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Schools should be safe, inclusive and welcoming environments

Message from Ms. Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO, on the occasion of the International Day against Violence and Bullying at School, including Cyberbullying - 2 November 2023

Schools should be central places where everyone can learn and grow – safe, inclusive and welcoming environments.

Evidence shows, however, that this is not always the case – far from it. In 144 countries, nearly one-third of pupils say they have been physically assaulted at least once this year. This violence and bullying have serious consequences not only for learning but also for pupils’ mental health.

The UNESCO report, “Behind the numbers: Ending school violence and bullying,” published in 2019, which provides an overview of the most recent data, shows that pupils who are being bullied are twice as likely to suffer from insomnia, feelings of isolation, and suicidal thoughts.

Although some children are beginning to speak out on this issue, many keep quiet about the violence to which they are being subjected. These challenges are even more substantial in the age of social networks: bullying no longer ends at the school gates, instead, it continues and spreads online, outside of school time. The same UNESCO publication shows that cyberbullying affects up to one in ten children.

To counter this epidemic and mobilize international opinion, four years ago UNESCO Member States decided to establish the International Day against Violence and Bullying at School, including Cyberbullying.

This year, the International Day aims to draw attention to a fundamental and sometimes underestimated problem: the mental health of pupils at school. Faced with all these challenges, UNESCO supports its Member States by collecting reference data, increasing understanding of this insidious phenomenon, mobilizing public players, and providing them with technical expertise. UNESCO thus directly supports more than 30 countries worldwide in their efforts to curb school violence, helping them to reform their national policies and to improve teacher training.

On this International Day, as on every day of the year, we must strengthen our collective commitment to end bullying and cyberbullying – to make schools spaces where knowledge, imagination, and relationships can flourish. It is high time that we saw the fight against bullying and cyberbullying for what it should be: a priority in our education policies because every child should feel respected, accepted, and safe so that they can learn and thrive in the school environment.

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