Encouraging Empathy, Sharing Science, or Raising Awareness of Rights?
The Behavioral Insights Team (BIT) and the International Rescue Committee (IRC) partnered to explore whether an innovative approach–applying insights from the behavioral sciences, or the study of how people make decisions and why–could shed some light on the issue of physical punishment in schools. Our work takes place in Nyarugusu Refugee Camp in Tanzania–the third largest refugee camp in the world and home to nearly 140,000 refugees from neighboring Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. We designed educational modules for teachers and invited all IRC and Save the Children teachers living in Nyarugusu to participate, including both Congolese and Burundian refugee teachers. We tested three modules through a randomized controlled trial, which allowed us to compare one strategy often used in the violence-reduction field (a rights-based approach) and two innovative approaches drawing on the latest behavioral insights: Raising awareness of children's rights and the rules that protect them, Building empathy for children experiencing violence; and Sharing clinical evidence on the impact of violence against children.
To compare the effectiveness of the three modules, we offered teachers the option of signing up for a follow-up program (including receiving information via SMS and in-person sessions) to learn more about how to make their classrooms safe. We also asked them a few questions to gauge their attitudes towards the use of corporal punishment in schools.We found that the modules can be effective for different purposes and for different populations. On average, none of the modules was comparably more effective at driving enrollment in the follow-up program. When we analyze this by different groups, the module focused on the rights of children and school rules seems to be slightly more effective at driving enrollment among Burundians, women, and secondary-school teachers. We hypothesize that this may be because a more institutional or familiar message–focused on rights, laws, and expected conduct–may prompt more people to signal they are in compliance with such rules.
While the rules and rights-based approach can successfully encourage certain populations to enroll in a program or demonstrate compliance with the rules, it does not make teachers less accepting of corporal punishment. Where attitudes are concerned, both behaviorally-informed modules effectively reduce favorable views towards corporal punishment compared to the rules/rights based module. Overall, building empathy was the most effective way to change teachers' attitudes–particularly among Burundians, men, and primary-school teachers. Lastly, reflecting on values and identity significantly increased teachers' sense of self-efficacy, which may yield a number of positive outcomes for children.