EDUCATION / INTERNATIONAL AUDIENCE

ANALYSIS: A famed NGO kicked off a campaign in November, carrying this key message: “Abolish break time!” as a solution to stop aggression in schools.

Read about three major mistakes they committed.

  • Bad reviews, negative feedback, a slogan promoting a breach of law and the silencing of journalists are early signs that something’s wrong.
  • Who is to be blamed when one takes aim at a fake target?
  • Would you leave your reputation in the hands of an inexperienced outsider?
  • What’s the reason to release information without properly researching it?
  • To think it is cool to endorse a ban on break time, when children build relationships, play, eat or simply rest, is not a lighthearted matter.
[Type of content: Analysis ©]

 

Of all the things humans care about in this world, their children are almost certainly at the top of the list. This explains why people engage so quickly with campaigns having the potential to produce effects, any effects, on their kids’ well being. Let’s call it a guarding instinct.

Professionals handle child-related messages carefully. What happens if they don’t? A mess. I chose a campaign kicked off by a well-known NGO in the fall of 2017 to illustrate this.

EARLY FACTS:

Hardly had Salvați Copiii (Save the Children Romania) started a campaign bearing the slogan Abolish break time!”, than a negative buzz quickly erupted on social media:

 – The first 21 out of 27 reviews on the campaign’s Facebook page received the lowest grade. One star.

 – Bad feedback followed: “Communism died about 28 years ago. Stop promoting such bullshit”; “You must be out of your minds”.  Hate speech soon flooded their page (which bears the name of the slogan: “Abolish break time!”).

 – Let’s move to influencers/endorsers* now. Journalist Dinu Boboc was excluded from an endorser’s list after expressing an opinion on the latter’s Facebook wall. A female commentator joined the conversation and confessed that she had turned down the invitation to support the campaign because it urged to abolish breaks. Both persons’ comments were deleted the following day. Why?

The endorser, Adriana Moscu, coordinator editor at Marie Claire magazine, declined to comment for this article. But reflect a little bit: one journalist behaves against another journalist to defend a PR message. How does this sound?

Despite a large amount of positive content generated by endorsers and the media, a smokescreen was thrown over the issue but the core question remained unanswered. Bad reviews, negative feedback, a slogan promoting a violation of the law and the silencing of journalists are early signs that something went wrong. What could that be?

[*influencers / endorsers = people who promote a cause or a brand (bloggers, journalists, celebrities, starlets, PR people). Usually, they get money, benefits or influence in exchange.]

#1 THE MESSAGE STRATEGY

I asked my class at the faculty what they think about this campaign soon after it was launched. They all loudly denounced the message strategy. It’s basic communication science. They are taught in school that “the medium is the message” (Marshall McLuhan, one of the most original thinkers of our time). It means that:

  • If your Facebook page and your campaign’s website are named after your slogan;
  • If you kick off your campaign using hashtags that urge the abolishment of school break time;
  • If your videos and Key-Visuals are built around the same urge,

Then your key message is to abolish break time, not to repress violence in schools.

As Dorin Fiscutean, a teacher of Geography in Iasi, put it: “We don’t understand your message. Do you want to take children’s happiness away … or what?”

Fiscutean, who has many years of experience in dealing with children, says that violence may occur at the school’s entrance. Or in the digital environment. Or elsewhere. “There are other ways to combat aggression between children, but the idea of abolishing break time is completely wrong”.

“The idea of abolishing break time is completely wrong” – Dorin Fiscutean, a teacher in Iasi city

Carmen Musat, a psychologist and psychotherapist in Paris says that bullying is common in France, too. But she has not heard about abolishing break time as a solution to this problem. “Breaks are extremely important. Children reach burnout too, so break time is a must.”

“Children reach burnout, so break time is a must” – Carmen Musat, a psychologist and psychotherapist in Paris

“The message is pointless. Many of the aggressions take place during classes, in front of teachers or against teachers”, says an experienced teacher from Brăila who required not to disclose her identity. Her daughter used to be a target of bullies during classes.

“So urging to abolish recess doesn’t help at all. On the contrary, I find it rather harmful since it puts pressure on young children and teenagers”, she said.

