Children's rights through continuing education: Unveiling the new Children's Rights Academy
In 2021, the University of Geneva's Centre for Children’s Rights Studies (CIDE), backed by the Centre for Continuing and Distance Education (CCED), conducted an assessment study exploring the landscape of children's rights continuing education.
The study delved into the European and Swiss higher education landscape, highlighting the emergence of numerous academic programmes addressing diverse facets of children's rights. It also examined the CIDE’s existing initiatives and looked at stakeholders' perspectives to identify trends and shed light on the alignment between the continuing education offer and the prevailing research trends and emerging professional learning needs. Notably, the study underscored the need for continuous education in the field of children's rights, as voiced by stakeholders within the international and national children's rights arena. This article unveils the result of the study by mapping the landscape of children’s rights education and presenting the strategy of the CIDE to empower children’s rights advocates. It also presentsthe vision and pillars of the Children’s Rights Academy, the entity within the CIDE , that leads its continuing education portfolio.
Mapping the landscape of children's rights in continuing education
While analysing existing continuing education programmes in the field of children’s rights across Europe and, more particularly, the Swiss context, it emerges that at the European level, numerous universities have established programmes encompassing both broad and specific children's rights topics, which complement and, to some extent, intersect with the current offer from the Centre for Children's Rights Studies. Several academic member institutions of the Children’s Rights European Academic Network (CREAN)1 primarily provide residential continuing education programmes on general children's rights issues, emphasising specialised themes such as child participation or juvenile justice in each respective programme. Whereas, in Switzerland, a variegated range of actors offers continuing education programmes, primarily focusing on mediation issues, child protection, child and adolescent psychology, juvenile justice, and child hearings in legal contexts. Notably, several emerging academic players have recently invested in distance learning and blended programmes, exploring new themes like children’s rights in the context of media and digitalisation, environment, or global health.
The study also engaged with key stakeholders in the professional children's rights field at international and national levels. The outcome reveals an ongoing demand for continuing education in children's rights. This demand encompasses a need to grasp foundational concepts, norms, and developments within the field, prompting a call for well-informed professionals. Stakeholders emphasise the growing need for blended learning options that combine in-person and distance education. Clarity regarding programme objectives and learning outcomes is deemed crucial. Additionally, stakeholders advocate for short-term specialised training, like seminars for child protection professionals and certified programmes tailored for specific groups such as early childhood educators, sports coaches, and police officers. Systematic training on children's rights emerges as a recurrent key request for all professionals working for and with children, particularly those working in education, health, child protection, social protection, alternative care, justice, and asylum.
This underscores the importance of interdisciplinary and intersectoral continuing education in children's rights studies, and the need for consistent monitoring of evolving learning needs is highlighted as essential for effectively addressing emerging themes and expectations. In addition, the key professional stakeholders also highlighted the CIDE’s outstanding and committed international academic networks as well as its long-standing working relations with major UN entities, international NGOs and professional networks such as the Committee on the Rights of the Child, United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), World Vision, Save the Children, the Council of Europe (CoE), and the European Network of Ombudspersons for Children (ENOC).
Empowering children's rights advocates: the vision and pillars of the Children’s Rights Academy
The Children’s Rights Academy (CRA) was created in response to the findings of the study. The label CRA brings together the continuing education programmes and activities of an international academic centre specialised in the interdisciplinary study of children's rights. Originated in 2003 through the launch of the Master of Advanced Studies (MAS) in Children’s Rights, a flagship programme that has been successfully delivered for almost 20 years, the Centre undertakes research, teaching and outreach activities that aim to better understand questions that affect childhood as a social group and children as social actors and subjects of rights.
Children’s rights studies critically investigate the content, origins and consequences of global, national and local norms, practices and discourses in the field of children’s rights, emphasising children’s agency, social justice, and human dignity. The Centre’s strong attachment to interdisciplinary perspectives on knowledge production guarantees the Children’s Rights Academy to create stimulating study programmes meant to develop both theoretical and practice-oriented understanding of the growing complexity of children’s rights-related issues due to global issues such as conflicts and forced displacement, new emerging challenges such as new technologies and global warming and the change in societal values, leading to the identification of innovative solutions to dealing with the increasing complexity of children's interconnected local and global experiences such as data-driven policies, interdisciplinary collaboration, children’s engagement in advocacy and leadership, community based approaches.
Continuing education offers solutions to an ever-changing society, and the field of children’s rights is no exception. Recognising this critical need in the vision of the Children’s Rights Academy, continuing education is a means through which appropriately skilled labour can contribute to advancing the societal acceptance and fulfilment of children's rights. By developing its programme offering through a deep understanding of the context and terrain of academic research, practice, and policy on children's related issues, the CRA accomplishes the social relevance of its continuing education portfolio. This approach is applied through the following strategic pillars:
- Partnerships: building partnerships with national and international organisations to develop and deliver continuing education programmes relevant to different professional groups’ needs such as engaging with the social work schools in Switzerland to develop tailored curriculums on child protection or with University of Dakar for a child protection tailored program for West Africa.
- Innovation: applying innovative pedagogical approaches bridging between academic research outputs and discussion, and policy-makers and practitioners’ buy-in. Therefore, masterclasses, round table discussions and other formats combining researchers, policymakers and practitioners are organized with the participants to the study programmes.
- Digitalisation: utilising digital technologies to deliver continuing education programmes to a broader audience. The CRA is looking at using different online tools and platforms to make its programme accessible online and enhance distance learning. An example of that is the upcoming executive training on Civil Aspects of International Child Protection. This training. This programme consist of four online half-day modules providing flexibility for busy schedules and aims to raise awareness about critical child protection issues, including the applicable children’s rights frameworks and collaborative justice.
- Impact: evaluating the impact of its continuing education programmes to ensure that they are meeting the needs of children's rights professionals and making a positive difference in the lives of children. Regular evaluations are thus conducted after modules of studies to improve participants' experience as well and more in-depth programmatic evaluations done at the end of the study cycle by external experts.
Based on these key pillars, the CRA is confident that its new strategy will enable it to continue to be a leading provider of continuing education in children’s rights to professionals worldwide to advance children’s rights.
Paving the way for a brighter future
Responding to the insights of the assessment study, the Children’s Rights Academy has been established as a cohesive entity under the auspices of the Centre for Children’s Rights Studies. Rooted in the interdisciplinary field of children’s rights studies, it embodies a holistic approach that bridges research, policy, and practice. By adopting a unified governance structure, fostering innovation, collaborating with a diverse range of partners, and implementing effective communication strategies, the Academy paves the way for a brighter future where children's rights are upheld and deeply ingrained in society’s fabric. In doing so, it fulfils its mission of nurturing professionals equipped to create positive change for children and youth worldwide.
1 Children’s Rights European Academic Network (CREAN) overseen by the Centre for Children’s Rights Studies
This article has first been published in the NewSpecial Magazine (October 2023 edition)