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Statement on the held dialogue: How to prevent violence in school: Learned lessons and possible steps

06.12.2023.

The Child Rights Centre held on November 30, 2023, in Belgrade, the first in a series of dialogues on children’s rights in 2023: “How to prevent violence in school: Learned lessons and possible steps” as part of the project “Strengthening the capacities of civil society organizations to adequately contribute to fulfilling Serbia’s obligations in the field of children’s rights,” supported by the OSCE Mission to Serbia.

The dialogue was opened by: Dragana Ivetić, representative of the OSCE Mission to Serbia, Jelena Paunović, director of the Child Rights Centre, as well as PhD Professor Nevena Vučković Šahović. The panel included speeches by: Biljana Lajović, a specialist in school psychology, PhD Professor Aleksandar Baucal, a psychology professor, PhD Professor Tamara Džamonja, a psychology professor, PhD Professor Dragica Pavlović Babić, also a psychology professor, and PhD Jelena Žunić Cicvarić, the program director of the Užički Center for the Child Rights.

Violence against children in Serbia takes many forms and occurs in various environments—within the home/private life, in schools, in institutions where children are placed for protection or rehabilitation, in the digital space, and within the local community. Harmful actions that endanger children’s survival disrupt their well-being and hinder their development due to numerous factors.

Throughout the dialogue, which gathered 40 representatives from relevant ministries, academic and other educational institutions, the civil sector, international organizations, and children, past education reforms and the legislative framework for preventing and protecting children from violence were discussed. Additionally, the quality of teaching, learning processes, the roles of psychological and pedagogical services, and the importance of implementing the highest standards of mental health in the education system were considered.

Previous education reforms often had limited duration and failed to maintain continuity, creating prerequisites for significant challenges in achieving long-term goals and realizing principles in advancing education. Furthermore, there’s an open question regarding the alignment of policies, laws, and strategies in education and child protection from violence, both domestically and in accordance with international standards. Overall, the achieved results of previous reforms highlight the urgent need for a sustainable, long-term approach enabling stable and continuous educational development to enhance quality and fairness within the educational system.

Moreover, it was emphasized that schools play a significant role not only in the learning process but also in developing prosocial skills, which directly contributes to violence prevention. A positive school atmosphere creates an environment where children feel secure, respected, accepted, free, and where freedom of expression is encouraged, alongside respect for rules and behavioral standards.

In line with this, the participants were presented with the results of a study on learning motivation, both of teachers and students, as a key factor in creating a positive school environment, showing remarkably low values. During the dialogue, participants emphasized the necessity to take measures to improve motivation among all stakeholders in the education system, creating an environment that encourages active participation, skill development, and a positive attitude toward learning.

It was particularly highlighted that early recognition and intervention are key factors in mitigating the consequences of violence against children within the education system. Hence, the importance of continuously enhancing the competencies of all school staff, especially psychologists and pedagogues, to effectively identify violent situations, was emphasized. Professionals working with children, possessing strong competencies, can offer efficient support to victims of violence and their families, facilitating the recovery process.

It’s crucial for all systemic reforms aimed at preventing and combating violence to encompass the entire school community, as only then can the desired results be achieved and continuity maintained. In this regard, education must seek and find new solutions by strengthening key institutional mechanisms, local protection systems, and raising awareness to change social norms, values, and attitudes regarding violence prevention and protection. On the other hand, for the school to become a center that fosters collaboration, recognizes one’s and others’ feelings, develops self-control, encourages community volunteering, and promotes constructive conflict resolution, it’s essential for all participants to be motivated to implement these values in their daily work.

As a result of the dialogue, a consultative process with dialogue participants is planned to address all the open questions raised during the dialogue, aiming to determine the extent to which the obligations set by the Convention on the Rights of the Child can be achieved in the Republic of Serbia, primarily in the educational system as a crucial area for the healthy development of individuals and society as a whole. Based on this consultative process, an advocacy document will be prepared and submitted to relevant institutions to promote the enhancement of the education system in the context of violence prevention and suppression.