But what Dorin Fiscutean, the teacher, Carmen Musat, the psychologist, and the teacher in Brăila say are not just opinions from the field. It’s what the law declares:

  • “In the primary school, a class is 45 minutes long, followed by a 15-minute recess. The second class is followed by a 20-minute break. In the first two grades (i.e. preparatory class and the first grade), activities (teaching-learning-evaluation) must last for no longer than 30—35 minutes”.
  • Children in the gymnasium, high-school, and vocational schools attend 50-minute classes; the recess is 10 min. “A 15-20 minute break may follow after the third class.”

(Ministry Order – MENCS no. 5079/2016)

#2 MISMANAGEMENT

“You misunderstood”; “Our target is not to abolish break time, but bullying”; “Why don’t you have patience?” These were some of the defensive reactions the NGO employed through various channels.

Salvați Copiii repeatedly rejected any wrongdoing on their side and implied that if there was a communications error, then that was on the receptor’s side (the public). Was it?

Please enlarge the picture above and name the keyword.

Who is to be blamed when one takes aim at a fake target? The shooter or the audience spotting the bullet?

A similar explanation comes when asked about endorsers. A Salvați Copiii representative suggests that banning non-favorable opinions and journalists was not their call. “Our endorsers were volunteers. So the way they managed communication (in this campaign) was their decision”, explains Diana Stanculeanu, who coordinates this program.

Would you leave your reputation in the hands of an inexperienced outsider? Specialists would recommend you not to.

Last, but not least: a PR person from Ranevents, the agency handling this campaign, said in a phone conversation that EU money is involved in the campaign, but some days later she denied to have provided that information. Stanculeanu clarified the issue later: “no EU financing”. The NGO generated revenues of EUR 4.4 million in 2016.

What was the reason to release information without properly researching it?

#3 POTENTIALLY HARMFUL

In August 2017 the Government, through the arm of the Ministry of Education, joined the project run by Salvați Copiii.

Let’s now give a quick look at the recent history: the Ministry launched in the same period (summer of 2017) a Sports book for pupils to study at school. People reacted swiftly and the critics pounced: sports is something children should be encouraged to practice, not memorize from a book; why does the Government stimulate a sedentary, i.e. unhealthy lifestyle?

Technically, the event was still fresh in Romanians’ minds when the message against school break time flooded the media. To think it is cool to endorse a ban on break time, when children build relationships, play, eat or simply rest, is not a lighthearted matter. Among the influencers who embraced the idea that break time should be abolished were journalists, bloggers, entrepreneurs, starlets and even an owner of a media outlet for children.

Is bullying a strong enough excuse to embrace such a potentially harmful call-to-action supported by the Government?

WHY POTENTIALLY HARMFUL?

The answer comes to light through research.

Romania is not the first, nor the last country on Earth to face violence among children at school.

[Salvați Copiii admits they have been running programs against violence since 1997. Did this two-decade-long project produce results? Apparently not, since the NGO keeps pouring in money “to raise awareness” and “educate”.]

The relationship between break time and violence has been talked about and researched for a long time. In 2002, The Psychologist, which is the official monthly publication of The British Psychological Society, wrote about the developmental and educational significance of break time in school:

Children’s break time in Britain and the USA has been relegated by current educational policy to a place of unimportance in the school curriculum. Educators think that break time (…) provides opportunities for children to exhibit antisocial behavior. (…) Allotting less time for break, or even eliminating it completely, is common practice. The popular press in both the UK and the US have highlighted the problem.”

Research in the field conducted by Professors Anthony D. Pellegrini and Peter Blatchford leads to this conclusion: Break time is crucial for academic achievement, peer relations, and more general school adjustment. The importance of this conclusion should not be underestimated.

Abolishing opportunities for relatively free contact is unlikely in the end to abolish the causes of aggression – Professor Peter Blatchford, University College London

“MISGUIDED”

The co-author of this research, Prof. Peter Blatchford, is a Professor of Psychology and Education at the Institute of Education, University College London (UCL), one of the world’s leading universities. Prof. Blatchford answered the following question for this article:

  • A campaign launched in Romania under the core message “Abolish break time!” claimed that would be a solution to violence in schools. What is your opinion about the message?

Prof. Blatchford**, who earned an international reputation for work on school break times/recess:

– I don’t know the school system in Romania, but one hears these kinds of comments in the UK and especially the USA. It is in my view misguided because it fails to recognize the social function of free time in schools and the opportunities for schools to work on acceptable social and moral perspectives.

 – If there is a problem with violence in schools then it suggests schools need to do more to develop constructive behavior.

