Young minds mined for world view
Adults very rarely go to children for perspective or insight, so a group of German researchers have interviewed thousands of kids to find out what grown-ups might be missing.
Over 17,000 eight-year-old children in 16 countries on four continents were asked about their experiences and their views on their lives in what is by far the largest survey of this age group ever undertaken.
There were also surveys conducted for comparison with ten- and twelve-year-olds, although on a smaller scale.
The survey asked children about all the important aspects of their lives, including family and home life, friends, money and possessions, school, local environment, time use, personal well-being, view on children's rights and their general contentment.
“This is the first opportunity we have had to compare children's lives so comprehensively from the perspective of the children themselves”, says Sabine Andresen of Goethe University Frankfurt, one of the principal investigators.
“Children perceive the world around them very precisely and we can see who feels compromised in what areas.”
Most children (62 per cent) said that they liked going to school.
Interestingly, comparisons with interviews of older age groups suggested going to school becomes less popular with age.
The country comparison is revealing too: Children in Algeria and Ethiopia like going to school most, while the percentage of children who do not like going to school is comparatively high in Germany, South Korea and the UK.
In some countries, including Israel and six European countries, girls have a more positive attitude to school than boys.
The survey showed bullying is commonplace around the world, with 41 per cent of children reporting that they had been left out by their classmates, while 48 per cent had been hit by other pupils.
These experiences were more frequent among eight-year-old children than in the ten- and twelve-year-old age brackets.
The percentage of children who had experienced violence was highest in Estonia, the UK and Germany, and lowest in South Korea, while feelings of being left out by classmates were highest in the UK and Romania and particularly low in South Korea and Ethiopia.
Almost half the children (46 per cent) said that they knew about children’s special rights. This was less than amongst the ten- to twelve-year-old children interviewed (58 per cent).
Children in Colombia were the best informed about children's rights (73 per cent, but even so in Turkey, Ethiopia, Romania and Norway over half the eight-year-old children said that they knew their rights.
Professor Asher Ben-Arieh, Study Leader and Co-chairman of the ISCI (International Society for Child Indicators), commented: “This is the first time that we have heard from almost 20,000 eight-year-old children about their activities, feelings and wishes. This remarkable achievement teaches us above all that children know more about their life than anyone else and that all attempts to improve it should always include and take into account their opinions.”
The study was the second major project in the ‘Children's World’ initiative, which seeks to improve children's lives through science.
‘Children’s World’ will include further countries in its future research work, with a third study to start its the first surveys in September 2017 and new findings to be published in 2019.