25 SES 10 A, Children's right to participation - School
The concept of agency is used by different disciplines such as sociology, psychology, philosophy and economy. However, it is still difficult to find an unanimous definition of it in the scientific literature (Mackezie, 2012; Garnier, 2015), because of its close links with different factors such as socio-cultural aspects, environments, individual abilities, rules and norms presents in a given context. In the field of Childhood Studies, the concept of agency means the understanding of children as social actors, able to influence their environments and interacting with the world in which (s)he evolves. The child is a “strategist, competent, self-aware and master of his choices” actor (Garnier, p. 167). This recognition of the child's status as a social actor is, among other things, made concrete through the participatory rights of the child, set out in the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and provides a bridge between childhood studies and children’s rights studies (Percy-Smith, 2012). However, even if the CRC underlines the importance of participatory rights, they are hardly ever present in the school practices (e.g. Quennerstedt, 2016) and school settings (e.g. Gillett-Swan & Sargeant, 2018), as the education system give priority to an authoritarian and less participative mode of organization (Sargeant & Gillett-Swan, 2015; Jeff, 2002).
What are the issues related to students’ agency? Can the agency express itself other than through the formal implementation of students' participatory rights? What are the agency's specific issues in the school context, particularly in terms of power relations and contextual mechanisms? In what way and under what conditions can a child’s expression be considered as agency? In this perspective, the aim of this paper is to define the concept of agency in the field of education, underlying the specific issues it raises, especially in relation with the particular power-relationship that exists between teachers and students and between knowing and learning people, so long as these dichotomies remain pertinent. By introducing the concept of agency into a broader and interdisciplinary conceptual network, covering the notions of capabilities, empowerment, reflexivity, and participation, we aim to underline the multifactorial issues linked with agency. The intention here is to show the links between these concepts, which we consider to be both vectors and foundations, for the expression of pupil’s agency.
Following Punch (2001) “children renegotiate adult-imposed boundaries and assert their autonomy, which can include decision-making, gaining control over one’s use of time and space, taking the initiative to do something and taking action to shape one’s own life” (p.3), we hypothesize that children’s and pupils’ agency isn’t always linked with participatory settings, and that it can manifest itself through various other ways (Camponovo, 2020). To illustrate this point, we will use concrete examples of children's ability to act and influence their socio-cultural environments in two different contexts mainly organized by adults: the school setting and the way to school.
This contribution aims to present the concretes examples of the expression of children’s agency in two different contexts built and organised by adults. Examples are taken from two different but complementary research projects conducted in Switzerland. The first is a cases study research on children’s rights and education conducted in four primary schools, two public and two private schools, in French-speaking Switzerland about formal and informal children’s rights education in primary school (between 4 and 12 years old). In this research, school principals, teachers and pupils were interviewed in the aim to discover the point of view of some of the main actors of the school system, and their discourses were nuanced with the data collected by non-participative observations and through the analyses of official documents (laws, curricula, school regulation, etc.). The results presented for this contribution will focus on the school facilities to strengthen the pupils' agency and participation, underlining the structural and power issues in the school context. The second research project, “Exploring the way to and from school with children: an interdisciplinary approach of children’s experiences of the third place” supported by Swiss National Science Foundation (n° request CR11I1_166050), analyses the notion of agency in the context of the journey travel to and from school in connection with the concepts of capability and reflexivity. 71 children (between 8 and 12 years old) from three different Swiss Alpine cantons (Graubünden, Ticino and Valais) have participated in this project. Built as a research with children and a mosaic approach (Clark, 2010) the methodological framework included three activities: first children were asked to draw their way to and from school and make a narration about their production, second children were accompanied by a researcher during an individual mobile interviews (Porter, Hampshire, Abane, Munthali, Robson, Mashiri & Maponya, 2010) and finally children took part in a Diamond Ranking activity (Clark, Laing Tiplady and Woolner, 2013), thoughout which they were required to classify different pictures about the way to and from school. Those two researches and methodologies follow a strict ethical framework and were accepted by the ethical commission of the Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences of the University of Geneva.
In the project on the way to and from school as in the project on children’s rights and education, data suggests that children’s daily lives remain mainly an adult affair: the rules and codes imposed by adults organizing the settings through which children evolve impact the free expression of children (see also Vygotski, 2004). We show that these constraints do not however completely neutralize the agency of children, by encouraging children to find other ways to act as social actors. Children’s reflexivity filters the resources or obstacles of the environment and use them as support for their actions (Stoecklin, 2012). Data shows that transgression is often used by children as a vector to express their ability to influence or modify their environment and the places where they live. The child transgresses but only after having thought about the effect that the action can have on him/her-self, on other people, on safety and on the context too. Transgression seems to be framed by the assessment of when the intervention of adult could be needed (Camponovo, 2020). This result is balanced with the results of the project about children’s rights and education, which show that school and adult-initiated disposals can limit but also improve children’s agency through recognition of children’s participation, and can have a big impact on power-relationship between adults and children (Louviot, Moody & Darbellay, 2020). These results will link the concept of agency with the concepts of empowerment, capabilities, children’s participation and power relationship in the field of education. Instead of concluding, we would like to open the discussion around the concept of agency to discuss other ways and other contexts to study it.
Camponovo, S. (2020, in press). Les enfants sur le chemin de l’école : tiers-lieu et agency. Revue des sciences sociales, 63, 120-127. Clark A. (2010), Young Children as Protagonists and the Role of Participatory, Visual Methods in Engaging Multiple Perspectives, Am J Community Psychol, vol. 46, p.115-123. Garnier, P. (2015). L’«agency» des enfants. Projet scientifique et politique des «childhood studies». Education et sociétés, 36, 159-173 Gillett-Swan, J. & Sargeant, J. (2018). Assuring children’s human right to freedom of opinion and expression in education. International Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 20(1), 120-127. 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. Louviot, M., Moody, Z. & Darbellay, F (2020), L’enfant et ses droits participatifs dans le contexte scolaire, le cas de la Suisse romande. Revue des sciences sociales, 64, 29-37. Mackenzie, C. (2012). Agency: un mot, un engagement. Rives méditerranéennes, 41, 35-37. Percy-Smith, B. (2012). Participation as mediation and social learning: empowering children as actor in social contexts. In Participation, facilitation and mediation: Children and young people in their social context (p.12-29). New York, NY: Routledge. Porter, G., Hampshire, K., Abane, A., Munthali, A., Robson, E., Mashiri, M. & Maponya, G. (2010). Where dogs, ghosts and lions roam: learning from mobile ethnographies on the journey from school. Children’s Geographies, 8(2), 91–105. Punch, S. (2001) ‘Negotiating Autonomy: Childhoods in Rural Bolivia’, in Alanen, L. and Mayall, B. (eds) Conceptualising Child-Adult Relations, London: RoutledgeFalmer, pp. 23-36. Quennerstedt, A. (2016). Children’s human rights at school – as formulated by children. International journal of children’s rights, 24, 657-677. Sargeant, J. & Gillett-Swan, J. K. (2015). Empowering the disempowered through voice-inclusive practice : children’s views on adult-centric educational provision. European educational research journal, 14(2), 177-191. Stoecklin, D. (2012). Droits et capabilité des enfants. Dans P. Meyer-Bisch (Éd.), L’enfant témoin et sujet (pp. 123-146). Genève, Suisse : Schulthess. Vygotski L.S. (2004), Imagination and Creativity. Childhood, Journal of Russian and East European Psychology, 42(1), 7-97.
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