25 SES 03 A, Macro perspectives: policy and reviews
Research into children’s rights issues in educational contexts has grown significantly during the three decades since the adoption of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989. From just a handful of publications each year during the 1990s, the volume has increased ten-fold, and we can now distinguish a research field in its own right. The research field is still limited in scope, however – only a marginal part of educational research takes rights aspects into consideration, and the main body of research into children’s rights is found in social studies and law. A broad range of research foci, as well as theoretical and methodological approaches, have developed in the field over the three decades. The field continues to gain in maturity, displaying differing and contrasting basic viewpoints on children’s rights issues in education. Such intra-field contestation and critique invigorates academic discussion and provides grounding for research development and sharpened thinking.
In this paper we present an examination of thirty years of educational children’s rights research. The study has two aims, first to characterise the research fieldand identify its main achievements and gaps. This is done by systematically analysing the published scholarship and specifically highlighting:
- major research foci in the field during the last three decades, and how these have changed and expanded over time;
- theoretical and methodological characteristics of the field;
- gaps in the research field, concerning research foci, theory and methodology.
The second aim is to identify and discuss future prospects and suggest some possible routes forward for educational children’s rights research.
Two earlier reviews of children’s rights research (Reynaert et al., 2009; Quennerstedt, 2011) provide a backdrop to our analysis. Both these studies identified areas that form the main research interests in the field, and discussed key concerns about children’s rights research; notably, a predominance of studies focused on technical implementation issues, a large degree of attention paid to participation, a consensus among researchers surrounding the topic of children’s rights (i.e. lack of intra-field contestation and critique) and a generally low level of theorising. Insights gained in these reviews have been followed up in this analysis.
Our examination is a systematic analysis of a research field, therefore it is neither a meta-analysis nor a systematic review as we do not seek to establish evidence or summarise findings. Our analysis however includes features from both approaches – in line with a systematic review we do not claim to include all available educational children’s rights research, but in line with a meta-analysis we have attempted to find a large proportion of it. Our study resembles a research synthesis by seeking characteristics and patterns, although not with a focus on findings but on research themes and other characteristics; findings are considered but these are not the central focus. A systematic search for research publications was conducted using different search engines, in English and French: EBSCO and ERIC in all languages and Cairn.info as well as Erudit.org for French papers. Original peer-reviewed work published between 1989 and 2019 and matching the following search terms, either in the title or in the abstract, were selected for further screening. English: children’s rights AND education; school; early childhood education; teacher; teaching. French: droits de l’enfant ET éducation; école; enseignant; scolarisation; instruction/instruire; enseigner. The publications included (N=223, 194 in English and 29 in French) were then analysed with the ambition to identify the main focus of the text and its theoretical, methodological and empirical contribution. The first step of the analysis was to group the publications according to the well-established categorisation (see e.g. Verhellen, 1993) of rights-related issues in relation to education: (a) the right to education; (b) rights in education; (c) rights through education. A miscellaneous theme for publications that did not fit into any of these categories was also added. The second step of the analysis was to screen the full publications within each theme. The following questions were directed to each publication: 1. What is the main problem addressed and what are the main findings? 2. How is theory used and which theories are used? 3. Which methods are used and what data is produced? The third and final step of the analysis consisted in identifying and naming the research foci within the themes rights to, in and through education, then identifying theoretical and methodological characteristics within each theme. We also examined how research attention to the three themes and theoretical and methodological features have changed over time. Finally, an intercultural comparison was undertaken.
Educational children’s rights research during the three last decades has reached substantial achievements and has, on the whole, been an important driving force for introducing children’s rights thinking into education policy and practice. Scholarly work has particularly: o raised awareness of how complicated the right to education is; o highlighted that, for several groups of children, the right to education is not fully met; o made the idea of children’s participation, views and voice hugely influential in educational settings; o framed bullying and violence in schools in human rights language; o put children as holders of civil rights on the agenda; o clarified that teachers are the most important adults for children’s rights to be respected in preschool and school; o demonstrated good effects of rights education on children’s knowledge and awareness of rights, and indicated that a rights-infused learning environment may have wider positive effects; o pointed to the importance of curriculum support for the realisation of rights education; o highlighted that teachers’ knowledge and skills for educating children about rights seems to be insufficient, and that their views on such education is ambiguous. In respect to future prospects for educational children’s rights research a couple of under-researched areas are identified, namely issues around gender and sexual orientation and studies of concrete rights related work in classrooms. Troublesome consequences of the overrepresentation of Western scholars in the research field is further pointed out. A main finding of the study is a lack of core educational/pedagogical questions in the research field. Our analysis shows that little educational children’s rights research actually examine matters such as teaching processes, learning processes, educational content, the pedagogical classroom situation, etc. We conclude that the field of educational children’s rights research in the future need to engage more thoroughly in core educational issues.
Quennerstedt, A., “The construction of children’s rights in education – a research synthesis”, International Journal of Children’s Rights 2011 (19), 661–678. Reynaert, D., Bouverne-de Bie, M. and Vandevelde, S., “A review of children’s rights literature since the adoption of the United Nations convention on the rights of the child”, Childhood 2009 (16(4)), 518–534. Verhellen, E., “Children’s Rights and Education: A Three-Track Legally Binding Imperative”, School Psychology International 1993 (14(3)), 199–208.
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