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UNESCO’s international education report challenges accountability of education services

The annual education monitoring report from the United Nation’s education agency, UNESCO, has revealed that 264 million young people do not have access to primary or secondary school. The report suggests that this figure could in fact be even higher, estimating an undercount of 250 million in household surveys across developing countries and the likelihood of another 100 million outside the reach of official statistics, including those living as illegal immigrants in wealthier countries. This year’s report focuses on accountability but also highlights that holding governments accountable for failing to deliver education services depends on accurate knowledge of the number needing support. As a result, international goals to cut illiteracy and increase access to schools do not recognise the full scale of the problem, leaving no one held accountable for protecting the rights of the “invisible” millions. Education has also received a declining share of aid budgets for six successive years, with former education ministers calling for a greater commitment to aid for education. Read more here.

Children believe gender stereotypes by age ten

The subject of gender stereotypes is being much debated. A new six-year study has found that children are convinced by gender stereotypes by the age of ten. Examples include such beliefs as boys should be brave and adventurous, and girls should be beautiful and protected. The global study gathered data on 10- to 14-year-olds in 15 different countries of varying degrees of wealth and development from across the world, interviewing 450 adolescents and their parents. Researchers reported that a ‘uniformity of attitudes about what it takes to be a boy or a girl’ was prevalent among all societies, from the most conservative to the most liberal, with children internalising gender myths and expectations from a very early age.

Such “gender straitjackets” are believed to have negative consequences for children, since they create certain expectations and impact their ability to make their own choices or take risks. The research suggests that programmes which target pre-teens would help to readdress gender roles, and help to question why males and females should look and behave in a certain way. Read more here.

UNICEF calls for governments to prioritise early childhood development

A child’s early experience has a profound influence on their future development. UNICEF has published a report entitled ‘Early Moments Matter for Every Child’, which aims to raise awareness of the importance of children’s first 1,000 days of life for brain development. Its findings suggest that amongst 85 million children under five, the 32 countries taking part in the study do not offer what it calls the three ‘critical policies’ to support children’s early brain development. These critical policies include two years of free pre-primary education, paid breastfeeding breaks for new mothers in the first six months of a child’s life and adequate paid parental leave. According to UNICEF, governments worldwide spend an average of less than 2% of their education budgets on early childhood programmes, despite the fact that investment in this age group would yield significant economic gains in the future. Just 15 countries worldwide were found to guarantee all 3 policies, including Cuba, France, Portugal, Russia and Sweden Read more here.

The power of print – magazines boost children’s brands and increase a sense of belonging among fans

It seem that the kids’ magazine market is in a healthy position, with the latest children’s brands frequently being realised in print. Examples include Minecraft, Play-Doh, Frozen (Egmont) and Peppa Pig (Redan), all of which provide themed content, puzzles, colouring and cover gifts. Publishing houses such as Immediate Media and Redan Publishing are continuing to enjoy resilient sales, despite the growth of online media. Year on year growth has been recorded for titles including Girl Talk, Girl Talk Art and LEGO Nexo Knights (Immediate Media). The first and second ranking magazines in the pre-school ABC chart are Peppa Pig Bag-O-Fun and Fun To Learn Peppa Pig (Redan Publishing) which have sold over 77 and 64 thousand copies respectively per issue. Andrea Marsden, deputy MD at DJ Murphy (Publishers) commented “the power of print is undeniable. When a brand is ‘hot’, then the fans want to interact with everything to do with that brand.” She also suggests that magazines enhance children’s feeling of belonging to a club and that cover-mounted gifts are a key part of the offering, as seen with DJ Murphy’s magazine launch inspired by the collectable brand Shopkins. Read more here.

Pre-schoolers are more likely to apply social lessons learnt from human characters

Teaching young children social skills is seen as important to their future wellbeing. A Canadian study has found that moral lessons in stories have the biggest impact on pre-schoolers when the characters are human, rather than animals. This research was carried out by the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) at the University of Toronto, with 96 children aged four to six. Children were randomly assigned to read one of three books: a prosocial book with a human main character, the same prosocial book with an anthropomorphic animal character that speaks and wears clothes, and a control book about seeds. Sharing with others was the focus of the stories and children were assessed before and after the reading based on how well they were able to share 10 stickers with another child. The children who either listened to, or read, the book with a human character shared more after reading their book, unlike the children in the group with the animal character who shared less. The study concluded that many children do not recognise anthropomorphic animal characters as comparable to themselves and, therefore, such stories are less likely to influence their behaviour. Additionally, the more human characteristics that were placed onto non-human characters, the more the child shared after reading the book. Read more here.

