Make education safe for all

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Thursday, 10 December 2015

Today is the final day of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence Campaign. This year’s theme has been ‘From Peace in the Home to Peace in the World: Make Education Safe for All!’. International Health has recently commissioned a collection of papers on violence against children and education. Two of these papers are now freely available from the International Health website and will be published in the January issue alongside an Editorial from Editorial Board member Dr Karen Devries, and two further research papers from Fry et al and Sherr et al.

In most countries around the world, children and adolescents spend more time in school than any other single location besides the family home. Whether or not children and adolescents are able to attend school, whether they are safe in school and whether they leave school with the necessary learning and skills are affected by their experiences of violence—at home, at school and in the community.

Knight et al., using complex multi-level modelling, explore violence from school staff towards young adolescents aged about 11-14 years in Ugandan primary schools. Beyond individual level risk factors which predispose staff to use violence and some students to experience violence, the authors focus on what school-level factors impact on the likelihood of this violence. The authors find that the gendered composition of schools matters—both boys and girls in schools with more girls in them are more likely to experience violence from school staff, versus boys and girls in schools with more boys in them. Conversely, they also find that students in schools where the student body feels more connected to school have lower levels of violence.

What happens to young people attending school helps to shape behaviour that they take with them into their adult life. Shamu et al. report on adolescents’ (aged 12-19 years) early experiences of violence and violence in schools from staff and other students in South African secondary schools, and uses structural equation modelling to explore possible pathways by which other experiences of violence impact on girls likelihood of experiencing intimate partner violence, and boys likelihood of perpetrating intimate partner violence. Their cross-sectional data suggests that inequitable gender attitudes, risky sex, bullying and alcohol use are important mediators between early home and school violence, and the development of intimate partner violence behaviour, which may be repeated into adulthood.

These and other studies show us that children experience very high levels of violence before they get to school, while they are at school and after they leave. The studies also show us at every stage of life, violence experience relates to differential outcomes in education; often, children who experience more violence are more likely to do poorly in school.

The new Global Goals clearly underscore the importance of both improving education, and in eliminating violence against children. These are both laudable goals in and of themselves, and the articles in International Health's special issue on violence against children and education illuminate the potential synergies of doing both simultaneously. Homes, schools and communities must be made safe for children in order to ensure equitable access to education for all.

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