Doormats and glass ceilings of participation

Participation has become a common term to describe the position of the children and the young in society and in schools. The perspective of children’s rights, the new sociology of childhood and user-centered service ideologies among other perspectives contribute to the frequent use of the term. The concept of participation has also been integrated into Finnish educational policy, examples being the National Curriculum and the Basic Education Act. Participation has two dimensions. On the one hand participation is about communality, feelings of belonging and memberships – the social dimensions of participation. On the other hand it is about decision making, the right to have a say in the matters concerning oneself and redistribution of power – there is a political dimension of participation as well. Both of these dimensions are an integral part of growing up to be a person capable of living a good life as an individual and as a member of a community.

Participation has been debated and discussed. Different methods have been developed to systematically promote participation. Ways of evaluating participation are needed In order to be able to develop participatory practices. An important aspect of evaluating the quality of participation is how children and the young themselves feel about their role. Developing ways to listen to the voices and experiences of children and the young and having a dialogue based on their opinions is an educational challenge. In other words, participation requires paying attention to the culture of interaction.
This presentation offers a theoretical interpretation of participation. Participation is about 1. having a recognized position as an agent, 2. activities themselves and 3. an experience of having participated. This framework is used to investigate how the young view their participation. An analysis is based on recent research conducted in Finnish schools. According to the results, some of the structures of participation serve as door mats, welcoming the young to participate. Some of the structures, however, constitute a glass ceiling, forming an invisible barrier. Based on these results, guidelines for improving participation in schools are offered.

Tomi Kiilakoski, PhD, is a researcher in Finnish Youth Research Network. He has studied participation extensively. He has published on the subject in Finnish, English, German and Russian. He has engaged actively in promoting participation on national level in Finland, with different municipalities in Finland and by co-operating with Finnish National Committee for Unicef. This Key Note Speech will be held on Thursday April 28th at 9:15 am.