Guidelines for Affirmative Action in Schools
Addressing difficult situations in schools
- Some behaviours of children are perceived by schools and teachers as problematic and the prevalent practice is to respond to them with punishment of varying degrees. Some such situations that arise in schools that invite punishment are:
- Not keeping to time and cleanliness regulations – e.g., late to school, not coming in uniform etc.;
- Academic related issues – e.g., incomplete home assignment, below expected academic performance, not taking a book to school, etc.;
- Not meeting classroom expectations of school authorities – e.g., inattentive, talking in class, making noise in class, etc.;
- Troublesome behaviour – e.g., disturbing other children in class, lying, stealing etc.;
- Offensive behaviour, causing hurt or injury to others – e.g., bullying, aggression towards peers, stealing (violating rights of others), vandalising, etc.
- Situations (i) to (iii) should be within the scope of the concerned teacher to ‘handle’.
- For situations (iv) and (v) the school should have a clear protocol to guide teachers about which situation needs assessment and intervention by a school counsellor and which one needs immediate intimation to higher authorities at school and the parents. If an attempt at resolving the problem is not satisfactory, parents could then be referred to a specialist (a child and adolescent psychiatrist or a counsellor).
- The child and adolescent psychiatrist or counsellor should help children learn behaviours that help them develop a sense of self-discipline that leads to positive self-esteem. The school counsellor should have the skills to build trust. He/she should have constant interaction with the child, his/ her parents and teachers for understanding the difficulties of the child. The parents should be taken into confidence before sending a child to the counsellor. The school counsellor should be allowed to hold workshops with the students in different classes from time to time without the presence of teacher and staff. Besides having in-house counsellors, the students and their parents should have the liberty to approach reputed counsellors/mental health professionals to be empanelled by school. The school should also invite reputed mental health professionals to hold workshops for its students and teachers.
Guidelines for positive engagement with children
- Punishment is often justified as a ‘last’ resort in extreme situations for instance – bullying, causing physical harm, destruction of property, vandalism, sexual harassment, infringement of rules such as playing truant, carrying objects which are against school rules into the classroom, provocative/ challenging behaviours etc. However, two children with the same problems may come from different backgrounds – one an indulgent family, which believes that a little exuberance is all right, and another where the family is also at its wits’ end. The contexts in which a child’s behaviour takes place and how it comes to notice, lend themselves to child/classroom/school management.
- A protocol of response based on first versus repeated problems founded on a set of rules the school develops with children’s inputs would go a long way to democratise response dispositions. To this, an added component of preventive interventions, such as life-skills programme, increases overall effectiveness.
- A difficult situation can also be resolved by a process of triangulation between the student/family, the teacher/school administration and a student council. A more difficult situation then may not be so much a discipline issue but a psychological one that needs professional attention and care.
- The following guidelines are based on therapeutic strategies based in turn on the principles discussed above that are commonly employed by mental health professionals in clinical settings for families with children with behaviour disorders. Though simple, these are effective strategies when implemented consistently:
- Arriving at a consensus with children about expected behaviour and consequences;
- Framing rules and guidelines in consensus with children;
- Focusing on every child’s positives and appreciating good behaviour;
- Using different strategies to encourage and promote positive behaviours;
- Never comparing one child’s performance with another;
- Setting limits and developing clarity on boundaries;
- Providing children an opportunity to explain before any other response;
- Giving a warning or chance before any response;
- Actively listening, remaining calm and ensuring the safety of other children while handling troublesome or offensive behaviour;
- Addressing perceived ‘severe or problematic behaviour’ through consultation with parents, child and counsellor/psychiatrist;
- Discussing (with children) and adopting time-out strategy as the last resort with children.
Positive engagement with children - some examples
Pay positive attention
- Notice children being good and appreciate them verbally
- Focus on the positives of every child, even the most difficult ones
- Identify good efforts even if ultimately unsuccessful
- Never compare performance with that of other children but refer to the child’s own previous attempt
- Use motivational award chart (for younger children) or points or additional marks for good behaviour
- Award children for demonstrating values such as responsibility, honesty, caring, etc.
