25 SES 04, Discourse and Policy Perspectives on Children's Rights
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1989. Since then, the world has seen many changes particularly through the increasing digitalisation of communication and accessibility in many fields relevant to children and to education. In striving to ensure children’s ‘best interests’ (article 3) are of primary consideration, teachers, researchers, and those involved in children’s lives have a significant responsibility to ensure that their knowledge and practices align with the mandates of the Convention.
While the world has seen rapid and significant change since the adoption of the Convention, the Convention itself has not changed since its inception (with the exception of one change to the number of members on the committee being altered from ten to eighteen in Article 43 para 2 during 2002). Even without any changes or modernisation to the Convention over time, there has been an increasing international focus, development and research on children’s rights since its adoption. Part of this increased attention in research stems from the Sociology of Childhood (Corsaro, 2005; James & James, 2010; Jenks, 2005; Mayall, 2013; Wyness, 2012), but also is due in part to the role of the Committee on the Rights of the Child (hereafter the Committee).
The Committee on the Rights of the Child play an important role in furthering an agenda for children’s rights internationally. To support the Convention, the Committee releases General Comments that provide clarification on specific articles in the Convention and discuss important questions linked to children’s rights. However, while these General Comments are not legally binding or as well known as the Convention, they are considered important documents for the interpretation and understanding of the UNCRC and integrally related. While the General Comments have had significant impact on informing policy and practice (Thomas, 2011), there is significantly less focus on the importance of these documents as informing research practice – particularly in education.
Through investigating the developments that have occurred towards children’s educational rights since the Convention’s conceptualisation, this study aims to draw attention to the significance of the interrelationship between the UNCRC and the General Comments. By drawing attention to the importance of the interconnectedness of these documents, the goal is also to encourage the deeper understanding and use of these texts in educational research and practice. This also demonstrates how the Convention reflects changing priorities affecting children and their educational rights in contemporary society.
This work forms part of a larger project that critically examines General Comments and their relevance and applicability in a range of contemporary contexts. In starting with the first General Comment(United Nations, 2001) this part of the study maps the evolution of children’s best interests in the context of education in General Comments across time. This mapping was guided by the research questions; How are children’s rights in education manifested in General Comments across time, and what are the implications of this for children’s best interests? In investigating these aspects, this study highlights how these documents should not be read in isolation. This ensures the contemporary relevance of the Convention in its application to current society particularly through focusing on the enacting of children’s rights in education. Using a hermeneutic lens (Gadamer, 2004), this study critically examines the Convention and the General Comments in the context of their educational relevance and application.
The UNCRC and the General Comment texts were examined in this study through utilising the qualitative approach of document analysis (Bowen, 2009). Analysis techniques used in this approach included a combination of constant comparison, keywords-in-context, word count, and classical content analysis (Leech & Onwuegbuzie, 2007). The texts were examined from a deductive starting point. Through presenting the systematic process from which the documents were analysed, the transferability and replicability of the approach can then also be presented. The first step in the process was to obtain a holistic overview of all published General Comments. The adoption of the first General Comment relevant to the UNCRC, was in 2001. This was General Comment No. 1 (2001) Article 29 (1): The Aims of Education. This document is particularly relevant for the study, both because the main focus is education and this was the first document released. Since 2001, twenty three General Comments have been published. The most recent General Comment was adopted in 2017: Joint General Comment No. 3 of the CMW and No. 22 of the CRC in the context of International Migration: General principles. From this initial reading, a selection of documents was chosen to represent the General Comments most relevant to education. This included the first and last published General Comments. The second step was a systematic and thorough analysis of the selected texts with attention to education and aspects of education in the study. An analysis grid was developed that included document specific information such as the exact location of the quote, the complete quote, and the researcher’s initial interpretations/notes. The third step was to conduct a systematic refinement search in the chosen documents, through the document analysis process of keywords in context and word count. By using the word-search feature, a summary analysis grid was then developed to record the key features identified through the analysis. This was done in terms of context, relevance, and frequency and was then used as a basis for the remainder of the analysis processes. The whole process led to the recontextualization of the material, through its decontextualization (Vogt, 2009). By working in this reductionist way, it was possible to elicit new meaning from the extracted texts and identify the links between the General Comments and children’s educational rights over time.
This paper focuses on one aspect of selected General Comments content and their applicability in the context of education. It is anticipated that the interpretation of the Convention’s articles and General Comments relevant to education will change their focus and prioritisation of educational application of the UNCRC Articles over time. In doing so, each of the Articles then become more contextually relevant without changing the initial intent or meaning of the original Convention’s text. It is anticipated that the change in interpretation across time as relevant to education will reflect some of the ideas posited by Biesta (2014, 5) such as a focus on both, “how we can get the world into our children and students [and] how we can help our children and students engage with, and thus come into, the world.” While many of the conclusions will be revealed through the analysis, the importance of this work is emphasised as the General Comments provide perhaps the only way that the Convention can be contemporised and responsive to the evolving nature of society over time. The extent that discussions of specific aspects of each of these documents are reflective of an individual as opposed to a collectively oriented approach to children’s rights will also demonstrate trends in the changing nature of interpreting the UNCRC through General Comments over time. The intertwined relationship between the Committee and research has significant implications for future development of the UNCRC through future General Comments. The Committee refer to research in developing General Comments and encourage States parties to use relevant research in different ways (United Nations, 2016). This emphasises the importance the Committee places on children’s rights research and presents an important opportunity for researchers to instigate change and impact for children’s rights internationally now and into the future.
Biesta, G. J. J. (2014). Beautiful risk of education, Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers. Biesta, G. (2009). Good education in an age of measurement: on the need to reconnect with the question of purpose in education, Educational Assessment, Evaluation and Accountability, 21(1), 33-46. Bowen, G.A. (2009). Document analysis as a qualitative research method, Qualitative Research Journal, 9(2), 27 – 40. Corsaro, W. (2005). The Sociology of Childhood (2nd ed). United Kingdom: Sage Publications, Inc. Gadamer, H.G. (2004). Truth and method. (2rd ed), London: Continuum International Publishing Group.James, A. & James, A. (2004). Constructing childhood: Theory, policy and social practice. London: Palgrave Macmillan. Jenks, C. (2005). Childhood (2nd ed). London: Routledge. Leech, N. L. & Onwuegbuzie, A. J. (2007) An array of qualitative data analysis tools: A call for data analysis triangulation, School Psychology Quarterly, 22(4), 557-584. Mayall, B. (2013). A history of the sociology of childhood. London: IOE Press. Quennerstedt, A & Quennerstedt, M. (2014). Researching children’s rights in education: sociology of childhood encountering educational theory, British Journal of Sociology of Education, 35(1), 115-132. Quennerstedt, A. (2011). The construction of children’s rights in education – a research synthesis, International Journal of Children’s Rights, 19, 661-678. United Nations (1989). United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). Geneva: United Nations. Vogt, P.T. (2009). Interpreting the Pentateuch: An Exegetical Handbook,Grand Rapids,MI: Kregel Publications Wyness, M. (2012). Childhood and society (2nd ed). Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan.
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