Students: From Informants to Co-Researchers

Year: 1999

Author: Downes, Toni, Groundwater-Smith, Susan

Type of paper: Refereed paper

Studies centred around the experiences of young people in schools typically position the students as the objects of the research. They are bserved,surveyed, measured, interviewed and commented upon in order to inform a research agenda to which they have made little contribution. They are rarely recognised as active agents, who can not only be reliable informants, but also interpreters of their own lives. The positioning of young people in educational research is analogous to that of women within traditional patriarchal research paradigms. They are at worst, silenced; at best patronised. This, in spite of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child which stipulates in Article 12 that the views of the child should be given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child.

The literature suggests that in those cases where there is an enhanced sense of student agency there are three levels of research activity - knowing about young peopleÝs perspectives; acting on the behalf of young people; and working with young peopleÝs perspectives. There is little evidence of a fourth level, that is acting with young people to improve and change their lifeworld conditions.

This paper will examine a number of case studies undertaken by the authors which provide examples of these three levels of research activity. The studies range from engaging students as informants who can provide constructions of the environment which gives social meaning to their lives;to ones in which the students are co-researchers, contributing to the research questions which are to be put and the manner of their asking. The paper will foreshadow ways in which the fourth level may be achieved by entering into negotiation with students, not only in terms of the research process, but also the ways in which the research outcomes may be used in order to improve some aspects of schooling.

The paper will recognise the problematics associated with the power differentials between adults in education and students. But it will argue that if studentsÝ voices are to become authentic in the research and development cycle then such a differential must be transcended.