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This paper will share perspectives from students and teachers and Save the Children staff on Rwanda on promoting positive discipline in schools. Despites the legislative and policy framework in place in Rwanda and different interventions that are being led by both the Government of Rwanda and other Non-Governmental Organisations, physical and humiliating punishment (PHP) remains a concern in the country as specified in the 2013 Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion (MIGEPROF) situation analysis on the family in Rwanda. According to it, physical violence is first threat to children’s protection in the family setting.
Building on the same efforts that the Government of Rwanda has invested, Save the Children Rwanda rolled out a Positive Discipline programme in Burera district covering 10 schools in 2 sectors that aims at integrating positive discipline in Everyday teaching into the schools.
The project aimed to build violence-free schools and communities. Activities for this project included empowering teachers, local leaders and parents on Positive Discipline approach (PD), mentoring sessions through classroom observations, sensitization activities with the children and parents, advocacy with key national stakeholders in child protection arena to share knowledge and practices on positive discipline while creating awareness around the issue of PHP, identifying gaps and discussing joint actions to full prohibition of corporal punishment in all settings in Rwanda.
The implementation revolved around creating stakeholder ownership through involving local education officers as teacher training co-facilitators, selecting among trained teachers the champions of positive discipline and mentors as well as engaging children in Positive discipline monitoring and reporting any PHP issues that occurred in their schools.
The project baseline survey revealed that out of 401 respondents, 37% (n=150) reported that they had suffered PHP in the week preceding the data collection, reflecting that there is also a high prevalence of violence in children’s households, as well as their school settings. A majority (66%) of the perpetrators of PHP were teachers. Therefore, Positive Discipline approach was very much important to address PHP cases in Schools and community of Burera District.
Respondents spoke of psychological violence used by teachers as “harsh words” that “harass” students, while depicting students “hurl[ing] insults” that “threaten” each other. Teachers and children also spoke of psychological violence perpetrated by parents, which indicates that children may be mimicking their parents’ violent behaviour. Teachers claimed not to use corporal punishment, but most students stated the contrary in interviews. They generally reported that teachers “tell us to be quiet and beat us if we don’t listen”. Normally, teachers would beat disruptive students with a light stick.
At community level, PD-oriented sensitization campaigns reached out 23,589 community members with an emphasis on positive parenting. As a result of the project, a teachers Code of Conduct was developed to ensure conditions for effective teaching and learning are created and maintained in schools as well as to inspire confidence in teachers to whom is entrusted the physical, mental and moral up-bringing of the school’s children. A positive discipline steering committee has been established at every sector and the sector education officer is the chair of the committee. Local leaders and church leaders meet on quarterly basis to discuss the improvement of children as far as PHP is concerned and they take measures to improve the environment of children. A Whatsapp group has been created to connect group members and exchange information and support each other on issues affecting children, and it provides a good tool for reporting and action.
Testimonies from students say ‘Positive Discipline changed our lives”. Students who were often beaten with sticks by their teachers stopped attending schools. After their peers reassured that teachers have changed because of the programme, those students slowly came back. Teachers have stopped hitting and students now are more attentive and their school performances went up. Creating a new environment has beneficial not only for the students, but also for the teachers and the community as a whole.