Children’s rights commissioner Despo Michaelides has expressed concern that domestic laws in Cyprus still do not fully comply with the provisions and principles of the Convention of Rights of the Child as regards education.
She also highlighted the need for better representation of children’s views in the running of schools through the student councils.
In a report on the best interests of the child (BIC) in educational administration, Michaelides said that it was important to monitor the state’s budgetary allocations for the implementation of programmes specifically targeted to children, especially those belonging to disadvantaged groups.
As examples of practices and/or decisions that indicate the necessity for a proper assessment of BIC, she cited punitive measures on pupils with emotional problems or delinquent behaviour and whether religious education would preferably be offered as an optional subject in the school curriculum.
Schools must fulfil the requirements for a meaningful and inclusive education, to meet individual needs and to ensure that all pupils have access to high-quality educational opportunities, alongside friends and peers, she said.
To this end, the ministry of education should focus and invest in the design and implementation of both short-term and long-term plans and programmes to strengthen the potential of all the stakeholders involved in this process and, at the same time, to guarantee a continuous monitoring of the ability and the effectiveness of schools to meet the needs of all pupils.
Moreover, securing BIC with the participation of children requires the establishment of certain mechanisms within the school, such as functioning school councils.
“In order for student councils to serve their role, there must be a genuine representation of children’s views, paying particular attention to the voices of the most vulnerable ones. Undoubtedly, pupils should be meaningfully engaged in various forms of decision-making for BIC to be effectively promoted at school.”
There needs to be mechanisms for dealing with complaints, jointly built with children, accessible to everyone and regularly evaluated.
Establishing parents’ councils and multi-disciplinary committees are other ways to strengthen BIC in educational settings, she added.