FGV project with Human Rights and Citizenship Ministry curbs violence in schools

Based on scientific techniques, the aim is to reduce violence and aggression among students.
Public Policy
07 February 2024
FGV project with Human Rights and Citizenship Ministry curbs violence in schools

With the aim of developing communication skills, managing emotions, building self-esteem and combating aggression among students, Fundação Getulio Vargas, through a partnership with the Human Rights and Citizenship Ministry, has developed a School Safety Program. Based on cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques, the program consists of 14 workshops. In the last quarter of 2022 and the first quarter of 2023, a pilot project was implemented at seven municipal government schools in Sao Paulo.

The coordinator of FGV’s Center for Science Applied to Public Security (FGV CCAS), Joana Monteiro, one of the researchers responsible for creating the program, points out that it was inspired by the American program Becoming a Man, which has already achieved excellent results in its evaluations. “Programs with this type of approach are capable of reducing truancy, improving behavior in schools and reducing students’ involvement in criminal acts,” says Monteiro.

The focus of the program created for Brazil is on controlling aggression and violence in students’ behavior. “This type of approach could be a solution for reducing episodes of extreme violence such as the recent attacks in schools in Brazil,” the coordinator adds.

Psychologist Natália Ribeiro was behind the development of the workshops run at the schools. She believes that instead of indoctrinating young people, the approach should be to teach them to think more rationally. That way, they can develop important skills not only for school life, but also for their future.

“We work with the concept of ‘think slow,’ which focuses young people on rational decision making, i.e. thinking before acting, to reduce impulsivity. We make students think and reflect on where they are, where they want to go and what they need to develop to get there,” Ribeiro says.

Designed for Brazilian circumstances

After identifying successful models, the second stage in the creation of the program, following the design of the workshops, was to validate the content and understand the main challenges in their implementation. The next step is to engage a larger number of students and subject the program to an impact assessment to see if the methodology applied actually achieves the objectives.

In addition to combating violence in general, the initiative was designed to reduce four factors: dropping out of school, involvement in criminal acts, alcohol use, and use of other drugs.

According to the psychologist, the way the program is applied makes a big difference in efforts to reduce aggression within the school environment. The workshops have a fun format similar to games and they are able to engage and attract students by using the strategy of peer replication.

“We want to ingrain a different type of repertoire in these young people and in a more functional way, in groups. The idea is to replicate these experiences in their peers, because people within the same group, especially young people, can learn better through rapid identification and the continuous flow of ideas,” the psychologist says.

Science as a way to fight violence

Ribeiro also explains that the learning process can take place in two ways. The first is through repetition, when an individual repeats an act so many times that it ends up becoming part of their own repertoire. The second is through imitation, which is where the strategy of running the workshops in groups comes in. “With groups of 10 to 15 students, we work on models to encourage them to positively influence one another,” she says.

She notes that the initiative was not created with a specific audience in mind or only aimed at schools located in violent areas. “The School Safety Program was designed to be effective with any group of teenagers, of any ethnicity and culture, among other factors,” the psychologist stresses. According to her, this is possible because all adolescents throughout the world share the same biological principles and other behaviors that are standard during this stage of life in any individual.

Challenges of adolescence

The psychologist details the psychoeducation strategy used in the program. “It is usually during adolescence that people come into contact with alcohol and other drugs, either because they come across parents and friends drinking, or because of the environment in which they live, or sometimes out of curiosity,” she says.

It is precisely at this moment that the program works to try to reduce risky behavior. The students are shown the effects of alcohol, both on the behavior of drinkers and on their life in society, including the biological effects, among other factors.

Structure of workshops

Asked how the workshops work in practice, what topics are covered and how the discussions are organized, Ribeiro says the activities are not confined to a classroom model. “They were designed with the overriding goal of being easily accessible to young people and replicable in different environments,” she says.

One of the workshops that is part of the program is known as the Bridge Model. It aims to help participants find more assertive ways of reaching their goals.

This workshop starts with drawing a bridge on a board. The beginning of the bridge represents where young people are today, the end of the bridge represents where they want to go, and the river contains the problems and obstacles they need to tackle to achieve their goals. Finally, each part of the bridge symbolizes what they need to have in order to get to the other side.

An important point about this workshop is that examples of challenges and desires come from the students themselves, who are free to talk about their own reality. “We are planting strong seeds to positively influence these young people, using the herd effect, which is so favorable in this social group, so that they can spread science and inspire the different groups they belong to outside of school,” says the psychologist. 

Public policies to reduce violence in schools

In light of recent cases of school violence in Brazil, it is becoming increasingly necessary to create public policies aimed at reducing the incidence of these violent attacks in the school environment. In this regard, Joana Monteiro recalls that since 2019, FGV has been investigating projects that could prevent this type of violence.

“This type of approach is one of our main hopes for reducing violent behavior in schools. This model is currently being tested in Sao Paulo, but in future it could be adapted to other schools in different parts of the country,” Monteiro says. 

She also points out that society needs public policies to help young people navigate better during adolescence, a complicated period of life. According to her, this is the first time she has come across a program of this level, supported by both academia and public management. “This program opens up a space to promote a culture of peace, in a concrete way, to serve all students,” she says.

Implementation in schools

Monteiro says that the plan is to reach more than 1,200 students in the next cycle of the program, and that monitoring the activities will be a fundamental task from now on.

“Monitoring the students who took part in the program and those who didn’t will be part of our activities so that we can measure the results and compare them, in order to gain a deeper understanding of the impact of this initiative,” she says.

Rafael Aquino, a researcher at FGV and the coordinator of the program’s first phase, explains that the first schools selected to run the initiative were selected by the Sao Paulo State Education Secretariat’s Support and Monitoring for Learning Center (NAAPA).

“NAAPA already assists any student who is vulnerable in terms of learning and who is exposed to different types of violence. The schools were selected and sensitized after NAAPA mapped the schools and their students. NAAPA was also responsible for mediating contact between FGV and the schools,” Aquino says.

He believes that for many of these young people, learning to deal with emotions can be more difficult than learning educational content itself. “This is a social and emotional skills training program, with the potential to provide the necessary tools to improve the lives of participants and contribute more broadly to a healthier and less violent school environment,” the researcher says.

Psychologist Natália Ribeiro adds that the program was developed for schools in the municipality of Sao Paulo, but it has the potential to be rolled out throughout Brazil. “By making small cultural adjustments to the circumstances in each municipality and region, we could carry out this initiative across the country, from small towns in the countryside to metropolises,” she says.

To find out more about the program, visit its page on FGV CCAS‘ website.

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