Why every day should be Universal Children’s Day

Justyn Randall

Tuesday, 20 November 2018

As educators, understanding the potential of your pupils and the need to nurture their happiness and health is part of your DNA and a key motivator for doing your valuable jobs.

Today is Universal Children’s Day, which reminds everyone to advocate, promote and celebrate children's rights all over the world.

Universal Children’s Day was launched to mark the date when the UN General Assembly adopted the declaration and convention of children’s rights, including the right to be protected from violence and discrimination and the rights to life, health and education.

In a downloadable factsheet for teachers, the United Nations Association UK (UNA-UK) outlines the three most important areas that it monitors relating to children: education, health and work.

It says: “Education enables children to develop their abilities and to access other human rights, for example, the right to work and to political participation.

"...Yet factors such as the cost of education; lack of facilities like pens, books, teachers and classrooms; the pressure to work and support their families; and social attitudes can hold children back from going to school.”

This is not just a problem that happens elsewhere in the world. In 2019, the UN’s rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, will present a 24-page report to the UN’s human rights council highlighting poverty in the UK.

Citing figures from the Rowntree Foundation and the Institute for Fiscal Studies, Mr Alston writes in his report that not only are 14 million people already living in poverty, but that child poverty could rise by 7% between 2015 and 2022.

In a statement, a spokesperson from the UK Government said that they “completely disagreed” with the UN’s analysis and that initiatives like the National Schools Breakfast Programme and free school meals are designed to help the most disadvantaged children in society.

Of course any initiative that ensures our children don’t go hungry should be welcomed. The link between hunger and poor concentration in the classroom is well-understood.

Children who are hungry can be uncommunicative and even disruptive, making teachers’ jobs more difficult and impacting others – through no fault of their own.

It’s not just lack of access to food that causes issues for children from our poorest families. As the Children’s Society reports: “The cost of school is having a deep emotional impact on children, making them feel singled out, isolated and stigmatised. More than two-thirds of children living in the poorest families said they had been embarrassed because their parents couldn’t afford the cost of school life. More than a quarter had been bullied as a result.”

Social and economic impacts

If children are not learning, for whatever reason, they are unlikely to reach their full potential and, to use the words of the UNA UK, to access the rights to work and to political participation. This has the potential to have far-reaching social and economic impacts in the future.

What can educators do to help, given that so many factors are outside their control? As our Community Expert Elaine Thomas wrote recently, in their role in Loco Parentis, teachers are expected to adopt a “duty of care a professional adult has towards children under their supervision, as well as promoting the safety and welfare of the children in their care. The level of this duty of care is measured as being that of a ‘reasonable parent.’”

Understanding that there is a problem is a first step; working with families and children to find support and solutions is another.

A place to start could be with the learning resourcesthat UNA UK provides, which include a child friendly version of the Convention of the Rights of the Child and lesson plans.

Building on this, teachers could head over to the World’s Largest Lesson, which “introduces the Sustainable Development Goals to children and young people everywhere and unites them in action”.

Helping children build their own strategies for coping with pressure from peers is another positive step teachers can take. One of the reasons we established Opogo was to help teachers combat poor mental health by advancing their own skill sets, as well as those of students, to help them better cope and thrive in modern day education.

The Opogo #TeachFit programme shows teachers how to focus on child wellness and mental health, for example, whether that’s running yoga sessions in the classroom or teaching mindfulness.

As the UNA UK states, children are important members of society who represent our future workforce and economic success. Universal Children’s Day provides an opportunity for all of us to focus on their needs and rights - and to help children themselves understand how these are enshrined in powerful statutes.

If you're interested in how Opogo can help your students realise new ambitions, please feel free to drop me a message anytime on justyn@opogo.com

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