By Br. Alfonce Kugwa
The Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference (ZCBC)’s Education and Safeguarding Commission’s thrust to create safe schools where children enjoy their right to education in a safe environment is yielding positive results with selected pilot schools expressing satisfaction in the benefits of the program. The safeguarding program is commended for its inclusion of parents, teachers and learners in creating an environment that protects children from violation of their rights at home and at school. The programme also encourages open communication between children, parents and teachers.
A monitoring visit by the Education and Safeguarding Commission and Porticus their funding partner as well as the ZCBC Secretary General, Fr. Tryvis Moyo, to Marian Primary School in Bindura and St. Vincent Primary School in Ruwa, revealed that the safe schools program did not only benefit children but teachers and parents as well. The program promoted positive parenting while it also helped to develop a mutual relationship between learners and their teachers. The program is also revered for empowering children to sing to the “lion” by speaking out about all forms of abuse that confront them.
Components of the child safeguarding program include safeguarding children from sexual abuse, drug and substance abuse, verbal abuse, internet abuse and bullying.
The Education Secretary for the Archdiocese of Harare, Sr. Claris Gowo LCBL said the programme was value based and meant to train the teachers to uphold friendly ways of instilling discipline without using corporal punishment.
“The safeguarding approach is a brilliant idea of spelling out to teachers the benefits of not using corporal punishment but applying positive discipline that expresses love to children. The benefits from the moral point of view is just to teach love to the children. When someone is loved, he or she will avoid that which disappoints the other person,” said Sr. Gowo.
She pointed out that safeguarding has a value based curriculum that should cascade to schools in all dioceses. Sr. Gowo said learners appreciate the safeguarding approach more as it brings them closer to their teachers and parents unlike in circumstances when corporal punishment is used.
Teachers at Marian and St. Vincent Primary Schools acknowledged the importance of child safeguarding in schools which they said protects them from litigation by parents, children and the community. They stressed that safeguarding benefited them as it also benefits children through creating space for mutual understanding.
“Safeguarding is about a change of mind set in the way we treat children. The structures that we have put at Marian Primary School have transformed the institution into a safe school. There is need to employ the same structures in all schools so that children can enjoy their education without hindrance,” one of the teachers said.
According to the ZCBC National Coordinator for Education and Safeguarding Commission, Sr. Dr. Anna Theresa Nyadombo HLMC, the Safe Schools Program was a pilot program designed by the ZCBC Education and Safeguarding Office and implemented in ten schools under the Archdiocese of Harare, Mutare and Gokwe Dioceses. The program is in line with the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education’s competence based curriculum on the protection of minors.
She said the safe schools project is meant to create a non-violent environment in the learning and facilitation of education and is also destined to build a positive relationship among learners, parents and teachers.
“The program has five components which include parents, school management, learners, teachers and the Catholic Church leadership as the responsible authority. It has a holistic approach to support safe schools. It addresses issues to do with corporal punishment, prevention of sexual, physical, emotional, verbal, cyber and drug abuse, neglect and bullying,” said Sr. Nyadombo.
Sr. Nyadombo stressed that the program has a component of positive parenting which benefits children at home, at school and in the community. She stressed that the program provides psychological basis and emotional intelligence for teachers and parents on how to deal with children.
She stated: “Positive parenting facilitates communication between the child and the parents. It also empowers children to speak out about abuses at home and at school. The program promotes the welfare of children, care for each other and reduction of peer pressure.”
The safe schools program, according to Sr. Nyadombo encourages schools to identify and eliminate things that may cause harm to learners in the school environment. She emphasized that the program also contributes to the protection of the school environment as learners are taught good practices of maintaining the environment.