European Institute of Education and Social Policy
Language :
Our Journal

 
You can find the  links to the most recent issues here:

Volume 53, No. 4, November 2018
Reconceptualising system transitions in education for marginalised and vulnerable groups
Guest Editors: Paul Downes, Erna Nairz‐Wirth, Jim Anderson

Volume 53, No. 3, September 2018
Learner agency at the confluence between rights-based approaches and well-being
Guest Editor: Jean Gordon

Volume 53, No. 2 June 2018
Special Issue: Are Student Assessments Fit For Their Purposes?
Guest Editor: Janet Looney

Volume 53, No. 1. March 2018
Special Issue: Innovative approaches to Continuous Professional Development in Early Childhood Education and Care. A European perspective.
Guest Editors: Brecht Peleman, Bente Jensen and Jan Peeters

Volume 52, No. 4 December 2017
Special Issue: Education for people, prosperity and planet: Can we meet the sustainability challenges?
Guest Editor: Aaron Benavot

Volume 52, No. 3 September 2017
Title: Participatory Design for (Built) Learning Environments
Guest Editors: Karen D. Könings and Susan McKenney

Volume 52, No. 2 June 2017
Title: The Influence of PISA on Education Policies
Guest Editors: Alain Michel and Xavier Pons

Volume 52, No.1 March 2017
Title : Higher education learning outcomes - transforming higher education ?
Guest Editors : Joakim Caspersen and Nicoline Frolich

Volume 51, No.4 December 2016
Title: Governance Dynamics in Complex Decentralised Education Systems
Guest Editors: Edith Hooge

Volume 51, No 3 September 2016
Title : Vocational Schooling and Social Exclusion in the Western Balkans
Guest Editors : Claire Gordon and Will Bartlett

Contact Information

Address:
IEEPS / EIESP
c/o ESCP Europe
81 ave de la République
75543 Paris cedex 11, France 

Tel.: +33 (0)1 49 23 58 30
Mobile: +33 (0) 6 38 47 68 19 


Website: www.eiesp.org
Email: ieeps@eiesp.org

Children as Actors Transforming Society (CATS)

A case study by Hanne Aertgeerts

 
CATS is a global program that provides a space for children and young people to engage and exchange perspectives with adults on how to together achieve a more just, inclusive and sustainable society where all can realize their fundamental human rights and potential - in other words, transforming society.  Its flagship event, the annual CATS conference, offers an experiential, inclusive and fun program, co-designed and co-led by children and adults, which has, in its first three years, brought together almost 1,000 children, young people and adults from more than 40 countries. The conference gathers diverse groups committed to children’s agency and participation at all levels of decision making worldwide. CATS is organised in partnership between Initiatives of Change France, Universal Education Foundation, Child to Child, Eurochild, and the Caux Foundation. A group of supporting partners include, among many others, international organizations such as UNICEF, Save the Children, World Vision and the Council of Europe.
 
“We need of course to work for children, but we have to learn more importantly to work with children”  (Levy, 2015)

Participation creates active citizens and can lead to a higher level of engagement to democracy. Still, there is a tension between participation and protection, two of the three main elements of the declaration of the convention of rights of the child. When children feel unprotected and anxious, they will not feel enabled to participate. On the other hand, children are sometimes overprotected and because of this they become passive and struggle finding their place in society. This is where adults miss a step; children should be included from the beginning and should feel safe to express themselves. Children need to be protected from war, violence and conflict, but they have to be included to find solutions for these issues as well. World problems cannot be solved without input of one-third of the world’s population. Therefore adults not only need to learn what children need, but also they need to learn to work with them (Levy, 2015).
 
Lansdown and O’Kane (2014) gathered proof on the effects of child participation on children and adults. Children who participate active in society have a greater awareness of their rights, more self-confidence, heightened self esteem, develop their leadership skills and have more confidence to negotiate with adults. But also adults benefit by the participation of children. They show more understanding of children’s rights and have more positive attitudes towards children (Lansdown & O’Kane, 2014).

“The more you grow up, grow old, the more you have the feeling like you have to represent something... When you are a child nothing gives them value or nothing legitimises their existence, other than the fact that they are young... It also tells a lot where you place value and how you judge people. So when you have to reconsider the public space, in terms of distribution of power. To consider children, you have to shift everything. Everything changes. What I like about this project is that the world will be a very different place when we start creating spaces that are really inclusive of children, even of younger children” (Pinto, 2015).
 
One of the inspiring authors for the CATS program is Janusz Korczak (1978-1942). He never created his own pedagogic theory, but his ideas were the foundation for children’s rights and the idea that children are able to participate in society as a full human-being. One of his ideas was on the ‘absoluteness’ of childhood. People tend to see children as unfinished creatures that depend on adults at any time. Korczak on the other hand approaches childhood as an independent phase of life, which deserves as much respect as adulthood. Secondly, in education children and adults should be equal. Therefore, the dialogue between the educator and the child is crucial. In addition to this, adults need to have to trust in children. Instead of focusing too much on how children should become, adults should respect how a child develops his or herself. A child has the right to steer its own growing process and to become what he or she wants to be. Summarised, people should trust on children’s feeling for values and standards and respect these (Theo Cappon, 2014).