 – Kids learn from interaction with each other.

 – Abolishing opportunities for relatively free contact is unlikely in the end to abolish the causes of aggression.

***

[** Prof. Peter Blatchford has written many books and papers. He conducted the first national survey of break times in England and (with Professor Tony Pellegrini) a project on the significance of playground games in peer relations and friendships in the UK and USA.]


THE OUTCOME? ON PAPER. EFFECTS? UNKNOWN.

The collaboration between Salvați Copiii and the Ministry of Education in this campaign will result in “a document for public policy”. Neither of them offered details about its content.

CAMPAIGN: “Stop bullying or abolish break time!” It kicked off carrying this key message: “Abolish break time!”

CLIENT: Salvați Copiii (Save the Children); revenues of EUR 4.4 million in 2016

FIELD: NGOs

PERIOD. BUDGET: It will run for 36 months, with a budget of EUR 30,000 per year

OBJECTIVES: Awareness, quality education, and advocacy

AGENCIES: Creative Laboratories, Ranevents (PR)

COMMUNICATION TARGETS: Facebook Page – 500 likes / month; 3% engagement rate; YouTube Videos – 5,000 views / video; 
Influencers: about 40 posts in social media; Media: 25 items (print, online, TV, radio)

PARTNERSHIP: The Ministry of Education partnered with Salvați Copiii in August 2017. This allows the NGO to be in schools for training, workshops, but also to advocate for changing legislation (including how education management is regulated – our note).

THE OUTCOME: The collaboration between Salvați Copiii and the Ministry of Education will be “a document for public policy”, according to the Ministry’s press office. They didn’t offer details on what changes that document will produce in children’s lives at school.

(Sources: Salvați Copiii / Save the Children, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Finance)

Please enlarge the picture above and name the key word.

Who is to be blamed when one takes aim at a fake target? The shooter or the audience spotting the bullet?

A similar explanation comes when asked about endorsers. A Salvați Copiii representative suggests that banning non-favorable opinions and journalists was not their call. “Our endorsers were volunteers. So the way they managed communication (on this campaign) was their decision”, explains Diana Stanculeanu, who coordinates this program.

Would you leave your reputation in the hands of an inexperienced outsider? Specialists would recommend you not to.

Last, but not least: a PR person from Ranevents, the agency handling this campaign, said in a phone conversation that EU money is involved in the campaign, but some days later she denied to have provided that information. Stanculeanu clarified the issue later: “no EU financing”. The NGO generated revenues of EUR 4.4 million in 2016.

What was the reason to release information without properly researching it?

#3 POTENTIALLY HARMFUL

In August 2017 the Government, through the arm of the Ministry of Education, joined the project run by Salvați Copiii.

Let’s now give a quick look at the recent history: the Ministry launched in the same period (summer of 2017) a Sports book for pupils to study at school. People reacted swiftly and the critics pounced: sports is something children should be encouraged to practice, not memorize from a book; why does the Government stimulate a sedentary, i.e. unhealthy lifestyle?

Technically, the event was still fresh in Romanians’ minds when the message against school break time flooded the media. To think it is cool to endorse a ban on break time, when children build relationships, play, eat or simply rest, is not a lighthearted matter. Among the influencers who embraced the idea that break time should be abolished were journalists, bloggers, entrepreneurs, starlets and even an owner of a media outlet for children.

Is bullying a strong enough excuse to embrace such a potentially harmful call-to-action supported by the Government?

WHY POTENTIALLY HARMFUL?

The answer comes to light through research.

Romania is not the first, nor the last country on Earth to face violence among children at school.

[Salvați Copiii admits they have been running programs against violence since 1997. Did this two-decade-long project produce results? Apparently not, since the NGO keeps pouring in money “to raise awareness” and “educate”.]

The relationship between break time and violence has been talked about and researched for a long time. In 2002, The Psychologist, which is the official monthly publication of The British Psychological Society, wrote about the developmental and educational significance of break time in school:

Children’s break time in Britain and the USA has been relegated by current educational policy to a place of unimportance in the school curriculum. Educators think that break time (…) provides opportunities for children to exhibit antisocial behavior. (…) Allotting less time for break, or even eliminating it completely, is common practice. The popular press in both the UK and the US have highlighted the problem.”

Research in the field conducted by Professors Anthony D. Pellegrini and Peter Blatchford leads to this conclusion: Break time is crucial for academic achievement, peer relations, and more general school adjustment. The importance of this conclusion should not be underestimated.

