"Being safe at school for me means a lot because if you don't feel safe then why should you go to school?” Amy, 11 years.

Children in New Zealand and around the world consider education a priority, despite concerns for their safety. Ninety-eight percent of kiwi kids think education is important, yet almost a quarter of our children feel safe at school only some of the time.

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Photo: Children from Mayfield School in Blenheim gave their views in the 2016 survey

Between 2013 and 2016, 3,000 New Zealand children have voiced their opinions and concerns as part of the world’s largest poll of children’s opinions, ChildFund Global Alliance’s annual Small Voices, Big Dreams survey of children aged 10 to 12 years. The four surveys have asked children in more than 40 countries for their views on issues important to them including child rights.

In the just released 2016 ChildFund Small Voices, Big Dreams survey, children’s views on education were further explored. Eight hundred and four children from schools* up and down New Zealand were among the 6,226 children from 41 countries who participated globally.

Childlike optimism; grown-up concerns
The good news is that children love to learn and being with their friends at school.
However, we should be concerned that our children don’t always feel safe at school.

Twenty-four percent of New Zealand children said their school was only sometimes safe. While 63 percent said their school was always safe, this leaves one in three children feeling scared or unsure about their safety.

ChildFund New Zealand Chief Executive Paul Brown comments on the results. 

“Too many children are worried about being physically hurt and bullying in schools. To our kids, being safe at school means feeling protected and encouraged – many think of it as a second home.”

When asked “what do you love most about school”, 44 percent of Kiwi children chose ‘being with friends’ and 36 percent chose ‘learning new things’. These results reflect inverse priorities of children in developing countries where, 51 percent of children chose learning new things and 19 percent chose being with friends.

There is growing evidence that shows an association between positive perceptions of school climate, which encompasses safety and relationships, and improved outcomes for students and teachers. 

“Research shows that how students feel at school impacts on both academic success and their wellbeing. It’s encouraging that our kids value their friendships so highly, and that the majority feel safe. Our kids want school to be a place they can enjoy spending their time and learn without fear. For around one in three, however, their feelings of being unsafe are concerning,” continues Mr Brown.

Even before entering secondary school, children value education as the key to their future. Almost two-thirds of New Zealand respondents (65 percent) said education would help them get a better job, while 21 percent believed it would help them make a difference in New Zealand. A combined 14 percent believed school would prepare them to care for their parents or be a better person. 

In the 2013 survey, New Zealand children identified education and safety as their top priorities with 65 percent of New Zealand children agreeing with the statement “everyone should have a good education” and 62 percent with “everyone should be safe from crimes and also violence”; the latter result was significantly higher than the global average.

Children were free to choose these priorities from issues that included everything from transportation to the environment.

How do we fare globally?
Globally, 34 percent of children feel safe only sometimes or never when at school. There was no significant difference between developed and developing nations.
Children’s perceptions of safety were also aligned.

Predominant views of what being safe included “not being at risk of physical or emotional abuse or violence” (28% all; 40% NZ), “security measures are in place to protect students and they feel safe” (43% all; 48% NZ), and “schools feel like a second home where children are welcomed” (21% all; 28% NZ).

Meg Gardinier, Secretary General of ChildFund Alliance says, “Children around the world are worried about some very grown-up issues. The world’s leaders recognised the importance of safe, meaningful education when they adopted the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 4 in September 2015: ‘Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.’

“ChildFund Alliance is committed to doing all it can to provide children around the world with a safe, quality education. We recognise this is ambitious, but there has been much progress. The number of children and young people not attending school has almost halved since the turn of the century and in most countries there are now as many girls as boys in primary school.”

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Let’s listen to our children 
Last year, when asked what the adults in their life could do to protect children from harm: the majority of children said it was as simple as listening to what children have to say. 

ChildFund has listened and taken children’s views to the highest levels of the United Nations and world governments. This has resulted in violence-specific goals and targets being added to the new Global Goals for Sustainable Development, a global agenda for the next 15 years.

Children’s voices for change have also been reinforced by a ChildFund Alliance-commissioned report by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) analysing research from around the world, including New Zealand. The ODI report estimated that the total economic costs of physical, psychological and sexual violence against children were up to 8 per cent of global Gross Domestic Product, close to US$7 trillion a year.

No country is immune to these problems, and New Zealand is no exception.

Mr Brown concludes, “From both global and national perspectives, children’s safety is important for the economic health, sustainability and security of New Zealand and the world. 

“Supporting the new Global Goals and efforts to eliminate all forms of violence against, and exploitation of, children would benefit all New Zealanders including our future leaders.

“New Zealand children would concur with these conclusions. Moreover, they are happy to provide solutions, if only we would listen.”

KEY NZ FINDINGS

Q. What does it mean to be safe at school? (a sample of views)

“A lot because if our life's just starting out it would be a shame if something would happen,” Emma, 11 years

“Being in a safe environment where everyone is a friend,” Kate, 11 years

“being safe at school of me means a lot because if you don't feel safe then why should you go to school?” Amy, 11 years

“Having good friends at school,” Mercedes, 12 years

“Teachers that care. Students look after each other,” Hori, 12 years

“To be able to feel as safe as at home,” Timothy, 11 years

“It means that you feel like it could be your home,” Nathan, 12 years

“To be reassured that today will be a normal day,” Ryan, 12 years

Read and download the full Small Voices Big Dreams survey global report.

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