The improvement of the school climate is nowadays at the heart of the approach of many schools in French-speaking Switzerland. Promoting good living together and harmonising relations between individuals at all levels helps to improve academic success and increases the feeling of belonging to the educational community, which is essential for the prevention of violence and violent radicalism. This global approach to education is fully in line with the sustainable development goals voted by the UN in 2015 for the period 2016-2030 (Quality Education, Goal 4).
However, on a day-to-day basis, this cross-cutting work which involves the entire school, can sometimes seem difficult to implement. Several limitations may explain these difficulties:
- Lack of time for collaborative work;
- Feeling of professional fatigue;
- Lack of reference points in the face of societal changes;
- Need for structural change that seems too heavy to be carried at the level of an institution.
The study of needs carried out by Graines de Paix in 2018 among 12- to 15-year-olds revealed various sources of malaise among all those involved in secondary schools (management, teaching staff, multi-skilled staff, pupils, parents, etc.). All clearly expressed the need for young people's voices to be considered, an increased need to belong to the community and the emergence of a strong sense of injustice shared by the youngest.
These data also echo the results of the recent study conducted by Pro Juventute (Albrecht et al., 2021) on stress: more than a third of Swiss children and young people have a high level of stress which affects their self-image and their development at school. Other research indicates that almost one in two adolescents in the canton of Vaud suffers from stress or psychological distress (Eichenberger et al., 2017). Many factors increase stress among young people, including school obligations (exams and homework), peer relationships (bullying, class quarrels) and school culture. Increased stress leads to health problems in adolescents (Blaser & Amstad, 2016; Eichenberger et al., 2017) and negatively impacts academic achievement (e.g. Pascoe et al., 2020).
According to a UNICEF study from 2021, about 1/3 of children and adolescents in Switzerland experience physical violence from their classmates and 43% have experienced psychological violence. Violence is also a reality at home for almost one in three children. The study reveals that 15% of children feel that their sense of safety at home or at school is poor. At home, 29% have experienced physical violence from parents and 24% psychological violence. In addition, 41% of the respondents said they had experienced at least one case of discrimination.
The risk is higher for young people affected by poverty and children with an immigrant background. Girls are twice as likely as boys to be excluded because of their gender. This latest study shows the scale and urgency of the task ahead, and for this, educational actors are called upon to work together.
By deploying this system, Graines de Paix aims to offer concrete solutions to create a secure, rewarding, and inclusive school climate. The aim is to offer more well-being for pupils and staff, a greater sense of belonging and justice, and better academic success.
To this end, the Graines de Paix Foundation is developing a pedagogical approach to the prevention of violence at school. This approach is the basis of the activities in the "Grandir en Paix" collection, which is widely used in primary schools in French-speaking Switzerland. An initial qualitative evaluation of these activities (Broyon, Moody et al., 2017), implemented in the pilot school in Bex, highlighted the positive effects of the approach on many aspects. The “Bien vivre ensemble” system is based on this pedagogy to provide an integrated response to the demand of schools. It is thus positioned as a continuation of the Grandir en Paix collection for secondary schools.
“Bien vivre ensemble”, a project developed in successive phases
To meet the needs identified by the Graines de Paix study in 2018, a first "Bien vivre ensemble" activity guide was created (2019-2020). The confrontation with the field showed that, alone, the activities of this Guide were not sufficient to achieve the ambitious objectives expected. Indeed, to be effective, the approach had to be part of a school project integrating not only activities to be carried out in the classrooms, in the spaces of the school and during the school programme, but also a training and coaching component for the three groups of actors: teachers and staff members; students and parents.
In 2021, Graines de Paix has reorganised the Guide into three booklets for the different groups of actors and according to the different types of activities and has developed training modules corresponding to the planned interventions.
The system thus designed will be tested in 2022-2023 in two secondary schools in the canton of Vaud, with pupils aged 10-16 (7-8th grade and Secondary I).
Summary of the project “Bien vivre ensemble” (2022-2023)
Convinced that schools can contribute in many ways to the well-being of young people, the Graines de Paix Foundation is implementing the Bien Vivre Ensemble (BVE) project, which aims to improve the quality of education in French-speaking Switzerland. More specifically, the implementation of the BVE will validate an effective pedagogical intervention system that improves the school climate in two pilot schools in the canton of Vaud.
This pedagogical intervention system is based on the involvement and commitment of three categories of actors: adults in the school (all professions), students and parents. Parents are involved in the scheme to facilitate the link between the school and home worlds and to allow for the co-creation of pedagogical coherence.
The scheme comprises three major project activities:
- Training will be given to the three groups of actors (notably around socio-emotional learning and positive leadership). Each group will receive tailor-made training. A specific pedagogical module will be offered to teachers.
- The implementation of a set of pedagogical activities focused on the development of socio-emotional skills.
- Coaching of the leading actors.
The pedagogical activities implemented in the pilot schools interconnect the actors to themselves and to others. They are of three types:
a) experiential activities that renew the adults' view of interpersonal relationships and learn to better connect to oneself and to young people;
b) engaging activities that nurture positive emotions related to living well together
c) activities for the classroom that invite the emotions of each young person to be welcomed to increase concentration and attention to the well-being of all.
The expected effects of the BVE project are closely linked to the development of the socio-emotional skills of the educational community, adults, and young people alike:
- Positive emotions
- Greater motivation for learning
- Better concentration and attention
- Increased self-confidence
- Engagement with the community
- Decreased negative behaviour (violence of various kinds)
- A reduction in risky behaviour (stress, depression, anxiety, etc.)
The next step
The system will be tested in two schools in the canton of Vaud (the secondary school of Bex and the secondary school of Villeneuve will be our pilot partners), during one school year (2022-2023). Data will be collected to evaluate the effects of the system in the project's partner schools through an external evaluation process conducted by two Swiss researchers (HEP Vaud and the University of Fribourg), with the aim of considering replication in other schools in the French-speaking part of Switzerland from the start of the school year in August 2023.