Cartoon aliens help children to open up about traumatic experiences

Children often find it difficult to speak about their most difficult experiences, and child therapists frequently employ play and art techniques to allow children to share and make sense of traumatic events. Antennas is a cartoon alien, created by psychologist Julia Borbolla, to encourage children in Mexico to share traumatic experiences. The cartoon is voiced by trained psychologists but the voices are distorted to sound childlike. Antennas acts as though it does not know anything about life on earth in order to ask questions about children’s lives. Another character, Dulas, talks to children in hospital, while Bosty is used to gather evidence that can be used in court cases, and has even been used in a murder trial. Despite some public services in Mexico now using Antennas and other characters, there is currently no research that measures the effectiveness of these cartoons. Some experts have raised concerns over the use of such characters, questioning whether children will tell the truth to a fictional character or consider it fantasy. Julia Borbolla opposes these claims, based on her 35 years of experience. She suggests that psychologists use techniques to establish if children are telling the truth and that children do not lie about their feelings. She would like to see these characters used all over the world and claims that the cartoons quickly establish a rapport with the children, which helps to make them feel comfortable and free. See more here.

Children in Bolivia and Peru are losing the skill to speak South America’s indigenous languages: exploring the educational reform aiming to keep Quechua alive

FK&Y’s Anna Livingstone discusses the challenge posed by ‘dying’ languages, witnessed on her recent travels in South America

Data from the UN in 2009 showed that there are 270 million people in 90 countries who identify as indigenous, making up 5% of the global population and 15% of the world’s poor. While travelling in South America for the last 5 months, I came across many diverse cultures and the indigenous languages that accompanied them. While this was a wonderful experience, I noticed that public services and systems within the continent appeared to operate primarily in Spanish. However, many of the people conversationally speak different languages. I wondered if this caused any problems politically or structurally within the continent. The centre of the old Inca Empire, in modern day Peru and Bolivia, is where one indigenous language, Quechua, seemed to be commonly spoken as a first, and sometimes sole, language. In this blog post, I will explore indigenous languages in education and the fate of Quechua.

The politics of language in Latin America has been dominated by a push towards colonial assimilation in the twentieth century. It is only in recent years that there has been a policy shift that focuses on recognising indigenous and linguistic diversity. While linguistic rights are now being recognised officially on the continent, implementation has been limited with one issue being underlying racism towards indigenous peoples. (more…)

Can Reading Improve Children’s Self-Esteem?

There is often concern that children’s ability to read is declining as their use of tablets and other digital devices increases.

Latest research from Neilson shows that while the children’s book market was up +2% in 2016, the downward trend of parents reading to their children less and less continues. In 2016 there was a noticeable drop in parents reading to pre-schoolers, and a drop in children from age 5 reading to themselves.

Family Kids & Youth and Egmont Publishing have worked together to find out whether an intervention designed to encourage children to read with their parents would result in a greater love of reading.  Over 12 months a challenge was given to 15 diverse families, who would not normally read together, to find out whether they would be ‘open’ to this, and what effect this had on children. (more…)

13 Reasons Why – A graphic depiction of young people’s mental health on screen by Sheyi Ogunshakin

Th1rteen R3asons Why is a young adult novel written by Jay Asher (2007) about a teenage girl who commits suicide. The novel was adapted into a 13-episode Netflix original series titled 13 Reasons Why and has received wide-ranging criticism.

The show follows 17 year old Clay Jenson (Dylan Minnette) as he listens to seven double sided cassette tapes recorded by 17 year old Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford) before she took her life. The tapes detail the 13 reasons that led to Hannah Baker’s depression and subsequent suicide. The ‘nouveau murder mystery’ highlights the impact of bullying in schools, young people’s mental health, resilience and the effect that an accumulation of seemingly trivial incidences combined with traumatic events can have on a young person. Some episodes of 13 Reasons Why begin with disclaimers about the graphic nature of the content.

The Netflix series, which is currently the platform’s most popular show, has been praised for revealing an ‘un-sensationalised portrait’ of American high school life as well as shining a light on the ‘rough but sadly familiar’ events Hannah Baker suffered, which include loneliness, cyberbullying, sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape. However, the show has also been criticised for ‘glamourizing suicide’ with some mental health organisations warning that the series could have a damaging effect on vulnerable viewers. Notably, a mental health group in Australia has reported a steady increase in calls and emails to suicide helplines. Kristen Douglas, national manager at Australian mental health charity Headspace commented: “There is a responsibility for broadcasters to know what they are showing and the impact that certain content can have on an audience – and on a young audience in particular” adding that “national and international research clearly indicates the very real impact and risk to harmful suicide exposure leading to increased risk and possible suicide contagion”. Despite Australia’s strict guidelines around suicide depiction, Douglas believes that part of the issue lies behind the access young people have to international content, which makes it more difficult to exercise consistent warnings. (more…)

Imaginary friends – understanding children’s fantasy world by Alice Tofi

An invisible flying dolphin who lives on a star. A tiny, completely white figure, who lives in the light of lamps. An invisible 160-year-old business man. These are all examples of children’s imaginary friends.

Children’s use of fantasy is an important developmental stage, and they are often encouraged to engage with it in a variety of ways. Children’s story books, TV shows, films, and imaginative play can all draw on fantasy, giving children a high level of exposure to worlds of make-believe. Yet imaginary friends can sometimes cause parents to worry, as can the effects of high exposure to characters within video content, viewed sometimes as a limiting factor on the development of a child’s own imagination and creativity. Extensive research led by Dr Marjorie Taylor, Developmental Psychologist at the University of Oregon, helps to shed light on the phenomenon of imaginary companions (ICs) and finds that creative imagination in children is still strong. (more…)

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