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A Valparaiso University professor of education is working with UNICEF in Oman on an initiative to make schools operate in the best interests of the child.

Jan Westrick, a professor of education, is part of the joint project between UNICEF’s Child Friendly Schools concept and Oman’s Ministry of Education. Child Friendly Schools emerged in the 1990s following the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989, which declares that all boys and girls in the world are entitled not only to a quality education but basic human rights. The approach is being used in more than 100 countries.

In Oman, Westrick is helping the country move forward with Child Friendly Schools. Her work includes holding workshops and preparing materials for schools.

“The concept of a child rights-based education to me is very appealing because I think it’s a morally strong standpoint,” Westrick said. “If you say that children have the right to quality education, it sets a high bar for society.”

Westrick said saying children have the right to things like clean water might sound simple until you look at the recent crisis of contaminated water in Flint, Michigan.

“We don’t talk about the language of rights as much in this country, we sort of assume it,” she said. “But if you actually have to sign on the dotted line and say yes, children have the right to clean water, and if we say children have the right to play, this would really question some of the changes people have been trying to make in education. Some schools in some states have been saying ‘no more recess’ even for young children.”

Westrick first visited Oman almost a decade ago to work with a company that helped design and implement a program for secondary principals. When the Child Friendly School initiative reached Oman, she was asked to get involved. In the last three or four years Westrick has been in Oman eight to 10 times.

Westrick said she’s involved with the project because having lived internationally for 25 years, she’s studied cultural differences and leadership and loves working with professional development.

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“And all of those kind of come together in this setting,” she said.

Westrick said the more she thinks, researches and writes, the more she respects the choice to put child rights at the center of the education system.

“I think it calls us to address issues of inequality, which I don’t think we’ve been able to do in this country,” she said.

Westrick has also done work in Macedonia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Uzbekistan. A professor at VU for 12 years, Westrick plans to return to Oman this spring to continue work on the UNICEF initiative.

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Lake County reporter

Rob covers urban affairs and other matters in Crown Point, St. John, Winfield and beyond. Previously he covered Valparaiso, Hammond, Gary and East Chicago. He's also written for various magazines and pens a culture blog for The Times.