- Be accommodating of children who require additional time and input, while providing additional tasks to children who finish work earlier
Ignore minor incidents or lapses
- This is the best strategy; the situation may aggravate in the short-term but it disappears later
Set clear limits
- Explain clearly the classroom behaviour expectations that the children have framed together
- Use ‘I need you to ...’ rather than ‘You need to ...’ statements
- Give clear commands on what is expected, e.g., ‘stay quiet’ instead of ‘be good’
- Avoid ‘Don’t’ commands
- Enable children to set clear limits for themselves
- Use a ‘firm and calm’ manner – avoid an angry tone
If behaviour continues
- Take away privileges in consultation with the children (negative reinforcement – this encourages the child to follow good behaviour to keep his privilege, therefore it is not considered punishment)
- Do not give star/point/mark on his chart for the day or give negative point/marks
- Take away 15 minutes of any privilege time (child and teacher mutually agree) for recurrent misbehaviours
- Discuss the consequences well ahead with children so that there is consensus regarding plan of action when a particular behaviour occurs
- The negative reinforcement should be appropriate and fair
- It should be consistently employed
Recognise that the child needs help and not punishment
- Children’s temperament interacts with multiple environmental factors such as parenting style; disciplinary patterns at home and school; stress such as marital disharmony, domestic violence, etc. Many children are not ready or prepared for the demands of the school in terms of academics, social and interpersonal relationships. It is therefore important to try and understand what could be causing the behaviour as underlying emotional problems often result in disruptive behaviour in children. It is also necessary to provide opportunities for children from different backgrounds to learn psychosocial skills. When adults view problem behaviours of a child as a product of interaction of various psycho-social and biological factors it helps to understand that the child needs help rather than punishment.
Rights and enablement of the teaching community
- Preventive strategies should take priority while planning interventions to improve the teacherstudent relationship and create a child-friendly environment in schools. While addressing corporal punishment, mental harassment and discrimination it is also essential to provide guidelines and assistance to school systems and empower them with alternative effective strategies to handle difficult situations, and provide children with a good learning experience. To this end, regular/ periodic workshops are essential for teachers to share their experiences and learn from each other and from experts who could help them manage difficult situations. However, ending corporal punishment should be seen as an immediate obligation, with clear sanctions for non-compliance, and separated from the inevitably much longer process of transforming schools to rights-respecting institutions.
- The school should maintain the student-teacher ratio at the level as prescribed under the RTE Act, 2009, in order to avoid overcrowding and unmanageable class, leading to the practice of corporal punishment.
Rights and enablement of children in school
- A child’s participation in a democratic fashion to enable a collective decision should provide a better end-result rather than arbitrary, random, unpredictable decisions that are imposed on a child. There is a shift of focus onto enablement and engagement processes, to ensure prevention and protection.
- Guidelines should be framed in consensus with children and can be adopted by school systems. Involving the children in the processes of framing the regulations gives an opportunity for them to discuss their concerns, view the problems from different perspectives and generate a sense of commitment to follow the regulations rather than impose the regulations upon them.
Need for multi-disciplinary intervention
- There is a need for multi-disciplinary inputs and networking as no sector of child abuse can be treated as independent of other sectors. Psychologists, educationists, school teachers, parents, social workers, lawyers and children should be involved so as to improve their understanding and thereby increase their cooperation and participation towards the well-being and participation of the child.
Positive engagement – Life-skills education
- Life-skills education should be an essential part of school curriculum.
- Life-skills education should be used as a mode of healing. It helps children to improve their communication and interpersonal skills, builds empathy, decision-making and critical-thinking skills, coping as well as self-management skills. The interplay between the skills produces powerful behavioural outcomes, especially where this approach is supported by other strategies such as media policies and health services.
- Life-skills education should address issues of self-esteem, aggression, drug abuse, lack of praxis in academic engagement, lack of engagement in education, decision-making, problem-solving, coping with emotions, coping with stress, communication skills – negotiation/refusal skills, interpersonal skills, creative thinking, critical thinking, self-awareness skills – including awareness of rights, influences, values, attitudes, strengths and weaknesses.
- Appropriately implemented life-skills education should lead to improvements that have long-term effects on the behaviour of children.
- Experiential methodologies such as theatre, narratives, storytelling and artwork helps children learn better. It helps all children participate in and contribute equally to the production of knowledge, which is a continuous dialogue. The objective of the process is to liberate participants from both internal and external oppression, so as to make them capable of changing their reality, their lives, and the society they live in.
Role of school management/administration
- All staff associated with the school should be subject to these guidelines.
- All staff should ensure that all children enjoy their rights as per the RTE Act.
- All forms of interaction with children and amongst children should be geared towards ensuring this objective. All staff should ensure that the child is treated in a manner that encourages him or her to stay in school and learn to his or her potential.
- To achieve the aims of RTE it should be recognised that teachers are not in loco parentis. In other words teachers should not take on the role of parent.
- No physical punishment of any kind should be permitted.
- No mental harassment of any kind should be permitted. No form of discrimination based on gender, caste, class, disability, etc., should be permitted.
- Any instance of corporal punishment, mental harassment or discrimination should be dealt with in a time-bound manner in such a way that implications for the child are minimised.
- It should be the responsibility of all staff to create an environment free of all forms of fear, trauma, prejudice and discrimination.
- The treatment of the child in the school should be such that the child feels included and secure. Counselling services for children should be made available.
Guidelines for creating an environment conducive to learning as well as enablement for the same
- All children should be informed through campaigns and publicity drives that they have a right to speak against physical punishments, mental harassment and discrimination and bring it to the notice of the authorities. They should be given confidence to make complaints and not accept punishment as a ‘normal’ activity of the school.
