One of the guiding values of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCROC) 1989 is participation, as well as one of its basic challenges. In the Convention, children’s contribution rights are restricted in the bunch of Articles 12 through 17 that pass on to public participation: right to have voices heard and measured (Art.12), right to freedom of expression (Art.13), right to beliefs (Art.14), right to association (Art.15), right to protection of privacy (Art.16), and the right to access appropriate information (Art.17) (Alderson, P. 2005). However, mainly article 12 and 13 of the Convention that focus on the rights of children to participate in all matters of concern to them, both in the family and in society (Sheridan & Samulesson, 2001). The principle recognizes that children are full-grown persons who have the right to articulate their views in all matters moving them and entails that those views be heard and given owed load in agreement with the child’s age and maturity. In addition, it recognizes the potential of children to develop administrative processes, to split perspectives and to take part as citizens and actors of change (Alderson, 2005). The children’s right of participation must virtually be measured in each and every stuff connecting to children. The children’s participation in this essay will be alert on Articles 12 & 13.
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B. Understanding the notion ‘children right to participation’
Human life is a continuum in which all periods should receive equal respect against the prevalent view that regards adulthood as the standard according to which other phases of human life weighed. Childhood is not as an impediment but rather as the first of many steps that makeup human life. Childhood emerges when young persons’ responsibility to protect themselves is taken over by the state, using its powers to recognise, shape and respond to what it perceives as the fundamental traits of young people. The need for safeguarding children’s wellbeing is widely acknowledged in theory and legislation in the Western world (UNCROC, 1989). Therefore, the recognition of children as rights-bearers, and the institution of basic rights for children have proved to be helpful in supporting children’s wellbeing (Benporath, 2003).
Understanding of children’s participation is still in its relative infancy, having only really begun to be widely explored in the early 1990s (Sheridan & Samulesson, 2001). From a system perspective, participation is quickly interpreted as a requirement for the well functioning of society (Jans, 2004). According to Stephenson (2004), the notion child participation can be defined as ‘children influencing issues affecting their lives, by speaking out or taking action in partnership with adults’. The energy behind child participation comes from:
– the growing emphasis on child rights
– good community development practice enabling people to address their own problems (Stephenson, Gourley & Miles, 2004).
C. Why child participation in decision making process?
Children create a picture of themselves from the message they get from the surroundings. If others particularly adults identify them as able and competent, children will come to see themselves in the same way. Therefore, Prout (in Woodhead, 1998) declares that ‘respect for children’s right to participation demands that children be viewed not just as subjects of study and concern, but also as subjects with concern’ (p.135).
Children need to have the self confidence and skills to explore, take on new challenges, test their theories about how the world works, make mistakes and discover unexpected consequences. This self confidence is more likely to occur when children are provided with an occasion to add to their own experiences and learning, sharing in the decisions about what they do and how they do it. If children have the right to express their own views, they must also be given the opportunities to develop standpoints and skills, which enable them to declare them (Sheridan & Samulesson, 2001).
Learning to make decisions is an important life skill. Just like any other skill it needs time and practice to master and refine. The early childhood setting is a safe environment in which to rehearse. The pre-school should be one place in which children can participate and practice influence and through participation learn that their opinions and feelings are respected and valued (Sheridan & Samulesson, 2001).
D. Children’s right to participate in early childhood settings and teachers’ role
Early experiences set children on developmental paths that become progressively more difficult to modify as they get older (Alderson, 2005). This fact has also been recognised in the discussion paper (for Australia) on ‘A national framework for early childhood education and care’ that says, “The early years of children’s learning and growth needs to be seen as vital in their own rights as well as being a base for life outcomes. During the early years children ask, discover and learn much about the world around them, establishing attitudes to learning that stay with them all the way through their lives” (Productivity Agenda Working Group, 2008).
The UNCROC emphasises for the development of child as a whole (Article 29(1)) and the contribution of early childhood education and care cannot be denied. In their daily lives, children mainly remain within and connect to three settings – their schools, home and recreational institutions (Rasmusen, 2004). These environments have shaped by adults therefore quality early childhood performance is built upon the distinctive role of the adult. The experience, dispositions, competencies, and understanding of adults, in addition to their ability to reflect upon their job, are necessary in sustaining and ensuring quality experiences for each child (Wyatt, 2004).
