Thursday, 18 October 2012

Listening to Children by Keren David

 Do we listen enough to children?  Adults are always talking about young people - how they should be educated, which books they should read - but rarely stop to listen to their views and opinions.

 Sometimes this is desperately serious, and horrific abuse takes place unchecked because no one pays attention to the victims. But often it’s an oversight, a lack of interest in children’s firsthand experience. What do five year olds think of the phonics method of learning to read? Has anyone thought to ask?

It’s sad, because extraordinary things can happen when children are encouraged to write about their lives.  Take two girls, Malala and Martha, two of the highest profile bloggers in the world.

Malala Yousafzai was flown to the UK this week after being shot in the head by the Taliban for speaking out in support of girls’ education. Malala, 14 started blogging for the BBC Urdu service when she was 11 years old.  She wrote anonymously at first, describing life under Taliban rule in her home region in northwest Pakistan.  Her writing is clear, descriptive, engaging and fearless. Later she put aside her anonymity to campaign for girls’ education .  

 Her father backed her, despite the risk. He told the BBC " I think that not talking was a greater risk than that because then ultimately we would have given in to the slavery and the subjugation of ruthless terrorism and extremism.”

Martha Payne was nine years old when she started writing her blog, Never Seconds, a record of her lunches at school in Scotland. Who could have predicted what an impact she would have? Martha’s blog readership grew as she started posting school dinners from around the world. Then local council officials tried to ban her blog. Their heavy-handed censorship had a fantastic outcome. Martha got thousands of new supporters, she used the extra attention to raise money for a charity Mary’s Meals, which provides food for schoolchildren in Africa, the council backtracked and Martha raised more than £115,000 to build a school kitchen in Malawi. Last week Martha visited the school and met the children,whose lives will be changed with a nutritious meal in the middle of the day. Heraccount of her trip was excellent journalism – descriptive, clear, full of telling anecdotes. Martha's story is now going to be a children's book, and I hope it will inspire other schoolchildren to start documenting their lives.

The referendum on Scottish independence will give 16 and 17 year olds a say in our political process for the first time. Some people have said that this is a mistake, that teenagers are not mature enough to wield political power. I disagree. We have underestimated children for too long. They are affected by political decisions, they are ready and able at 16 to judge the politicians.

I hope Martha and Malala will inspire other children to start blogs, write books, make themselves heard. But not every child will be a writer. They still deserve a hearing.  We adults need to listen, believe them and act on what they have to say.


JO said...

I used to work in Child Protection - so of course I agree entirely. We should listen to their jokes, the silly stories from the back of the class, the time when they fed the ducks and fell in the water - and then they will know we will always listen, so maybe it's safe to talk about scary stuff.

Besides, falling in the water can be funny.

Joan Lennon said...

Thank you for this - I just signed the Avaaz petition urging the Pakistan government to ensure education for all children the moment before I read your post. These two girls inspire us.

catdownunder said...

Could not agree with you more!

Sarah Taylor-Fergusson said...

Yes, wholeheartedly. I can remember what it was like when I was little to not have parents or schools or anyone who listened to us, and that was just over the everyday stuff. (The time when my brother and cousins told my parents and aunt and uncle I was lying unconscious in the road with a head injury, and they didn't believe them! It took the postman to convince the adults before anyone went to look!) This next generation is our chance to get things right, let's listen to kids.

Savita Kalhan said...

Absolutely agree! I just wish more people did. Timely post, Keren. Thanks.

Jan said...

Yes yes yes, really listen. And listen to feelings too. Sometimes children might need a little longer to say exactly what they mean and adults need to check they've've heard right. It's so easy to respond to what we think we're hearing. 'Really listening' improves relationships. Works for adults too.

Thank you for this post:o)

Miriam Halahmy said...

And of course no-one listened to the children who were abused by Jimmy Saville.