25 SES 07, Special Call Session B - Inclusion and the Right to Participation
Article 12 and Article 13 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child provides that an underage person has a right to freedom of expression and that the state is obliged to ensure the implementation of this right in all situations concerning the child. Following this thought, the child also has a right to express their opinion in educational institutions, including preschools. The child is a competent person who has an inherent right and ability to take part in all the decision-making concerning their life (Harris, Manatakis 2013). Such assumptions are consistent with the studies conducted by Glenda MacNaughton, Kylie Smith and Heather Lawrence. Based on their results, children are the main experts of their own lives as well as active constructors of meanings (2003). By giving meaning to the surrounding reality, they use their own voice and wisdom. For this reason, the issue of (non)existence of a child’s voice in educational relations is significant from the point of view of a pedagogical reflection (Groenwald 2016).
The significance of this matter is twofold. First of all, it is about capturing the actual (non)existence of a child’s voice in preschool or school, and the conditions for such situation. Educational institutions are places where children and adolescents spend a significant amount of their time (Mikiewicz 2016, Korczak 2014:52). In principle, these should be places created especially for them, where they can satisfy their needs instead of only submitting to the prevailing hegemony. Secondly, it is important to know the opinions of young teachers on respecting children’s right to freedom of expression. Their knowledge and attitudes in this matter shed light on the quality of teacher’s training, especially when it comes to people who are preparing for working with children in preschool and early school age.
In this context, it is important to ask a question about the quality of academic training concerning the issue of children’s rights. Despite the obligation imposed by Article 42 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and social campaigns conducted by the Ombudsman for Children and some international organizations, numerous studies show huge deficiencies in the formal education of adults in this matter (cf. Babicka-Wirkus 2015, Shumba 2003). The ignorance of future teachers as well as socially approved practices of treating children as beings of little life experience that cannot make rational decisions can lead to the teachers (adults) not listening to what children want to say to them and consequently, '(…) it results in promoting the culture of silence amongst children. A perfect example of such situation is a Polish saying: Children and fish have no voice" (Babicka-Wirkus 2015: 129).
On the basis of our qualitative studies, two separate ways of perceiving the significance of nonadults’ voice in the early childhood education process have emerged. The first one, relating to the affirmation of free child expression, is typical for personal declarations of young educators. The second way is about practicing children’s silence in preschool and it characterizes the events described by aspiring teachers, witnessed during their professional practice. On this basis, we have identified the mechanism of inclusion and the mechanism of exclusion of child’s voice in preschool. The analysis of the empirical data also enabled us to indicate and explain the causes of the true picture of the dominant adult voice in the preschool environment.
The study 'Children’s rights in everyday school life. Dilemmas of young teachers' was conducted in June 2017. It involved 76 female students of the following specializations: early childhood education (51 students from the University of Gdańsk, Poland) and elementary education (26 students from the Pomeranian University in Słupsk, Poland), who had completed professional teaching practice. The aim of the study was to recognize the meanings that the students give to children’s rights and the role these rights play in everyday preschool life. The issue of reviewing the respondents’ knowledge of children’s rights was also significant. For this reason, a quality approach was adopted in the study. It enabled to identify the students’ real opinions and views on this matter (Creswell 2014). In order to fulfill the abovementioned objectives, the participants were asked for a written answer to the following questions: 1. What is your attitude to the saying ‘Children and fish have no voice’? How often does this reflect in the preschool practice? 2. What do children’s rights mean to you? 3. How often were the issues of human rights and children’s rights discussed throughout the course? Which academic subjects explored these issues? 4. In your opinion, which children’s rights are most significant in preschool and early school practice? Give reasons. The students answered the questions read to them at regular intervals. Thus, they did not know all the questions right from the beginning of the study, so that their answerers would not be suggested by other questions. The process of data classification and selection was inspired by a phenomenographic approach and involved choosing answers that differed from each other the most and putting similar answers in the same group in order to extract key categories for describing a particular phenomenon. The analysis of the gathered empirical material was carried out in several stages. Firstly, the text was reduced. Then, as a result of comparing answers and grouping them, a more condensed version of the material emerged. The final stage was formulating the conclusions (Miles, Huberman 1994). The theoretical background of discussion of our empirical data was Paolo Freire's theory of pedagogy of the oppressed and Ranciere's concept of schooling.
