Exploring children’s experiences of agency and participation in school decision-making: A case study

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Polegato, Jillian
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Mount Saint Vincent University
The purpose of this research was to explore elementary school children’s experiences of agency and participation in decision-making at school to add to the discourse surrounding children’s participation rights in Canada. This study explores how children in grades 4 to 6 may want to participate in decisions at school and how they may want to be involved in decision-making processes that affect them. During the 30th anniversary of the U.N. children’s rights convention, it remains unclear how children are allotted opportunities for participation in decision-making in Canadian schools (Bala & Houston, 2015). A qualitative case study was created using a participative and emergent design to learn from students' (grades 4 to 6) lived experiences of agency and participation at school. Nine children from a multicultural, low socioeconomic status community in Nova Scotia participated in three workshops and subsequent interviews. Participants were actively involved in the development of interview questions and conducting the interviews. Thematic analysis revealed an overall theme of how children understand their participation as a combination of stable and changing opportunities. Four main themes reflected their conceptualization of the involvement in school: positive perceptions of participation, types of participation, fee time = agency, and they want to be involved. The impact parental socialization patterns can have on children’s ability to exercise their rights is discussed. This project adds to the dialogue surrounding children’s school participation in Canada. It can help inform adult decision-makers in ways that promote the participation of more children in decisions about their lives.
Children experience, children agency, decision making