Therefore for high quality in pre-school, the children participation is an important criterion. However, for teachers in such settings, it can be difficult to facilitate children’s participation – to know the limits of child’s right to participation in decision making and the consequences of involvement of children in decision making processes and roles (Sheridan & Samulesson, 2001). It is the responsibility of early learning and child care practitioners to not just present children with facts, but to offer children opportunities to experiment, and to support them as they explore. Involving children as participant, providing them an opportunity to get engage and learn from the experiences (Alderson, 2000). For example when children play a part in singing and dancing, they may learn new words from the song. They start to gain bodily alertness through dancing; they learn that they can move in unique and artistic ways to the music and express themselves all the way through dance.
Does the Teacher or caregiver know what children like to do? Based on a research study, Sheridan & Samulesson (2001) says that most children gave answer to this question a definite ‘No!’ because children believe that the teachers don’t know what they like to do in the preschool (Sheridan & Samulesson, 2001). It is the right of the child to communicate and to develop skills to argue their standpoints. In order to be possible, an interactive environment that involves children is required (Saljo, 2000).
Therefore, carers can ensure that they acknowledge children as being competent and capable. Before starting any activity relating to children, the carers either consult them or ask their permission (Benporath, 2003). For example, before starting play or drawing activity and before packing away materials. Observe and listen to children, let them tell us what and how they want to learn, what they need to do and the way they want to do it. The carers should offer only genuine choices to the children and respect their decisions. Enough time should be given to children to do things in their own way. Sometimes overprotection may becomes an obstacle in children’s learning (Benporath, 2003), therefore, avoid being overprotective and encourage children to investigate and manipulate materials at their own pace and to try new things. However, at the same time carers should remain sensitive to each child’s ability and confidence and should know when to offer assistance as children attempt something unfamiliar.
When guiding children’s behaviour carers should be prepared to compromise in conflict situation and ask themselves that whether their demand from a child is reasonable or necessary. They should involve children in setting the rules and in decisions about acceptable behaviour in childhood setting. Children should be encouraged to use their own skills first in resolving a conflict, but carers should stay close enough to offer assistance and support the child when required. Carers can assure children by expressing their ability to deal with conflict in positive and constructive ways. The feelings of participating and being able to exercise influence seems to occur when a child asks the teacher something and the teacher says yes (Sheridan & Samulesson, 2001).
Participation cannot be genuine if children have no opportunity to decide. The child perceives the teacher as an authority and seems to take his / her right to decide for granted. What the teacher tells the child to do is also of real affective significance (Sheridan & Samulesson, 2001). But children should be consulted and their views should be considered. The UNCROC stipulates the right of children to express views freely and to get enough knowledge to make knowledgeable decision, although it does not entail compulsion for children to express their views (Article 13). However, it does not give children a universal right to decide and /or to supersede the decision of others. Decisions are to be made in an independent way, and parents (as well as teachers) should give appropriate direction and support when children presume their rights, as declared in the Convention (Article 5) (Sheridan & Samulesson, 2001).
Children are quiet certain that they can decide about their own play, their own belongings, some activities and about themselves (Sheridan & Samulesson, 2001). Therefore, choices and opportunities should be provided to children to make some decisions for themselves. For example, to select the book or activity for group time. Such opportunities to choose are easy for the child carer to put into practice, but can have thoughtful belongings on a child’s wisdom of empowerment and self confidence.
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E. Examining participation
In order to involve children in decision making in programmes / matters relating to them, we need to examine ourselves and our roles in relation to children. A balance should be adhered between the type and quality of participation that occurs. Children should be involved in a way that respects and supports their roles as decision makers. This is not an easy task. According to Lansdown (2005), the children participation in any programme can be measured from three dimensions which are (Lansdown, 2005);
Scope – The extent to which children are empowered to exercise agency within an initiative will be influenced by the degree to which they are participating. This perspective needs to be considered in respect of each potential stage of children’s involvement – what is being done?