The majority of the students assigned significant value to children’s statements and respected the idea of attentively listening to children which resulted from: identifying a child as a fully-fledged human being, the knowledge children posses that adults can draw from, honesty and innocence of a child who is not yet involved in social conventions, children’s creativity and open-mindedness. In the respondents’ answers, there was a clear trend of underestimating a child’s voice in everyday preschool practices. In such situations, children’s voices are oppressed because the following are attributed to them: lack of knowledge and experience, immaturity and inability to think, lack of their own opinion, unreality of their voices, associating their expression with clamor and noise. Based on the research, the following mechanisms of inclusion of a child’s voice we diagnosed: active listening to children, treating their statements as a source of information about their lives, not disregarding a preschooler’s voice, indicating socially established limits and possible consequences of actions. The typical mechanisms of exclusion included: blocking a child’s voice, disregarding a child’s voice and not informing children about their rights. We also diagnosed mechanisms blocking children’s expression in preschool. These include: the cult of formal correctness (having good reputation among adults, managing a child’s voice/actions, the way of managing the facility), poverty of language situations, lack of consent to a child’s personal language, verbal and non-verbal violence (shouting, evoking fear, forcing and punishing).
Babicka-Wirkus A. (2015a). Uczeń (nie) biega i (nie) krzyczy. Rytuały oporu jako przejaw autoekspresji młodzieży [Students (do not) run and (do not) shout. The rituals of resistance as an aspekt of youth’s self-expression]. Kraków, Oficyna Wydawnicza „Impuls”. Biesta G. (2011), Learner, Student, Speaker: Why it matters how we call those we teach. W: M. Simons, J. Masschelein, (eds.), Rancière, Public Education and the Taming of Democracy. Oxford, Wiley-Blackwell. Creswell J.W. (2014) Research Design: Qualitative, Quantitative and Mixed Methods Approaches, Los Angeles, London, New Delhi,Singapore, Washington DC, SAGE. Freire P. (2007). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. 30th Anniversary Edition. Trans. M. Bergman Ramos, New York – London, Continuum. George S. (2009), To young for respect? Realising respect for young children in their everyday environments. A cross-cultural analysis, Working Paper No. 54. The Hague, The Netherlands, Bernard van Leer Foundation. Groenwald M. (2016) Szkoła milczących praw dziecka [The School of Children's Silent Rights]. in: I. Surina, A. Babicka-Wirkus (eds.), Prawa dziecka w przestrzeni edukacyjno-społecznej [Children's Rights in socio-educational space]. Kraków, Oficyna Wydawnicza „Impuls”. Harris P., Manatakis H. (2013), Children’s Voices. A principled framework for children and young people’s participation as valued citizens and learners. Government of South Australia, https://www.decd.sa.gov.au/sites/g/files/net691/f/childrens-voices-framework.pdf, 11.08.2017. Jones P., Welch S. (2010), Rethinking Children’s Rights. Attitudes in Contemporary Society. London-New York, Continuum. MacNaughton G., Smith K. & Lawrence H. (2003), Hearing young children’s voices. ACT Children’s Strategy: Consulting with children birth to eight years of age. Parkville, Victoria, Centre for Equity and Innovation in Early Childhood, Faculty of Education, The University of Melbourne, https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/f339/e6fa99aa3c57e446a7df58deaa16431d5a18.pdf, 20.10.2017. Mikiewicz P. (2016), Socjologia edukacji. Teorie, koncepcje, pojęcia [Sociology of Education. Theories, concepts, categories]. Warszawa, Wydawnictwo Naukowe PWN. Miles M.B., Huberman A.M. (1994), Qualitative Data Analysis: An Expected Sourcebook, SAGE. Osler A., Starkey H. (2010), Teachers and Human Rights Education. London, Institute of Education Press. Rancière J. (1991), The Ignorant Schoolmaster. Five Lessons in Intellectual Emancipation. Trans. K. Ross. Stanford, Stanford University Press. Shumba A. (2003), Children’s Rights in Schools: What do Teachers Know? „Child Abuse Review” 12. DOI 10.1002/car.800. Tomaševski K. (2001), Human Rights Obligations: Making Education Available, Accessible, Acceptable and Adaptable. Lund, Sweden, Raoul Wallenburg Institute. Verhellen E. (2000), Children’s rights and education. in: A. Osler (ed.), Citizenship and Democracy in Schools: Diversity, Identity, Equality. Trentham, Stoke-on-Trent.
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