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'Lessons from Childhood Studies: Can listening to children help to reconcile our divided priorities in planning education for development?'

Invited to submit for review by the International Development Planning Review after being awarded the prize for Best Paper at the Sheffield Insitute for International Development 5th Postgraduate Conference.

This paper explores how methodological and theoretical lessons from the field of Childhood Studies can be applied to development policy, particularly with regards to education. Education is at the forefront of development agendas, and education policy in the Global South is a prime example of “divided priorities” in international development. Although universal, quality education is almost unanimously agreed on as a worthwhile aspiration, what that quality education is understood to look like, and its supposed purpose, vary greatly among economists, national governments, theorists of social justice, international donors and (I)NGOs, for example. The contribution of Childhood Studies here is to stress the importance of children’s priorities being included – and given prominence – in this debate. Childhood research has demonstrated that rather than being passive, immature and incompetent, children are social actors, producers of knowledge and challengers of orthodoxy. As such, it is imperative that children are included in discussions about policy interventions that directly affect their lives. As key stakeholders/supposed beneficiaries of education policy, then, it is important that we explore what children want and expect to arise from their schooling. I review some examples of the valued capabilities that the Ethiopian schoolchildren who participated in my PhD research expected to be expanded through their participation in education. My paper concludes, however, with the Critical Realist recognition that people’s understandings of the world are fallible. I consider how social research can evaluate whether education is doing what children think it is doing and theorise about other important functions of schooling.


Marshall, L. (2009) 'Swaziland: A Protective Environment for Children? Utilising and Evaluating the UNICEF Framework in a Developing Society' Reinvention Journal of Undergraduate Research 2 (2) available online here

UNICEF's Protective Environment framework describes eight ways in which the organisation believes children should be protected in every nation. The research upon which this article is based consisted of a brief review of existing literature and an ethnographic case-study in Lobamba, Swaziland. The aim was both to investigate to what extent Swaziland is a protective environment for children according to this framework, and to consider whether the model needs reassessing in the light of the different economic, social and cultural values of a developing southern African country. It also focused on the positive roles which children in Swaziland play in the lives of their families and communities, for example in looking after one another and avoiding the risks identified by UNICEF, an approach which is seemingly neglected in the paternalistic model.

The findings suggest that although some aspects of the framework did appear to be appropriate to this society and to feature in the children's own conception of their world and need for protection, other elements seemed incongruous with the economic and cultural environment of this country. Interviews with ten children and their teacher highlighted other ways in which the children are or should be protected within this society.