Abolishing opportunities for relatively free contact is unlikely in the end to abolish the causes of aggression – Professor Peter Blatchford, University College London

“MISGUIDED”

The co-author of this research, Prof. Peter Blatchford, is a Professor in Psychology and Education at the Institute of Education, University College London (UCL), one of the world’s leading universities. Prof. Blatchford answered the following question for this article:

  • A campaign launched in Romania under the core message “Abolish break time!” claimed that would be a solution to violence in schools. What is your opinion about the message?

Prof. Blatchford**, who earned international reputation for work on school break times/recess:

– I don’t know the school system in Romania, but one hears these kinds of comments in the UK and especially the USA. It is in my view misguided because it fails to recognize the social function of free time in schools and the opportunities for schools to work on acceptable social and moral perspectives.

 – If there is a problem with violence in schools then it suggests schools need to do more to develop constructive behavior.

 – Kids learn from interaction with each other.

 – Abolishing opportunities for relatively free contact is unlikely in the end to abolish the causes of aggression.

***

[** Prof. Peter Blatchford has written many books and papers. He conducted the first national survey of break times in England and (with Professor Tony Pellegrini) a project on the significance of playground games in peer relations and friendships in the UK and USA.]


THE OUTCOME? ON PAPER. EFFECTS? UNKNOWN.

The collaboration between Salvați Copiii and the Ministry of Education in this campaign will result in “a document for public policy”. Neither of them offered details about its content.

CAMPAIGN: “Stop bullying or abolish break time!” It kicked off carrying this key message: “Abolish break time!”

CLIENT: Salvați Copiii (Save the Children); revenues of EUR 4.4 million in 2016

FIELD: NGOs

PERIOD. BUDGET: It will run for 36 months, with a budget of EUR 30,000 per year

OBJECTIVES: Awareness, quality education and advocacy

AGENCIES: Creative Laboratories, Ranevents (PR)

COMMUNICATION TARGETS: Facebook Page – 500 likes / month; 3% engagement rate; YouTube Videos – 5,000 views / video; 
Influencers: about 40 posts in social media; Media: 25 items (print, online, TV, radio)

PARTNERSHIP: The Ministry of Education partnered with Salvați Copiii in August 2017. This allows the NGO to be in schools for trainings, workshops, but also to advocate for changing legislation (including how education management is regulated – our note).

THE OUTCOME: The collaboration between Salvați Copiii and the Ministry of Education will be “a document for public policy”, according to the Ministry’s press office. They didn’t offer details on what changes that document will produce in children’s lives at school.

(Sources: Salvați Copiii / Save the Children, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Finance)

***

© About the author:

Larisa Ghițulescu is a self-employed professional in the communications industry. Education, mass-media, leadership and mountaineering are her top areas of interest.

She is working with students at the Faculty of Journalism and Communication Sciences – University of Bucharest, as an instructor and adviser. Throughout her 20-year activity, she has served as a Head of Communications and consultant for both private and public organizations. She has gathered an impressive collection of case-studies since the early 2000s, when she started to keep an eye and report on the media and advertising businesses, as a financial journalist. She broke stories on transactions and deals behind closed doors.

Larisa studied Journalism and Communications Sciences at the University of Bucharest and holds a Master’s Degree in Mass-Media Management. She conducted an anthropological study on how mass-media change people’s behaviors and attitudes (for her graduation paper). Later on, she ran a survey on Leadership in the Romanian media industry (for the Master Program she attended).

***

Acknowledgements (for valuable insights and research): Prof. Peter Blatchford, Institute of Education, University College London (UCL); Dinu Boboc, journalist; Dumitrel Toma, teacher, Danubius High-School Călărași (city); Dorin Fiscutean, teacher, National College, Iași (city); Adriana Sănduleasa, school manager, Siliștea-Gumești (village).

***

This article was written with the contribution of the following students at the Faculty of Journalism and Communication Sciences – University of Bucharest: Anda Popescu, Angelica Pîslaru, Claudia Preda, Delia Negoiță, Elena Năstase, Georgiana Oprea, Francisc Oprea, Iulia Popa, Mihaela Pătrașcu, Narcis Neagoe.

***

Do you want a presentation? Send an e-mail: contact[at]larisaghitulescu[dot]ro, SUBJECT: Children

***

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