- The conduct of the teacher and administration should be such that it fosters a spirit of inclusion, care and nurturing.
- All school management and educational administration authorities should run regular training programmes to enable teachers and educational administrators to understand and appreciate the rights of children and the spirit of the Right to Education. This is essential to make a shift to a rights-based approach to education and abolish physical punishment, mental harassment and discrimination.
- The teachers should be trained in the skills required to positively engage with children who are different in order to understand their predicaments.
- All teachers working in any school – government run, aided or private – should provide a written undertaking to the management of the school and to the concerned district authority of the department of the government to which the schools normally report that they would not engage in any action that could be construed legally as amounting to ‘physical punishment, mental harassment and discrimination’.
- All schools should conduct an annual social audit of physical punishment, mental harassment and discrimination. This should be made public and accessible to the authorities, the parents and to civil society. This audit should be concluded before the end of the academic year and be made public before the commencement of the new academic year.
- The school management/administration should instruct every school headmaster/head teacher to hold a general body meeting with all parents of the school as well as the school management committees (SMCs) under the RTE, the school education committees or parent-teacher associations (where the SMCs are not functional) on the NCPCR guidelines and the procedures to be adopted for protecting children and their rights in schools.
- An environment free of corporal punishment should be stipulated as one of the conditions for giving recognition/no-objection certificate (NOC) to a school by the State Government under the new RTE and also as one of the conditions for giving affiliation to a school by the State Board. Similarly, ‘practice of Corporal Punishment’ should be stipulated as one of the conditions for withdrawal of recognition/ NOC given to any school by the State Government and also for affiliation given to a school by the State Board. The State should frame appropriate rules and regulations concerning the recognition/ NOC in relation to the above. The rules should be reviewed by the State Government and necessary amendments to this effect should be notified in a time-bound manner.
Guidelines for mechanisms and processes to give children a voice and engage in the process of creating a positive environment
- A mechanism for children to express their grievances both in person and anonymously should be provided. Drop boxes for complaints should be placed in the school and a mechanism should be developed to address the same. Anonymity of the children/parents should be maintained while sharing the details of the complaints/grievances with other agencies such as the media in order to protect their privacy/confidentiality.
- It is the responsibility of the school management to enable the formation of ‘class bal sabha’ so that children of all ages can positively engage with democratic processes.
- Among its various functions the student council should also decide on a set of codes and rules that does not violate the rights of children and the right to education
- Clear-cut protocols should be framed by the schools for redressing the grievances of the students and/or parents.
- The School Management Committee should constitute a Corporal Punishment Monitoring Cell (CPMC) in each school to look into cases of corporal punishment. This committee should consist of two teachers, two parents (elected by the parents), one doctor (where available), one lawyer nominated by the District Legal Services Authority, one independent counsellor, an independent child rights or woman rights activist of the local area (nominated by the District Child Protection Society from a panel recommended by the local Tehsildar/BDO) and two students who are also duly elected from a class which is not the highest class in the case of high school and higher secondary school. The purpose is to ensure that students who are facing high school finals or public examinations are not drawn into this process. For example, in a school having classes up to 5 it can be 2 students from Class 5; in a school which has classes up to 8 it can be 2 students from Class 8. However, in a school having classes up to Class 10, it has to be 2 students from Class 9 and not Class 10; and in a school having classes up to Class 12, it has to be a student from Class 11.
- The role of the CPMC should be:
- To hear the grievances of corporal punishment, child sexual abuse, mental harassment and discrimination without any delay whatsoever and preferably on the day of the occurrence; it should be noted that any delay can result in the evidence being tutored in favour of any one and especially in a case of violence against children when children continue to remain in the custody of the school/teachers’ community, they are susceptible to the influence of the school management/teachers. To ensure that no student/parent/teacher/staff is harassed for the complaints that have been preferred;
- To ensure that students are not forced/influenced by the school authorities to testify in their favour before media/police/court of law or any other authority;
- To see as to whether adequate steps have been taken to prevent corporal punishment, child sexual abuse, mental harassment and discrimination;
- To ensure that whenever such occurrences take place in a school the ‘victim child’ is always protected and provided, under the supervision of this committee, the best possible speedy care – medical and psychological – and the required treatment for the trauma that the child has suffered;
- The recommendations of the CPMC should be forwarded to the district level authority for such matters with a copy to the Taluk/District Legal Services Authority within 48 hours of the occurrence for appropriate action.
- It is important to distinguish between primary redressal (meaning, the adjudication of the CPMC is accepted by the child and his/her family) and secondary redressal (where the child and family are not happy with the CPMC and the matter may have to be referred to the district level authority for action).
- Even in cases where the parents of the child are satisfied that no legal action needs to be followed, the matter should be inquired into by the CPMC.
- When the issues are not sorted out at the school level, recourse should be taken to the procedures outlined under Clause 8 of these guidelines.
Source: The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights
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