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Mena mena meh

Over the last few months we have been exploring the concept of 'authentic learner participation (Education Scotland, 2018). From working with the research participants in the first iteration of this study, I was informed that there were any number of variations in how children define their participatory rights. However, as this collaboration progressed, I became aware that I was not either fully understanding some forms of participation or that I was, at times, also excluding some. As a person who claims the position of a child rights researcher, this was not an altogether easy admission. That said, I can now recognise this 'disorienting dilemma' (Mezirow, 1991; Long; 2019) as a key finding for the promotion of a child rights approach to Education for Sustainable Development (ESD).

In this short introductory post, I will explain what is meant by 'authentic learner participation' and how positioning it as the 'launchpad' for curriculum making can support educators in their child rights duty bearing role.

What is 'authentic learner participation'?

Authentic learner participation is when and how a person chooses to engage in learning in a manner that has meaning for them. For example, during an insect hunt, some of my participants chose to engage with the activity by only looking for spiders, by only using yellow magnifying glasses, by not using magnifying glasses and indeed by using the magnifying glass as something else (a gun or a frying pan). Equally, while my agenda for the activity was to introduce some 'fun new knowledge' about insects, my participants also chose to share their own stories with me during the activity. By recognising the variations in learner engagement and by respecting it created a more democratic and therefore rights based approach within the learning space.

The following diagram gives an overview of where the concept of 'authentic learner participation' is translated as a key finding from our study.

I think it is important to note that I used the word 'respecting' rather than 'including' when describing how the concept is used to support rights based education. This is done purposefully to acknowledge that our understanding of child participation can cause ambiguity within educational settings (DCEDIY, 2021). One interpretation being, that we must always follow children's leads, which for any number of reasons is just not 'doable'. Indeed, from working with my latest group of participants (ECEC practitioners) we are currently exploring how contributions from iteration 1 can and at times, cannot be included in every day practice. What we are rather uncovering together is that the response to this 'authentic learner participation' is just as relevant to developing a rights respecting culture. How we respectfully respond will be explored further through the following case studies.

Reference List

Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth (DCEDIY), (2021). Participation Framework: national framework for children and young people’s participation in decision making’ Dublin: The Stationary Office

Education Scotland (2018). Curriculum for excellence [online], available:

Long, S. (2019), ‘Learning about the principle of participation: Possibilities and barriers in the professional formation of early childhood education and care students’, Children’s Research Network Research Digest, [online], available:

Mezirow, J. (1991), Transformative dimensions of adult learning. San Francisco, CA:


Ranta, M. (forthcoming 2022), ‘“Can we see our voices?” A child rights based participatory approach exploring with young children their own perspectives and lived experiences of Nature under Article 29 1 (e)’, EECERA Annual Conference Aug 23rd-26th Glasgow


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