Teaching and Learning Children's Human Rights - Why? What? and How?

Year: 2017

Author: Quennerstedt, Ann

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

This paper presents results from a Swedish research project that examines the role of education for children's and young people's development as rights holders. The project includes groups from early childhood education to secondary school, but this paper focuses on grades 2-3. The specific research questions addressed in the paper are:
- why should 8-9 year old children, according to teachers, recieve education about their human rights?
- what content do teachers choose in teaching about children's human rights?
- what working methods are used in teaching about children's human rights?

The research draws theoretically on a combination of rights theory, sociology of childhood and the educational philosophy and theorising of John Dewey. This means that, first, rights for children are understood and conceptualised as included in the human rights, second, children are viewed as competent and knowledgeable persons with full human value and dignity in the present, and third, education is regarded as a process of growth. The aim of education is, with Dewey, not to prepare the child for the future, instead education is a constant process of reconstruction and reorganisation of knowledge, aiming towards growth through experience.

Educational children's rights research has largely focused on children's 'right to participation' in early childhood education and school (Quennerstedt 2011, Lundy 2005, Smith 2007, Bae 2010). Research has also addressed to what extent schools are permeated by the values and principles expressed in the human rights (Grover 2007, Lebedev et al. 2002, Aldersson 1999). It is notable that aspects that relate to the core responsibility of education - to educate - have been given little research attention in educational children's rights research. Some work has been undertaken (for example Howe & Covell 2005, Covell et al. 2008, Mitchell 2010) but deeper and more refined knowledge is needed.

The research was conducted through fieldwork in educational practice in two classes in Sweden, one grade 2 and one grade 3. The fieldwork took place during 5 weeks per class, and included observations of ongoing education in classrooms during approximately 50 hours per class, and interviews with the class teachers and children. The teachers were asked to undertake planned teaching about children's human rights during the fieldwork period. They were free to choose educational content and working methods, and were given no guidance by the researcher about content or methods. The planned teaching was video documented.

Data was analysed with a tool developed with the European Didaktik tradition as base. The tool provided a conceptual framework with which we could identify various purposes of teaching/learning rights (cognitive, social, emotional, ethical, bodily), various content (facts, values, understanding, skills), and various working methods (transmitting, interactive, explorative, creative).