Researching children: Priorities, principles and practicalities

Year: 1997

Author: Johnson, Bruce, Howard, Susan

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

A cursory examination of the abstracts of papers presented at recent conferences of the Australian Association for Research in Education (AARE, 1997) reveals an interesting phenomenon - children are rarely the prime focus of educational research in Australia despite being central participants in, and consumers of education. There are numerous papers on teachers' experiences, perspectives and practices, policy analyses and critiques, and innovations and reform initiatives, but surprisingly few on children's knowledge and thinking, performance, skill development, their values, beliefs, attitudes, likes, dislikes or even their fads and fancies. In the absence of research on the researchers themselves, we are left to speculate about the possible reasons why this is so. Our hunch is that the induced chaos of rapid and ideologically driven educational change has had the effect of raising other issues and problems above those to do with children's schooling experiences. We also suspect that researching children is perceived by many researchers to be too messy, unpredictable, and constrained by bureaucratic and ethical restrictions.

In this paper, we address the issue of research priorities in education. We also draw on our own research with children to highlight the difficulties and problems associated with directly involving children in educational research. While these may serve to frustrate and challenge those who embark on child centred research, and to discourage other researchers from starting at all, we argue that these difficulties must be endured and addressed to further our knowledge of children and the education process.