25 SES 05, Actively Seeking Children’s Views
For nearly two decades, the author has focused, through teacher education, conference participation, and parent and community forums on advocating for the participation rights of the child through the exposition of children’s own words on matters that affect them. The foundation argument in each of these endeavours has premised the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (United Nations, 1989). However, in the focused pursuit of giving voice to children such an approach may indeed be completely wrong. Perhaps by offering such a close alignment with the UNCRC, a disservice to children and their capacity to make themselves heard has occurred. Why does the child’s voice need to be inexorably linked to an international treaty that by virtue of its construction can only be enacted by adults? Why can’t their voices, their words and their opinions stand alone as evidence of their capacity to contribute to the common good? At face value the UNCRC presents a clear mandate for advocating for a range of rights that are uniquely elaborated for children beyond the articles of the UNHDR however when one seeks to present children’s perspectives alongside these mandates evidence of a critical engagement with the UNCRC is often absent (Reynaert, Bouverne-De Bie, & Vandevelde, 2010). As a consequence, not only are children’s rights advocates called to defend their advocacy but also the document from which their premise is framed.
Such a dilemma has caused the author to revisit with a critical, albeit retrospectively coloured eye, the UNCRC to consider whether advocacy for children’s participation is helped or hindered by reference to this ubiquitous manifest. It is well established now that in developing strategies for child engagement, the inclusion of children’s perspectives enables a shared understanding, particularly in terms of what Komulainen (2007, p. 25) identifies as, “what is real” to the children, and “what matters”. However, such consultation with children remains sporadic in many systems. Across educational settings there is a divergence of opinion between teachers on the matter of student voice. In some settings there is an active willingness to include children’s perspectives on some educational matters affecting them however, in others there remains a sense that teachers have little trust in children’s capacity to hold or express a valid opinion.
Despite a growing awareness of children’s capacities that is enshrined within the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) (United Nations, 1989) the prevailing view remains, that the child’s voice is worthy of only selective attention, most notably in education environments. Children are routinely not trusted to think for themselves on matters of importance, as they are considered more susceptible to the need to connect with their peers than with educational concerns. Consequently, teachers continue to control ‘at all costs’ the decision-making processes within their classrooms. This view perpetuates despite the evidence of children’s capacity to actively engage with complex notions is well established (Einarsdottir, 2005; Gillett-Swan, 2014; Harcourt & Hägglund, 2012; Messiou, 2008; Robinson & Taylor, 2013 Sargeant & Harcourt, 2012; Gillett-Swan & Sargeant, 2014; Sargeant, 2010, 2014a, 2014b; Sargeant & Gillett-Swan, 2015).
Further to this, the United Nations have provided elaborations on what children’s capacity means in practice (United Nations, 2009) asserting that capacity should be assumed to be present rather than as a pre-condition as is often the case, particularly with young children and those with special needs (Coates & Vickerman, 2013). Despite Sanders and Mace (2006) note that children’s own perception of competence rate higher than is attributed to them by adults they remain in a subordinate role defined by adults, ironically, further limiting their participation (Smith, 2007).
Coates, J., & Vickerman, P. (2013). A review of methodological strategies for consulting children with special educational needs in physical education. European Journal of Special Needs Education, 28(3), 1–15. doi:10.1080/08856257.2013.797705 Cohen, L., Manion, L., & Morrison, K. (2007). Research Methods in Education. London; New York: Routledge. Einarsdottir, J. (2005). We can decide what to play! Children’s perception of quality in an Icelandic playschool. Early Education and Development, 16(4), 469–488. Gillett-Swan, J. K. (2014). Investigating tween children’s capacity to conceptualise the complex issue of wellbeing. Global Studies of Childhood, 4(2), 64–76. Gillett-Swan, J. K., & Sargeant, J. (2014). Wellbeing as a Process of Accrual: Beyond Subjectivity and Beyond the Moment. Social Indicators Research, 1–14. Komulainen, S. (2007). The ambiguity of the child’s “voice”in social research. Childhood, 14(1), 11–28. Messiou, K. (2008). Understanding children’s constructions of meanings about other children: implications for inclusive education. Journal of Research in Special Educational Needs, 8(1), 27–36. Reynaert, D., Bouverne-De Bie, M., & Vandevelde, S. (2010). Children’s rights education and social work: Contrasting models and understandings. International Social Work, 53(4), 443–456. doi:10.1177/0020872809355367 Robinson, C., & Taylor, C. (2013). Student voice as a contested practice: Power and participation in two student voice projects. Improving Schools, 16(1), 32–46. Sanders, R., & Mace, S. (2006). Agency policy and the participation of children and young people in the child protection process. Child Abuse Review, 15(2), 89–109. Sargeant, J. (2010). The altruism of pre-adolescent children’s perspectives on “worry” and “happiness” in Australia and England. Childhood-a Global Journal of Child Research, 17(3), 411–425. Sargeant, J. (2014a). Adults’ Perspectives on Tweens’ Capacities: Participation or Protection? Children Australia, 39(01), 9–16. doi:10.1017/cha.2013.36 Sargeant, J. (2014b). Prioritising student voice: “Tween” children’s perspectives on school success. Education 3-13, 42(2), 190–200. doi:10.1080/03004279.2012.668139 Sargeant, J., & Gillett-Swan, J. (2015). Empowering the disempowered through Voice Inclusive Practice (VIP): Children’s views on adult-centric educational provision. European Educational Research Journal. Sargeant, J., & Harcourt, D. (2012). Doing ethical research with children. Maidenhead, UK; New York: Open University Press/McGraw Hill. United Nations. Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989).
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