Walking through the school gates, I am met with an abundance of yellow. Bright yellow walls decorated with colourful murals, yellow uniforms on children running back to class as a teacher calls out to them. The vibrant sunshine adds to the yellow glow everywhere, and I already feel warm inside.
Suddenly, a small yellow-uniformed blur is speeding straight towards me. Instinctively I open my arms to catch and envelop her in a hug. Her arms wrap around my legs (I told you she was small) and she sobs out what happened to her.
“What’s wrong, sweetheart?” I ask with some urgency.
Her friend bounds over and declares, “It’s okay miss, she just bumped her head.”
Exploring best practices
I squat down to check her bump, give her head a rub and reassure her she’s okay and super strong. A shy “thank you miss” later and she is on her way with a smile.
During her lunch break, she makes it a point to seek me out, and to show me her head is totally fine now. This is the kind of warm welcome I experienced as I visited several schools across Jamaica, as part of a team from UNICEF and the National College of Educational Leadership (NCEL) on our joint initiative to explore and share best practices of child-friendly schools with principals throughout Jamaica.
This being my first visit to Jamaica, I was excited to experience a new schooling system. My context has been largely limited to my home country of India where I have worked as a teacher, and the United States where I am now a master’s student.
During our two weeks together travelling across Jamaica, I visited practically every parish and spent time with every student age group; pre-primary, primary, and high school. Although each school is unique, they all shared certain qualities.
At every school, I saw elements that work to really embody the spirit of child friendliness. This includes infrastructure, such as the brightly-painted murals and classroom seating arrangements, all the way to the student-teacher interaction and community engagement.
For example, at more than one school we visited, students pouring into school in the morning are greeted warmly by either the principal or a member of staff at the school entrance. This seems like a small thing, but it sets the tone for the day. This a strong reminder to children that both they and their education are valued.
Growing confidence in children
Children of all ages, even at the infant schools we visited, had no hesitation expressing their curiosity through questions. They took great pride in sharing their work and experiences with me. Their behaviours reflected an independence and surety that comes from self-confidence cultivated by an approach to education that cares for them.
The Child-Friendly Schools model is based on progressive realisation and is designed to integrate with existing practices at schools framework – for each school to build upon what they are doing successfully and be open to adapting proven successes. It was so heartening to see schools that represent the best of their communities, with leaders who are proud of their work, but not shy about looking for improvements.
Creating child-friendly schools takes a whole lot of love; and that is what my Jamaican experience gave me.