CATS aspires to model quality relationships between children and adults that enable mutual and meaningful learning across generations. The program focuses on creating learning environments that engage the whole person, build on everyone’s sense of agency and are stimulating, in spite of age, language and cultural differences. The CATS conference is an opportunity to share knowledge and good practices of child participation, as well as to cultivate children’s and adults’ capacities to respect each other as competent partners, so that together they are better able to advocate for environments where children’s voices count.
 
“CATS has shown that it is possible for young children, young people and adults of all ages to learn, play and have fun together ... to make that happen we have to collaborate at every level – in the development, planning, designing, organising and delivery of CATS.”
- Participant of the conference (CATS, 2015)

An example of a collective experience during the 2015 edition was the “Human Library”, an experience in which participants of all ages were able to “read” personal stories on themes such as protecting children’s rights, influencing policy, overcoming obstacles, and dreaming of what society could be like.  Liv (aged 9) shared her experience of visiting Namibia and learning about the country’s inequalities; Umesh (aged 13)  spoke about children’s efforts to raise awareness on illegal alcohol sale and use in a remote village in India;  Zgjim (16) openly talked about his experience in war stricken Kosovo. Adults too, had many stories to share, from Susie Morgan’s work with the Council of Europe, to Claire O’Kane’s experience as a children’s rights consultant. Activities such as the “Human Library” give participants the opportunity to express themselves openly and freely, creating a safe space for meaningful participation and cooperation.
 
Another example of an interactive activity was the Children’s Rights Timeline. The aim of this workshop was to map out an international representation of the development of children’s rights by region and nationality. Children and adults were divided in groups by region and created step by step their timeline and reflected on milestones. The conclusion was that across the world, children’s rights are still critical points that need to be addressed (CATS, 2015; Levy, 2015; Movshovich, 2015; Pinto, 2015).

Children who attend CATS come with delegations, from NGOs or schools, and with families. The accompanying adults help to prepare the children for the experience, with the assistance of CATS, and then try to stay in contact with them after they have gone back home. Most of the participating children already have a certain level of understanding of what participation is and what it stands for in their own environment. During the conference, even the youngest children have workshops on participation. These kittens-workshops for 2 to 5 year olds and 6 to 10 year olds are adapted to the age and capabilities of the children. They are guided by creative activities to express their ideas and feelings, which can happen sometimes in the form of metaphors. For example, during the last edition, children had to choose an animal to represent them and then link its character to their own personal qualities. These qualities were ones that were deemed are useful to bring in when collaborating with adults. At times, adults came in and got involved in the kittens-workshop as well. During one of the role-plays children interviewed adults and the other way around or they played domination games where they shifted roles. This taught adults to listen to children and taught children that adults are prepared to listen (Pinto, 2015).
 
“The CATS Conference served as a reminder of how life should be in the aspect of team spirit and even collaboration between adults and children. This was experienced in ALL aspects and activities undertaken at CATS, through fun games, chores, Community Groups and Together Times.”
– Participant of the conference (CATS, 2015).
 
The development and implementation of strong monitoring and evaluation is a critical component for CATS, with particular focus on both process and outcomes, such as:
  • the quality of relationships experienced;
  • individual participation and expression, in ways that suit everyone;
  • capacities and skills developed as a result of workshops;
  • integration of the experience into their daily lives and work.

In addition to the conference, CATS has been cultivating a global community of child and adult activists prompting several organisations to review and improve the way children are involved in decisions that affect them. It has also drawn the attention of policy-makers such as members of the European Parliament, that have taken CATS as an example of good practice that can inspire a greater direct engagement of children in European institutional settings.
 
Key messages:  CATS is an experiment of working and living together in one space over a weeklong conference which is designing, planned and implemented in collaboration between children, young people, and adults.  The focus is on the process of intergenerational and intercultural respect and collaboration.  This process orientation (living the principles of the UNCRC) permeates the approach. In the relatively enclosed time and space of the conference, professionals, parents, children and young people directly work, share, and live together, and indirectly confront their own wishful thinking, biases, and blind spots about child agency and participation.  They also develop capacities and strategies for individual and collective action.   Additionally, CATS has taken monitoring and evaluation seriously, seeing it as opportunity to continue children and adult collaboration and the development of capabilities necessary for fully implementing the principles of the UNCRC, as well seeing the impact that CATS has on its participants.
 
References
 
Cappon, T. (2014). Korczaks pedagogische ideeën. Retrieved August 28, 2015, from http://korczak.nl/stichting/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/3.-Pedagogische-ideeën.pdf.
 
CATS (N.D.). Children as Actors for Transforming Society Strategic Plan.
 
CATS (2015). CATS conference Children as Actors for Transforming Society. Retreived August 12, 2015, from http://catsconference.com.
 
Lansdown, G. & O’Kane, C. (2014). A toolkit for Monitoring and Evaluating Children’s Participation. Save the Children.
 
Levy, J. (2015, August 25). Case Study CATS [Telephone interview].
 
Movshovich, J. (2015, August 27). Case Study CATS [email].
 
Pinto, L. (2015, August 20). Case Study CATS [Personal interview].