Listen to children’s heart - A study of ‘voice’, participation and child rights in multicultural primary schools in China
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This paper explores the extent of child participation in and beyond classrooms in Chinese multicultural primary schools. It draws on Freire’s theory of critical pedagogy and on the insights of Hart (1992) and Lundy (2007) relating to child participation within the framework of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The research data is addressed through interviews with 18 students and 15 teachers from different cultural backgrounds, two classroom observations, textbook analysis and one workshop with teacher and child participants from the three primary schools in Wuxi City, China. This thesis investigates school rules and conditions relating to student participation in decision-making beyond classrooms, unveiling that Chinese multicultural primary schools are facing challenges: insufficient communication mechanisms; students’ low capacity of expressing; and a widespread lack of legal or political knowledge of children’s participation rights. It notes that schools need not only to improve facilities, mechanisms and policies, but also to facilitate students to express views and ensure these views are given due weight. The thesis examines curriculum and pedagogy regarding child participation in classrooms, arguing that Chinese multicultural primary schools are experiencing problems: inappropriate teaching methods; lack of critical consciousness; and an understanding of inequality. The thesis further suggests that teachers need to improve teaching methods (problem-posing education); to utilize the critical pedagogical approach; and to increase teachers’ awareness. All these challenges or problems imply a “cultural shift” in teachers’ consciousness by listening to children’s “heart”. By this the thesis implies that teachers need to go beyond the technical processes of listening. Moreover, to fully realize youth participation, educational reform is necessary, as is the development of a culture of encouraging child participation and child rights.