The best interests of the child and the right to participation are two of the basic principles that permeate the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. In order to support selected African countries in their work on observance of these principles, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) has commissioned a French language programme from Lund University for the past few years that aims to promote children’s rights at school. The idea is to equip a mix of teachers, school inspectors and representatives from teacher and headmaster training and the education ministries so they themselves can initiate and maintain change processes.
“When our participants were in Lund for four weeks of training in March they were challenged to think in new ways, and many of them had heureka moments about how we apply child and youth rights in practice in Sweden. Theory was augmented with practical elements. Among other things, we made field trips to the Swedish Agency for Youth and Society, the Association for Sexuality Education (RFSU) and schools in neighbouring municipalities,” says Fredrik Klintberg, project coordinator of the French language children’s rights programme at Lund University.
In the participating countries it is not unusual to have up to 100 pupils in each classroom and there is a lot to be gained from assimilating new teaching methods. Some of the teachers who had never opened a computer previously have adopted what is for them an innovative way of teaching during the programme, and have learned to make films, for example.
“When the teams made their project presentations in Kigali, it became clear to me that they had really devoted a lot of time, effort and energy to this. They have visions” , says mentor Lassana Ouattara.
In the photo: Lassana Ouattara hands out diplomas to two of the program participants. Credit: C. Morand
One participating team from the Democratic Republic of the Congo has worked on a project that is aiming to prevent all forms of violence against children at school. They have raised people’s awareness of tangible violence-related problems by making documentary films, which have been shown in both the target schools and on national TV. It is hoped that this will make people who deny the problems think again and change their routines.
In Mali, a team focused on improving conditions for increased pupil participation and influence by means such as a radio programme, which was broadcast nationally and stimulated debate on the topic.
“It is very important to get the parents on board in such discussions. In Mali’s culture, like many others, it is deeply rooted that ‘children will be children’. Parents phoned in during the project group’s live broadcast to express positive opinions on the subject, which can give the project a boost in the long term” , says Lassana Ouattara.
He and his two mentor colleagues from Lund University will travel to the participating countries during the winter on follow-up visits to see how work is progressing in the respective teams. There will be visits to the target schools and also to the relevant public authorities, as this is a way to give legitimacy to the project and encourage the participants. In February, the mentees will submit their final reports, which will then be printed in book form.
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