Evidence shows that children’s potential for academic achievement and social and emotional development are maximized when the school environment is positive, safe and nurturing with effective instruction; when teachers and children have a voice in school affairs; and when there are avenues for communicating about, responding to, and preventing violence (RTI International, 2016). Conversely, if a learning environment is not safe, then learners will either not come or not remain at school (Parkes & Heslop 2013; Leach et al., 2009; Dunne et al., 2013, Gennari et al., 2015; RTI International, 2013). Creating Safer Learning Environments (SLE) and reducing School-Related Gender-Based Violence (SRGBV) require actions that include all members of the school and community (UNGEI, WSA).
The USAID-funded Accelerated Quality Education for Liberian Children (AQE) Activity is designed to provide access to quality education to 48,000 children, aged 8-15, who have dropped out or have never been in school. The overall goal of the AQE Activity is for these learners to access and complete quality lower basic education and transition to the formal education system if age appropriate, and/or to other alternative programs. Improving learner safety in the school environment (including at, to and from school) is the overarching goal of AQE’s comprehensive approach to promoting SLE and reducing SRGBV. This will be achieved by reducing major risks through increasing vigilance of parents and communities, learners, teachers, principals and education officers, and facilitating improved reporting practices and structures.
The AQE SLE Baseline Assessment was conducted to better understand the perception of safety and prevalence of risks to learners and school personnel. The risks assessed include: corporal punishment (including positive behavior management), sexual violence (harassment, assault), bullying and school climate, environmental hazards (flooding, health hazards), and substance abuse. The Assessment findings demonstrate the need for community involvement to reduce SRGBV, in addition to stakeholders in schools and within the school system. For example, 86.4% of the learners reported that they were worried about their safety from any type of SRGBV while commuting to and from school compared to 20.9% that were worried about their safety from SRGBV risks while at school – this suggests a need to promote agency for children’s safety within communities, something Parent Teacher Associations (PTAs) can do.
The Baseline Assessment also guided selection of 25 sites to pilot SLE interventions with PTAs. The presentation will highlight program efforts to address SRGBV through the Whole School Approach, with a focus on the ‘School Leadership and Community Engagement’ domain, specifically the AQE Activity’s work to improve learner safety through PTAs at SLE pilot sites. PTAs represent an important interface between school leadership, parents and the broader community, and as such, we hope to institutionalize their role in leading activities to create safe, gender-sensitive learning environments, raise awareness of the consequences of SRGBV, and strengthen reporting, monitoring and accountability.