Realising the right to education in multiple contexts: the interplay of universal rights and cultural relativism

Realising the right to education in multiple contexts: the interplay of universal rights and cultural relativism

Review early childhood programmes in the light of the right to education

This is a background paper prepared for a symposium at the International Transitions Research Conference, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, Scotland, 11–14 April 2007. The purpose of the symposium ‘The young child’s right to education: the aims of education in multiple contexts’ was to review early childhood programmes in the light of the right to education set out by the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).

The first section of this paper briefly reviews the relevant sections of the CRC and the two relevant General Comments. The second part then outlines the conceptual framework behind the new programme launched by the Bernard van Leer Foundation, ‘Successful transitions – the continuum from home to school’.

In the third part, three of the Foundation’s partner organisations present illustrations of how child rights are introduced in three different disadvantaged contexts. One works among rural children in India, where state-run pre-school provision is inadequate. Another looks at children in Israel from a context of involving children with differing developmental abilities in mainstream education. Lastly, the Polish case considers children in rural areas where access has drastically diminished since the years of transition to a market economy.

Part four consists of commentary from Joseph Tobin, of the Arizona State University, who is currently implementing a five-country study on ‘Children crossing borders’, funded by the Bernard van Leer
Foundation.

Part five is a response by international children’s rights consultant Gerison Lansdown.

In conclusion the paper finds that:

  • children are rarely seen as rights holders on an equal footing with older people; this is particularly true for young children, who have long been presumed incapable of communicating their interests
  • children’s rights are often subsumed under the rights of their caregivers or families or communities programmes which give children the opportunity to participate in decisions which affect them offer striking examples of how children perceive their lives, and the profound understanding they bring to visions of the future 
  • the local positions of young children must be taken into account, and those local positions in turn are constantly changing as they are exposed to global influences – including the idea of children’s rights 
  • children’s rights are often subsumed under the rights of their caregivers or families or communities.