a single direction when something bad happens, the reality is there’s no single root cause for the violence that children experience in schools. This array of social, institutional, and cultural factors is what makes violence in schools a global emergency. Take a look at how this continuum of violence manifests in schools around the world:
- UNICEF cites bullying as a prime example of a violent behavior that can have a myriad of contributing elements: violence or neglect in communities and families, harsh parenting, poverty, ethnicity, and health status are all factors that fuel peer-to-peer violence in schools.
- Sexual orientation and gender identity also increase a child’s vulnerability to violence in school. The report cites a study from the United Kingdom in which 30-50% of secondary school students experienced bullying due to their sexual identity.
- Sexual harassment and assault, like bullying, can originate online and cross into the real world. Issues of lighting, privacy, and supervision in schools can put students at a heightened risk.
- Community violence can spill into the school environment, not only in areas of regional conflict. UNICEF tracked 70 school shootings in 14 countries between 1991 and 2018. (It’s important to note here that many agencies gather data and define “school shootings” differently, and in this study, a school shooting involved two or more victims with at least one fatality.)
- Authority structures within schools also can reinforce violent behaviors and stereotypes, such as gender inequality, which allow harassment and assault to go unaddressed. UNICEF notes that threats or acts of violence which occur due to skewed power dynamics and gender stereotypes are considered “school-related gender-based violence” (SRGBV), and that such dysfunction can cross into corporal punishment and discipline, further extending the scope and risk of violence in schools.
- It’s critical to remember that even in the United States, corporal punishment is still a legal option for many authority figures within schools. UNICEF estimates that half of all school-aged children live in regions where corporal punishment isn’t completely prohibited—this means that about 720 million children are at risk of physical violence as a form of discipline.
- Degrading and violent punishments can be psychological and verbal, described in An Everyday Lesson as “actions that belittle, humiliate, denigrate, scapegoat, threaten, scare, or ridicule a child. These types of punishment qualify as violence and must end.”
The right to learn in safety is a fundamental human right.
UNICEF cites the Committee on the Rights of the Child: “Children do not lose their human rights by virtue of passing though the school gates.” They also note how significantly violence figured in the authoring of the Sustainable Development Goals, including target 4.A of Goal 4, which requires schools to “provide safe, nonviolent, inclusive, and effective learning environments for all.”
The adverse outcomes that children face when vulnerable to violence are also universal:
- Death. There is a mortality component to violence in schools that cannot be denied. Whether due to bullying, assault, or prolonged fear and stress, violence in schools has cost children their lives.
- Toxic stress. We’ve blogged before about ACES—the relationship between adverse childhood events and poor health outcomes in adult life. But toxic stress can also have immediate and negative physiological impacts on children, including impeding their brain development.
- Intergenerational violence. Research has demonstrated that experiencing violence has a child puts you at a stronger likelihood to engage in or experience violence again as an adult.
Economies are impacted by the violence that children experience in schools. UNICEF estimates that the global cost of this violence totals US $7 trillion. And students impacted by violence go on to experience their own economic hardships. The report cites a long-term study of children in the United States who had experienced physical or sexual abuse as children—and discovered that they were nearly 14% less likely to hold a job or assets compared to their peers. Young women in particular experienced long-term economic hardship because of childhood violence.
Put hope into action by finding ways that you can help end violence in schools.
The work that UNICEF is doing to bring awareness and identify practical, sustainable solutions to the issue of violence in schools is exciting and inspiring. As a company that’s committed to empowering educators with the resources and confidence to make schools safer, we’re eager to absorb this information, share what we’ve learned, and do our part to support an end to violence in schools.
At the conclusion of An Everyday Lesson, UNICEF proposes a list of practical action items for those who are ready to end violence in schools. Here’s a summarized recap—and a list of how CPI is working to address these same points of concern in school districts, since each of us has a role to play in making the world a safer place for children:
- Implement laws and policies to protect students from violence.
- UNICEF has issued the call to governments around the globe to take constructive action to keep students safer in school and online, including addressing disciplinary processes and “providing resources to increase the knowledge, capacity, and skills of staff.”
- CPI tracks and provides alignments for critical legislation and policy regarding school safety, disciplinary issues, and school climate and culture. We also help school staff build their skills and confidence through training, which can inform more supportive and sustainable policies of school safety.
- Strengthen safety measures in schools.
- UNICEF believes that educators and community leaders need to collaborate with students and their families and caregivers to prevent violence in schools and address it safely and effectively.
- CPI provides training that can be used across every layer of school staff, and includes best practices for effective violence prevention and safe intervention. The use of clear, common language about the issues that can fuel violence helps open the lines of communication between students, staff, and their community in a constructive and positive way.
- Encourage students and communities to challenge the culture of violence.
- UNICEF is making it clear that everybody has a role to play in creating safer schools.
- At CPI, we couldn’t agree more. We talk about the importance of shifting our paradigms as adults to work in collaboration with children to help them achieve their best in a safe environment. In training, role-playing becomes a critical component of employing new perspectives and better responses to challenging behaviors and potentially traumatic events.
- Raise and invest resources effectively.
- UNICEF again challenges the collective community that surrounds a school—from the government to private citizens—to help gather and dedicate the resources “specifically for violence-prevention programs.”
- At CPI, we strive to help schools achieve a return on their investment by cultivating more productive and positive school climates, reducing incidents of violence and risk, and build staff resilience, confidence, and skill so that talented educators can remain in their roles for the long-term.
- Generate and share evidence about what works.
- UNICEF pointed out in their report that what we know about school violence is limited to the data that’s been gathered and made publicly available. It’s critical to continue to keep collecting information that can help educators choose truly effective and sustainable solutions.
- CPI continues to be a proponent of evidence-based approaches to behavior management and violence prevention in schools that focus on positive, constructive, and supportive approaches. We believe in training as the ultimate means of transmitting critical information about violence prevention and de-escalation tactics that truly work and keep everybody safer in schools.
Ending school violence is an investment in our global future.
The old maxim of thinking globally and acting locally has never been more relevant than when it comes to ending violence in schools. Children want to work with adults to end violence, develop more compassionate peer-to-peer dynamics, and unlock their academic potential so that they can thrive as adults.
A failure to do our part to advocate for the care and welfare of children in schools ultimately will impact their safety and security, and harm the future of our local and global communities. The gathered data in this report, like so many others we’ve blogged about, reflects that every act of violence in schools has immediate, long-term, and transgenerational consequences for children—violence in schools robs them not only of their human rights, but of their human potential.
We can each do our part as individuals to make schools safer and more caring for students here at home, and around the world. Consider the list of action points presented in An Everyday Lesson: #ENDviolence in Schools, and determine what you will do to help end violence in schools. It could be as monumental as activism, as significant as a donation, or as simple as listening to the children in your life.