It’s funny; when I started my research on the child’s right to education I guess I was prejudiced, with hindsight, thinking that the right to education had mostly to do with the content of education (maths, reading and writing, etc) and the form in which it is taught (is it interesting, fun, does it make you curious?, etc). This is also the area in which I teach about 80 becoming-primary school teachers each year.
However, the more I speak to children about the subject, the more I begin to understand that in fact the most important thing about the right to education BY FAR is its social side. From a child’s perspective, in the first place education is about learning social skills, about belonging, acceptance and rejection, problem solving and conflict resolution.
Yes, the content is important too and everyone wants to learn how to read and write. But really the social side is much more important. It is a condition; if you are being bullied, you cannot focus on schoolwork. It is the thing that they are most worried about, it is the thing that is most on their mind every day. It is also the thing children argue they will need most when they grow up. Yes you need basic skills, but you do not really necessarily need the things that will get you straight A’s in school. What you do absolutely need however are social skills. To lead a happy and successful life you need to find a way to belong, to feel good around people (as we are not hermits), you need friends. This is the most important thing about education. And this, the children tell me, adults mostly do not understand at all.
I can’t believe I did not realize this before, after years of working in, and studying, education. I am sure my students-becoming-teachers never learn about social skills, group dynamics, and how to guide their primary school children in this process. But most of all, I am happy that so many children have been taking the time lately to teach me this basic understanding about their rights. The things we can learn from children…
– I have now started to plunge myself into the (academic) literature about social skills and group dynamics in education. If anyone wants to learn about it, I greatly recommend reading “Best Friends, Worst Enemies”, a wonderful and very accessible book by dr. Michael Thompson (a child psychologist working in educational contexts on exactly this subject).