Tartu Conference

Global catalysts: the potential and ethics of learning from children

Wednesday 24th to Friday 26 April, 2013, Tartu, Estonia


This three day conference marks the halfway stage of the scale fast phase of the SiS Catalyst initiative and will be an opportunity to review and consolidate the learning of the consortium to date.  As one of the first European Commission funded Mobilising Mutual Learning Action Plans,  the focus of our work is the capturing and sharing of the organisational and societal learning which occurs as a consequence of working with, and listening to, children.

SiS Catalyst: Children As Change Agents for Science and Society - is a big consortium with an ambitious vision. Our objectives are twofold: firstly -  to learn and share knowledge about different models of enabling children to consider and progress to higher education, specifically by their engagement with science, and secondly - to consider how this practice can have an impact on policies at institutional, national and European levels.

At the heart of SiS Catalyst is our target group of children.  We use the expression locally defined minorities to describe them. This group of children are those least likely to progress to higher education in a specific locality. Growing up in a culture where progression to higher education is not the norm, they do not have a personal awareness that higher education is an option for them, and this is reinforced by the expectations of their family, community, school, media etc.

On the other hand, the cultures of universities are built upon the experience of generations of those who have been educationally advantaged. This culture is deep and pervasive. Each institution has its own specific culture which is a blend of its unique history, geography, people, politics, architecture etc. The likelihood of a young person from a locally defined minority progressing to, and succeeding within a specific university is therefore about the relationship between these two cultures.

The question we will explore in Tartu will be – Do children’s University type activities provide a vehicle for translation between these two cultures?

Through the work of the SiS Catalyst delivery partners and the mentoring associates programme, examples will be given from across the world. This will include both large and small organisations which use a whole variety of different activities to enable children to follow their dreams. The discussion will focus on how these partners work within the culture of their own specific locality with children who are from their own unique locally defined minorities. Similarities and differences will be explored seeking to identify similarities which transcend these different cultural contexts.

The second question that will be considered relates to the ethics of children’s University type activities as we feel this is the right moment for the SiS Catalyst consortium to focus on the ethical aspects of our objectives, as well as the means that we use to achieve these ends.

The ethos of the SiS Catalyst project is in line with the recent developments within childhood studies, where over the last two decades one can observe increased recognition of the importance of listening to children’s voices and experiences. Emphasis on the children’s right to participation and expression of their views is recognised also in the United Nations Conventions on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). Several authors have argued that these rights need to be translated into workable ethics.  One of the big challenges of SiS Catalyst is to work out specific guidelines for dealing with the ethical issues of the SiS activities and research in educational contexts involving children and young people.  At this conference we will also have the possibility to discuss these guidelines with various stakeholders.