This book is dedicated to some young children’s views on a variety of aspects of school provision and school practices that have been in place or advocated for young children. I related these provisions to children’s rights in terms of whether they indicate respect to or violation of children’s rights. Then, children’s views and preferences on school
provisions and practices are discussed in connection with the children's rights as defined in the Convention on the Rights of a Child (United Nations [UN], 1989). This way it was ascertained which educational provisions and practices young children prioritized and consequently which rights they favored or not.
What is it about?
I undertook this study because I wanted to record the views of children aged five to six years in Greece and Scotland on three different types of school provision and practice arranged for young children over the years. The three different models of schooling selected for children to discuss were analyzed in order to show which of the children’s rights pertaining to their education they reflected and which they violated. The first model of schooling is the teacher-centered school, which shows no respect for children’s rights except perhaps partly their right to education (article 28.1 of the Convention). This is how I shall refer to the Convention on the rights of the child (United Nations, 1989 henceforth). The next school model is based on traditional developmental psychology and it allows adults the scope and potential to respect some of the children’s rights, such as play (article 31), but neglects or ignores others, such as freedom of conscience or religion (articles 14 & 30). The last model of school is the rights-based school, which fully respects all children’s rights pertaining to their attending school.
The special contribution of such a study is that it reveals some young children’s voices in multiple ways. First, young children were given the opportunity to discuss specific education practices, which have been implemented over time in early year’s classes. This way I was able to produce data on the same topics but from children living in two different countries, national cultures and education provision. These children also had the opportunity to describe their ideal school for a
child of their age, in the form of suggestions for establishing a school for Wilson, who did not want to go to school. In this case too, the children who offered their ideas came from Scotland and Greece and from different cultures and schooling. Subsequently, this data, e.g. children’s suggestions, thoughts, and ideas, is related to their rights so as to show which ones the participants themselves prioritized. The differences in priorities were explained based on children’s experience of schooling and their national cultures.
Why Children’s Rights?
Greece ratified the Convention on the rights of the child in 1992, whereas the UK, part of which is Scotland, in 1991. As a result, legislation pertaining to children in both countries is to conform to what is foreseen by the Convention. Some of the rights children have, according to the Convention, are not so easy to inform changes in the existing legislation due to the varieties of cultural perspectives of citizens in both countries on childhood, children, and their rights. For example, both countries have a mandatory curriculum, which means that some of its aspects, such as the goals of
learning that children must achieve, cannot be negotiated or omitted to suit children’s interests or choices in accordance with article 12 of the Convention.
This phenomenon is recorded in many countries, since their cultures are in juxtaposition with some of the children’s rights in the Convention, especially those of child participation (Frost, 2011, as cited in Jones & Walker, 2011, p. 53; Kanyal & Gibbs, 2014; UN General Comment 7, 2005; Welsh, 2008, as cited in Jones & Walker, 2011). Many adults, regardless of their background, hold different perspectives on childhood and the immaturity that characterizes young human beings from the perspective on which the Convention is based (e.g. Cunningham, 2005, 2006). Therefore, some adults think that children lack maturity, abilities, and reason in absolute terms, so they treat them with less respect and dismiss them and their views (Archard, 2004; Cunningham, 2005). However, according to the Convention, adults, including teachers and parents, have the responsibility of giving children direction and guidance in relation to exercising their rights (article 5 of the Convention). This means that adults must help children find the place they are entitled in society, rather than allow the dominant culture in any society to give children a predetermined position, which may not always correspond to all children’s potential.
Why Young Children?
Children need to be given a voice, to be able to have a say in the provision adults make for their education. This is something I believe in and is in accordance with article 12 of the Convention. Article 12 defines children’s right to express their ‘views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child’.
As Allison James (2007, p. 262) explains, however, ‘giving voice to children is not simply or only about letting children speak: it is about exploring the unique contribution to our understanding of and theorizing about the social world [part of which is school] that children’s perspectives can provide’. This is even more true for younger children for whom the provision and protection rights tend to be favored by adults over their participation rights. Young children are considered immature by many people and thus their opinions are not valued or sought (Archard, 2004). This has led the United Nations to issue General Comment No. 7 (2005) on early childhood to clarify that all children regardless of their age have all the rights foreseen by the Convention.