Quality – Practically how far programme complies with some standards such as an ethical approach, child sensitive and enabling environment, voluntary and relevant participation, inclusive participation, secure environment, qualified dedicated and responsive staff, and community, professional and family links – how is it being done?
Impact – The impact of child participation will need to be assessed in accordance with the objective for involving them. For example, the objective might be to promote children’s self-esteem and build skills and confidence – why is it being done? (Lansdown, 2005).
If children’s participation is to be sustained, replicated, resourced and institutionalised into wider communities in which children live, it is necessary to begin to construct methods of measuring what is being done and how it is impacting on children’s lives. Only by doing so, and demonstrating its efficiency, will it be possible to argue the case for continuing investment in strategies to promote participation, and indeed, to build and share understanding of what constitutes effective participation (Lansdown, 2005).
F. Elements for children’s active participation in decision making
Child contribution stands on its own being a basic right of the child that requires a clear assurance and useful actions to become a living truth and therefore is much more than a simple policy or style (Alderson, 2005). Possibly it was for this reason that the Committee on the Rights of Child recognized the right to contribution as one of the guiding values of the Convention. Regarding children’s views signifies that such views should not be disregarded; however it does not mean that their opinions should be automatically certified. Because expression of opinion cannot be equated with decision taking instead it implies the capability to control decision (Alderson, 2000). The support of discussion and views exchange process will give to children a sense of trust and self-confidence – where they will presume increasing responsibilities and will become vigorous, democratic and tolerant (Jans, 2004). In any such process adults are anticipated to provide suitable route and guidance to children while bearing in mind their views in a way consistent with the child’s age and adulthood. Such like practices will allow the child to understand that why specific options are followed, or why decisions are taken that might be different from the one he / she favoured.
To make effective and meaningful the participation of children in decision making, it is necessary that such participation should be;
1. Free from pressure and manipulation: Children should not be pressured, constrained or influenced in ways that might prevent them from freely expressing their opinions of leave them feeling manipulated (Alderson, 2000). This principle is usually applies where a child is forced to choose some tangible material from few offered resources without providing them a variety of open ended resources – where a child has the choice to choose those that interest him/her and match his/her level of competence.
2. Recognizing Children’s evolving capacity: The UNCROC didn’t set any minimum age for children that could limit their right to express their views freely and acknowledges that children can and do form views from a very early age and thereby refers to children’s evolving capacity for decision making (Benporath, 2003). This means, for example, that parent and other family members and/or, where require, members of wider community are expected to give appropriate direction, guidance or advice to children. However, parents’ guidance and advice will take on greater value and meaning till the child grows, develops, gains sufficient maturity and experience for becoming more autonomous and more responsible.
3. The role of parents and carers: The Child’s developing capability pointing towards one side of the equation: the other involves adult’s growing aptitude and readiness to listen to and learn from their children for considering and understanding the child’s point of view, and as a result prepared to reconsider their own opinions and attitudes and to imagine solutions that address children’s views (Benporath, 2003). Contribution is a demanding learning process both for adults and children that cannot be condensed to a simple procedure. The realisation of children’s right to participate requires preparation and mobilizing adults who live and work with children, so that they are ready to offer opportunities to children to contribute liberally and increasingly in society and expand self-governing skills.
4. Providing appropriate information: The children’s right to participate is closely linked to freedom of expression. But this right can be made meaningful and relevant when children are equipped with necessary information relating to potions that exist and the consequences of such options so that they can make informed and free decision (Alderson, 2000). Providing appropriate information enables children to gain skills, confidence and maturity in expressing views and influencing decisions.
Children’s are considered the world’s most valuable resource. The right to participation is a guide to the exercise of all other rights, therefore, children’s development to full potential and to continue to flourish as conscientious citizens, they require opportunities to work out their participatory privileges throughout all stages of their growth. Early childhood carers and educators are well located to endorse children’s participatory rights and preschool institutions their voice must be heard (Sheridan & Samulesson, 2001). Children should be asked to split their views on aspects of their learning environments.
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