25 SES 02, Children's Participation in School Governance and School Improvement
The Convention on the right of the child (CRC) was adopted by the UN General Assembly on 20 November 1989. This treaty gives the child a place of subject of rights, by dedicating him rights linked with his protection, his participation and the promotion of his rights. These three axes influence – or should influence – the school experience of children. Children have rights to, in and through education (Verhellen, 1999), which means that every child should be able to know and to experience his rights in a daily life basis, and especially at school (Philips, 2016).
Several studies have shown the positive impact of the implementation of children's rights in school, not only for pupils, but also for teachers and for the general school climate. While bringing out formal and informal learning by including skills, values and attitudes related to children’s rights, rights respecting schools enables students and teachers to develop pro-social behaviours and influences the well-being of these different actors. Education for children's rights leads pupils to become aware of their role in society and in the implementation of their rights and those of others (Quennerstedt, 2011; McCowan, 2012; Covell & Howe, 1999, 2001; Covell 2010; Covell, NcNeil & Howe, 2009; Howe & Covell, 2005).
However, participatory rights of the child are little present in everyday life and school tradition. As highlighted by Jeff (2002) the education system leaves little space for the exercise of children’s rights, giving priority instead to an authoritarian and less participative mode of operation. Pupils haven’t a lot of space to express their views about their school experience at any level of the school system, which hinder the implementation of children’s rights in school. Children are excluded from school governance and have no power in decisions taken about the school system – which is also their school system, and which affect their personal and collective experience.
How could those participatory practices get implemented in the school system? How do structures and process of inclusion and exclusion of pupils in school governance have an impact on children’s rights implementation in the daily experience of children? What does it mean to include pupils in school governance? What are the challenges and the opportunities of implementing participatory children's rights at school? Which influence does it have on the societal and individual development of the different actors involved in the school experience?
This paper focuses on the participation of pupils in the school system. After a presentation of what is understood under the notion of children’s rights in and through education, how CRC could be translated in practices in the school context, and what are the implications of such an implementation, this contribution will underline the challenges and the opportunities of the inclusion of pupils in the school governance relying on examples from a case studies research conducted about children’s rights education in the Swiss system.
This contribution will illustrate the implications of the inclusion of children in the school governance by relying on the Swiss system. Examples will be drawn from a wider PhD research about children’s rights education in the school context in Switzerland. To conduct this research, case studies methodology was chosen, to fit with the complexity of the research question and to allow us to understand the context of children’s rights education in Switzerland and related practices . A mixed methodology composed of several data collection strategies was adopted. More precisely, three schools were selected, following their sensitiveness to children’s rights. In the aim to understand different point of view, teachers were approached with a survey and an individual interview, school directors where invited to express themselves through individual interviews, pupils were able to give their voice through a focus group, and non-participant observations were conducted. To contextualize these views, an analysis of official texts (law, curricula, etc.) was conducted. This research and this methodology follow a strict ethical framework and were accepted by the ethical commission of University of Geneva.
The purposes of this contribution are in one hand to highlight what it means to implement the participatory rights of students in school and in the other hand to show that, even if research show the importance and the positive impact of implementing children’s rights in school, the school system isn’t very open to children’s participation and to include children in its governance. Pupils are mostly excluded from the power issues that are played in the school system. This point will be illustrated with examples based on the Swiss laws, but also on the discourses of different actors directly concerned by the life of school, which were analysed in the context of a research conducted in Switzerland.
Covell, K. & Howe, R. B. (1999). The impact of children’s rights education: A Canadian study. The International Journal of Children’s Rights, 7, 171-183. Covell, K. & Howe, R. B. (2001). Moral education through the 3Rs: Rights, respect and responsability. Journal of Moral Education, 30(1), 29-41. Covell, K. (2010). School engagement and rights-respecting schools. Cambridge Journal of Education 40(1), 39-51. Covell, K., McNeil, J. K. & Howe, R. B. (2009). Reducing teacher burnout by increasing student engagement. School psychology international, 30(3), 282-290. Howe, R. B. & Covell, C. (2005). Empowering children: Children’s rights education as a pathway to citizenship. Toronto, Canada: University of Toronto Press. Jeff, T. (2002). Schooling, education and children’s rights. In B. Franklin (Ed.), The new handbook of children’s rights: comparative policy and practice (p. 45-59), London, United Kingdom: Routledge. McCowan, T. (2012). Human rights within education: Assessing the justifications. Cambridge Journal of Education, 42(1), 67-81. Covell & Howe, 1999, 2001; Phillips, L. G. (2016). Educating children and young people on the UNCRC : actions, avoidance and awakenings. In J. Gillett-Swan & V. Coppock (Eds.), Children’s Rights, Educational Research and the UNCRC: past, present, future (p. 39-59). Oxford, United Kingdom: Symposium Books. Verhellen, E. (1999) Quennerstedt, A. (2011). The construction of children’s rights in education – a research synthesis. The International Journal of Children’s Rights, 19, 661-678. Verhellen, E. (1999). La Convention relative aux droits de l’enfant. Louvain, Belgique : Garant.
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