Thematic Brief: Teachers at the Centre--the Role and Needs of Asia-Pacific Teachers in Addressing Violence and School-related Gender-based Violence
School violence refers to physical, psychological, and sexual violence that takes place in school, on the way to school, online, and wherever school relationships exist. Some forms of school violence may be explicitly or implicitly gender-based. School related gender-based violence (SRGBV) is defined as acts or threats of sexual, physical or psychological violence occurring in and around schools, perpetrated as a result of harmful gender norms and stereotypes, and enforced by unequal power dynamics (UNESCO and UN Women, 2016). In a holistic approach to addressing school violence, including SRGBV, teachers have key roles at multiple levels.
Drawing primarily on two recent studies, this brief highlights the experiences and voices of teachers in the Asia-Pacific region and argues for greater investment in teachers’ professional development in violence prevention and response, as well as improvements in supportive structures in the education system.
Data from the first study was collected by UNESCO through the online survey of teachers’ perceptions and practices related to school violence, including SRGBV, during February to April 2020. Focus group discussions were also conducted by UNESCO in Nepal and Thailand in conjunction with the survey. Additional data comes from the second study that synthesizes findings from monitoring surveys, focus group discussions and interviews with teachers who taught content from a curricula resource for SRGBV prevention in Thailand, Timor Leste and Viet Nam between 2019 – 2020.
The UNESCO study revealed that teachers in the Asia-Pacific region responding to the online survey and focus group discussions had a greater understanding of physical violence than sexual and psychological violence. In addition, many of the same physically or emotionally abusive behaviours described as violence when perpetrated by a student were less likely to be considered examples of violence when perpetrated by a teacher, except for the sample from India; worryingly, around one-third of surveyed teachers in the Asia-Pacific region did not consider certain forms of sexual violence by teachers against students to be violence. Overall, teachers in the Asia-Pacific region were more likely to hold misunderstandings about the effectiveness of corporal punishment in improving performance and behaviour than teachers in other regions, and some teachers felt that there were no alternatives.
Findings from small-scale pilots of an SRGBV prevention curriculum-based programme, Connect With Respect (CWR), revealed that the programme was effective at improving students’ attitudes and knowledge. Teachers also applied new knowledge in gender, SRGBV and communication skills and recommended the programme to improve teachers’ emotional self-regulation, learn positive discipline skills and develop pedagogies in participatory methods.
Qualitative data from the CWR pilots showed that:
• Teachers recognize capacity-building needs in gender, gender equality and identifying all forms of violence and abuse,
• Skills in positive discipline and non-violent classroom management are essential to ending violence in schools and should be taught from the beginning of teacher pre-service training and available to all in-service teachers,
• Teachers value having peer movements to support change, and
• Several other school and community factors affect teachers’ ability to play positive roles in preventing and responding to school violence, including SRGBV.
The CWR study findings highlighted the importance of school administrators and parents understanding the benefits of positive discipline and supporting the expansion of teachers’ skills for violence prevention and effective classroom management. The findings also signal the need for child protection referral pathways and Codes of Conduct to be clearly delineated, relevant, actionable and up to date.
COVID-19 has produced new challenges to addressing violence in school. The increased use of remote and hybrid learning since the pandemic potentially brings with it the further movement of bullying and other forms of school violence to online learning spaces. In many contexts, students and teachers have had greater psychosocial and mental health needs as schools reopen. Nonetheless, reopenings may grant the opportunity to renew commitments to safe, inclusive and health-promoting learning environments. This involves greater attention to mental well-being in education sector strategies to address school violence and skills-building among learners and teachers in digital safety and civility.
School violence, including SRGBV, is not only a violation of children’s rights but also impacts learning attendance, completion and attainment. Building teachers’ confidence to teach gender equality and violence prevention, as well as empowering their best selves as protectors of children, needs to be prioritized as a fundamental building block of the education sector in Asia-Pacific countries and as a critical component of the learning recovery and transforming education agenda.