Children’s rights core of educational policy

Taking forward the first phase of Sharjah’s recently launched Child-Friendly Schools and Nurseries project, three workshops were held in the emirate to introduce educators to a child rights-based approach to education, with the aim of implementing a safe, healthy and protective school environment, along with adequate resources and conditions appropriate for learning. Organised bythe Sharjah Child FriendlyOffice (SCFO) in partnership with Sharjah Private Education Authority (SPEA) and Sharjah Education Council (SEC), the workshop was held in collaboration with the United NationsChildren’s Fund (Unicef)andwas facilitated by Frances Bestley, Rights Respecting Schools Programme Director, Unicef UK. The workshops coincided with Khaleeji Children’s Day, and were held attheSharjah Chamber of Commerce & Industry, where more than 100 teachers and principals from 14 public nurseries and 40 private schools across the emirate of Sharjah were introduced to the full spectrum of children’s rights and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). This was done with the objective of offering the required guidanceto participating institutions to havethemselvessuccessfullyaccredited under the Child-FriendlySchools and Nurseries project. “Recognised as a Child Friendly City in 2018 by Unicef’s Child Friendly Cities Initiative (CFCI), Sharjah has taken the lead in advancing the implementation of the CFCI Action Plan through these workshops. The first segment has been specifically designed to raise awareness of children’s rights and ensure a high level of collaboration and communication amongst all stakeholders in the educational ecosystem — teachers, parents and the student community”, said Dr. Hessa Al Ghazal, Executive Director of SCFO. “Our project aligns with the vision of His Highness Dr Sheikh Sultan Bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Sharjah, who has been leading the emirate in its efforts to fully secure the rights, safety and wellbeing of children,” she added. “This accreditation initiative reflects a transformativeapproach, whose large-scale execution will significantly elevate schools and education systems in Sharjah towards the highest global standards,” Al Ghazal further noted. “Raising awareness of children’s rights as enshrined in the UNCRC is a vital and integral first step in the accreditation process,” she elaborated. “More workshops will be held subsequently to highlight other key elements of the project including supporting children’s participation and children’s protection from all forms of violence and abuse.” According to Frances Bestley who led the training workshops, “Putting children’s rights at the heart of school policy and practice empowers children, makes them feel safe and improves their relationships with the adults who care for them, while also enabling them to become confident, active and engaged citizens. This is the first initiative of its kind in the UAE, and it is heartening to see Sharjah take on a leadership role in the work on children’s rights.” She added, “By teaching about rights through rights and for rights, every stakeholder in the education environment can work towards embedding a child rights approach in all aspects of school life, and help create an environment that respects and protects children’s rights.” Under the project’s timeline for 2020, registered institutions will submit a situation analysis including a self-assessment, collect parent and student feedback and suggestions through questionnaires, enable teachers to attend capacity building workshopsduring January and February; chalk out an action plan followed by an implementation period; and submit an evaluation of project indicators. Following an external assessment in September and October, institutions meeting the project criteria will be certified as a ‘Child Friendly School’ or ‘Child Friendly Nursery’ in November. The integration of children with special needs into mainstream education is also a key element of the Child-Friendly Schools and Nurseries project, and will be incorporated into the agenda of registered schools in due course. SCFO aims to protect and elevate the status and wellbeing of children of all ages in Sharjah. It creates relevant strategies and plans and implements them in cooperation with relevant institutions and government authorities. The office is currently tasked with overseeing the continuation and implementation of theSharjah Child-Friendly Project (targeting age group 0-2), the Sharjah Child-FriendlyCity Project (targeting age group 0-18).

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