Why these countries?
Greece and Scotland have certain features, which enable a meaningful comparison (Clarkson, 2009). These countries offer different educational provisions to children aged five to six years both in terms of the type of school (preschool education in Greece and primary education in Scotland) and of financial aid to schools (Scotland devotes a larger part of its budget to education than Greece
does). The dominant cultural perceptions
of children’s and people’s rights are also different, if not opposite, in these two countries. Children in Scotland are taught to be independent of the beginning of their lives, whereas in Greece, the children’s environment in family and school is overprotective and collectivist (e.g. Farlane, 2018).
On the other hand, both countries have populations mainly Christian, White and European, which means that they share some common ideas about childhood and young children’s education. Therefore, there exists a fruitful balance of similarities and differences between Scotland and Greece to justify their selection for a study in Comparative Early Childhood Education.
How was the research conducted?
Apart from this study being comparative in nature, it is also qualitative with data produced through focus group sessions with young children. The novelty of this research, on top
of it is a comparative one, is that its participants are young children aged 5 to 6 years and that its method of data production is focus group; a not so usual way of researching on children (Gibson, 2007).
What is the value of this study?
As an educator I think five to six year old children in schools can be offered more opportunities to learn (a) what their rights are according to the Convention, which both Scotland and Greece have ratified, and (b) how to act as right holders. In accordance with articles 5 and 29 of the Convention, people who are responsible for children, which includes teachers, have the responsibility to teach them about their rights and facilitate them in exercising them.
With this study adults involved in young children’s education gain insight into the matter of how children feel about certain practices and provisions. Such insight can be considered when defining and determining good
practices in schools for five-year-old children in Greece and Scotland in general. This insight is also valuable when considering how teachers can better cater t
o article 5 of the Convention, especially at the initial teacher education level. Furthermore, in an age of education leadership, regardless of whether it refers to headteachers / principals or teachers themselves (Leithwood, 1992; Leithwood, Harris, & Hopkins, 2008; Smylie & Eckert, 2018), such studies can contribute to the improvement of young children’s education and to a school life respectful of children’s rights.
What is the structure of this book?
In the first chapter of this book, the Convention is presented. Particular consideration is given to the rights that apply to children’s education in school together with the relevant to children’s education General Comments (General Comment 7, 2005; General Comment 1, 2001; General Comment 12, 2009 and General Comment 14, 2013) issued by the United Nations. These documents are selected because they are what Scotland and Greece committed to abide by in relation to the educational provision for their young children.
The second chapter is about the models of education that are known and have been partly or full implemented in the Western world. The models are embodied in the authoritarian school, the school based on traditional developmental psychology and the rights-based school. These models of schooling for young children are related to the rights foreseen by the Convention for the children in order to determine which rights they respect and facilitate and which they violate. Aspects of these models were discussed by the children who participated in this study.
The next chapter is dedicated to the methodology of the research undertaken. 56 children from Scotland and Greece participated in two focus group sessions in groups of 4. In the first session, children discussed three models of education that have been advocated for them. I chose some of the features of each of the three conceptualizations of school and made them features of three plans for the best school ever, which children discussed. In a second session with each group, children were read the beginning of the book
Whiffy Wilson: The wolf who wouldn’t go to school and asked to describe the features of a school that would make Wilson want to attend. Both of these sessions were followed by children drawing aspects of what they discussed.
In the empirical part of the study, the data are analyzed in four chapters. In the first chapter of the data analysis part, the data about the plan for an authoritarian school are discussed, and in the second one, the data about the plan for a school based on traditional developmental psychology. In the third chapter, children’s views on the plan for a rights-based school are analyzed whereas in the fourth chapter, the data about a perfect school for Wilson. The analysis of the data from both focus group sessions showed that children prioritized children’s right to play, safety, consultation and education. In the final chapter of this study, the conclusions of the study are presented together with recommendations for further research.
Even though Greece has double the population of Scotland for the year 2022, for example, Greece allocated 4.943.012£ (5.841.100 €) to education and Scotland 4.207.700£ according to their official budget sites. (Hellenic Republic, 2021 and Scottish Government, 2021).
Department of Preschool Education
University of Crete