Skip to main content

Scared at school: how Uganda cut violence against schoolchildren by 42%

96% of primary school children experience violence — Uganda is taking action

(This article first appeared at Apolitical)

The Good School Toolkit, an 18-month program of activities, has slashed rates of corporal punishment in Ugandan primary schools by 42%. While corporal punishment is illegal in the country, the use of violence by teachers and school staff is entrenched in many schools. The toolkit’s alternatives to corporal punishment provide examples of “positive discipline” for teachers and are part of a broader program to create safe environments, improve school governance, and give pupils a voice in child protection policies.

Results & Impact

A randomised control trial across primary schools in Uganda's Luwero district found that the Good School Toolkit slashed violence perpetrated by teachers and staff against children by 42%. In addition, 50% fewer teachers in “Good Schools” reported using violence, compared to the control group.

Key Parties

Raising Voices, Ministry of Education

How

The Good School Toolkit is a booklet outlining a six-stage process to reduce violence in schools. Suggested activities include school-wide assemblies on violence prevention, student-teacher discussion groups, and changes to school administrations. The toolkit works in three areas to reduce violence: changing the student-teacher relationship, creating opportunities for students to participate in the running and maintenance of their school, and promoting more transparent and accountable school administrations.

Where Luwero, Uganda 
Target Group Children, students
Cost & Value

Developing the toolkit cost an estimated $400,000. Implementing the toolkit over a period of 18 months to two years costs between $300 and $500—approximately one dollar per student, depending on school size.

Stage Running since 2012

Hurdles

Many teachers used corporal punishment to discipline their students and required persuading by members of Raising Voices, the developers of the toolkit, to change their methods. Another challenge is in the nature of implementation: the toolkit is not executed by Raising Voices or any external organisation—schools must follow the program and implement its suggestions themselves. Without their explicit commitment to the project, the toolkit is unlikely to work. Now that the toolkit is being scaled across 750 schools, Raising Voices has faced challenges in monitoring every implementation and ensuring high-quality replication.

Replication

The toolkit is now in effect in 750 schools across Uganda. One of its steps, which outlines alternatives to corporal punishment, has been rolled out to all schools in the country as government policy.

The Story

Uganda has cut violence against children by 42% in primary schools by using the Good School Toolkit, a six-step, open source program aimed at ending teachers’ use of corporal punishment.

Corporal punishment was banned in Uganda in 1997 but tangible reductions in violence have been elusive: a study in 2012 found that over 96% of primary school pupils experienced violence from teachers at some point in their lifetime, and over 50% had been subject to violent punishment in the previous week.

Dipak Naker, Co-Director of Raising Voices, the Ugandan NGO behind the toolkit, saw a primary barrier to a change in teachers’ attitudes: “Few teachers thought of what they were doing as violent—they just thought it was discipline,” he said.

The toolkit works by encouraging more equitable relationships between students and teachers, creating opportunities for students to contribute to school governance, and making the school administration transparent and accountable. It is now used by over 750 schools.

The toolkit takes eighteen months to implement and comprises six stages. First, a committee is formed including teachers, students and members of the local community, all of whom pledge to take responsibility for the toolkit’s implementation. Second, the committee leads activities and assemblies in school to raise awareness around violence and promote the project to the student body.

The following two stages focus on teachers: an initial program of activities encourages teachers to shift from rote learning to a focus on creativity and experimental education. Then come sessions on discipline involving students and teachers to shift towards forms of “positive discipline” that avoid recourse to violence.

The fifth stage includes workshops to design new school policies that protect students. The final stage transfers responsibility for the project from the committees to the school administration—ensuring that the toolkit’s ideals are enshrined in the highest levels of school governance.

The project’s success, according to Naker, is in redefining violence and punishment within schools.

“There was a fundamental difference in the way adults and students understood the question of violence,” said Naker. “Adults tend to think of violence as an event: I slap you, and then it’s over. Children, however, tended to think of it as more of a context of their life—the event was merely the beginning of a process. They tried to extract meaning from the violent act about what they should do and how they should feel about themselves.”

The lessons they drew were often to the detriment of their self-esteem, mental health and negatively impacted their performance at school.

Some 16 published papers all corroborate the success of the toolkit, which in addition to a reduction of children’s self-reports of violence also found that 50% fewer teachers in “Good Schools” reported using violence compared to control. The potential of the project has piqued interest in the highest levels of government.

The Ministry for Education has made step four of the toolkit—alternatives to corporal punishment—official policy for all state schools in the country. Naker and Raising voices are now in discussion with the Minister to take the full toolkit nationwide by early 2018.

“The real problem we’re grappling with is scale,” Naker says. “We’re in 750 schools, and monitoring that process when the toolkit is available to everyone is difficult.”

“With the help of government, we aim to reach 20,000 schools. We hope to become standard practice across Uganda.”

(Picture credit: Raising Voices)

Share this post