THE UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, poses some questions for ECD practitioners, that need to be addressed in our daily practise, as regards children’s rights and participation in the early years. Looking at what the Convention guarantees, we might ask ourselves the following questions:
- How well do the preschools, kindergartens, primary schools, community-based playgroups and crèches that we know and work in, respect the rights of children and Romani/Traveller children in particular?
- What does inter-cultural provision for children from diverse backgrounds in the early years, and that is respectful of their rights, actually look like and feel like to us as practitioners? What does it look like to parents and carers? Children themselves?
- To what extent do we, in our role as educators, encourage respect for children’s rights, freedom of choice for children and the important principles of dignity, individualism and mutual respect as they are enshrined in the UN CRC?
- Do our preschools/kindergartens/primary school classes teach children about their rights and help them to understand and discuss what having these rights means to them?
- What does an early childhood curriculum that is respectful of children’s rights look like and feel like?
- To what extent are we helping and enabling children to understand that they have the right to make choices, in our daily practise?
IN this context, we have to see that children are agents in their own lives, that they have choices and opinions that are valid and should be listened to in determining much about how knowledge is delivered to them and understanding built with them. If children are not the recipients of adult views, opinions and knowledge, but capable and competent to generate their own views, opinions and knowledge, they become more than a resource for the future of our communities; they are active in the construction of our societies in the present, making valuable contributions to the here and now.
KEY to such contributions is the principle and operation of participation, especially in decision-making, for children. In terms of respecting children’s rights, the process of participation in choosing how our settings operate, what kind of structures to the day and what sort of resources are available to stimulate growing knowledge and development, is crucial to implementing the UN CRC, for us as practitioners. The idea of participation is key to a children’s rights approach in preschools and kindergartens. Several provisions in the UN CRC reflect the children’s right to participation and it is one of the guiding principles of the Convention and, arguably also one of the biggest challenges. Article 12 for example, states that children have the right to participate in decision-making processes that may be relevant to their lives and to influence decisions taken in their regard – within the family, the preschool or the community. The principle affirms that children are fully-fledged people who have the right to express their views in matters that affect them and that those views should be heard and are given ‘due weight in accordance with the child’s age and maturity’. Article 12 also recognises the potential of children to enrich decision-making processes, to share perspectives and to participate as citizens and agents of change, in their own right. For the advocates of this approach, the practical meaning of children’s right to participation should therefore be considered in each and every matter concerning children.
HOWEVER, not all adults (or all practitioners in ECD, for that matter) accept such arguments and they might summarise their points as follows:
- Children sometimes lack the competence or experience needed to participate effectively or fully;
- Children must take responsibility before they are granted rights;
- Children’s participation is not part of our ‘traditional’ culture;
- Giving children rights takes away their childhood;
- Giving children rights will lead to a lack of respect for parents;
- The children we consult may not be representative;
- Children can very easily be manipulated by adult agendas
- It is difficult to sustain participation given other demands and considerations for us as practitioners, in supporting children to participate.
AS practitioners committed to the realisation of children’s rights and respect for their persons, we should ‘muster’ the following arguments as part of any discussion about children participating in decision-making:
- It is a fundamental human right, as enshrined in the UN CRC (and in other charters and conventions, such as the UN CRPD);
- It leads to better decisions overall, for everyone in our daily work;
- It promotes the well-being and development of all children in our preschools, kindergartens and community-based crèches;
- It strengthens their (and our own) commitment to and understanding of human rights, respect for each other and societies for all;
- It protects children better, if they understand their own rights;
- Children want to participate in decision-making in their daily lives, as we do in our daily lives.
OUR commitment to child-centred methodologies and practise is at the heart of all the work we do in the early years and the critical ‘test’ of that commitment, is not whether we place children at the centre of our thinking as practitioners, but whether we respect children when placing themselves at the centre of our decision-making processes, in the early years settings we work in.