Freedom to grow: children's perspectives of student voice

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Authors: Sarah Quinn and Susanne Owen
Date: May-June 2014
From: Childhood Education(Vol. 90, Issue 3)
Publisher: Association for Childhood Education International
Document Type: Case study
Length: 4,775 words
Lexile Measure: 1270L

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This article explores the power of student voice, in recognition of the child's right to be treated as a capable, competent social actor involved in the education process. In this study, student voice is considered in the light of improving students' engagement and personal and social development at the primary school level. It emphasizes the importance of soliciting and respecting students' voice through their involvement as individuals in collective decision-making and governance as part of a "Students' Parliament." The aim is to understand how children view their roles and opportunities to be involved in making decisions about their own learning and about the wider school community. The study has significant implications for educators about ways of effectively and respectfully engaging students in matters that are important to them, which in turn has a positive impact on students' engagement, motivation, and individual development.

R: Do you think that children can he equals with adults?

Student 1: Sometimes kids aren't understood. ... We're not always taken seriously. [Adults] don't really understand kids and they think that we aren't as intelligent as we really are. Do you know what I mean?

Student 3: [Adults] underestimate the knowledge of kids and they take advantage of that. It gets a bit confusing sometimes.... Because when you try to explain things to [adults] they can manipulate it into something that it's not.

The comments above were made by students participating in a focus group as part of a case study research exploring student voice. While student voice is not a new concept, it can be a controversial one for educators (Cook-Sather, 2006; Mitra, 2006). This is in part because "powerful" adults can hold the perception that "powerless" children are incapable of contributing mature opinions about their education and future (Giroux, 2009). As the young student participants indicate in the remarks captured above, children can be underestimated and misunderstood, particularly when adults believe that only they know what is best for children.

But is this really how adults see children in today's society? Article 12 of the 1989 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) asserts that all children, regardless of race, gender, or culture, have the right to participate in decisions that affect them and their lives. The "new" sociology of childhood considers children as capable, competent social actors (Sinclair, 2004). Students in the 21st century need opportunities to build the key skills and competencies that support their growth as individuals and citizens and that also enable them to act autonomously and flourish in their future lives (Benavides, Dumont, & Istance, 2008).

Education as an institution is charged with the protection and care of children and their rights. Therefore, educators should respect and advocate for the child's right to participate in educational decision-making through student voice (Lundy, 2007; Sinclair, 2004). Despite these evolving societal views, children's opinions can still be overlooked in decision-making about their own educational pathways and about the wider school community (Fielding 2004a, 2004b; Rudduck & Flutter, 2004; Smyth, 2006)....

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A369128873