Marking the International Day for Street Children
On April 12th every year, those of us who work and conduct research with street-connected young people mark the international day for street children. As the Consortium for Street Children highlight, we want to support street-connected young people by:
- Ensuring they have the same access to services, resources, care and opportunities that other young people have.
- Amplifying their voices so they can make their views known.
- Putting an end to the discrimination they face on a daily basis.
This year, as access to services is at the forefront of our thinking on #StreetChildrenDay, I am providing a summary of a research project conducted in collaboration with colleagues at Glad’s House in Kenya in relation to street-connected young people’s opinions and experiences of education, and how the findings of this research confirm how a sense of (not) belonging affects a learner’s engagement and performance in school.
Experiences of formal schooling as rationale for inclusive pedagogies of practice
This study, funded by the British Academy (Grant code: SRG 170976), aimed to build on the research skills of the social work and education teams at Glad’s House to develop qualitative methods of data generation that could be integrated into their daily programmes of work for more meaningful monitoring and evaluation. After a workshop on qualitative research methods, Kevin and Irene piloted the use of walking interviews, drawings, and image elicitation interviews, aiming to understand the education-related opinions and experiences of young people who had been street-connected for extended periods of time. Lillian conducted focus group activities with young men for whom she provided counselling support.
The findings, which are discussed in more detail in a 2020 paper that also discusses my doctoral research conducted in another part of Kenya (Corcoran 2016), highlight:
a) how some young people’s negative experiences education were a reason for dropping out and initially migrating to the street;
b) how fear, embarrassment, and shame of being out-of-school for an extended period of time, and/or being street-connected, prevents young people from going (back) into formal education; and
c) how acceptance and support are key to overcoming feelings of not belonging and the challenges faced by street-connected young people transitioning into schools.
It is possible to say that street-connected young people do not leave the street. They may be physically removed from the space, but their experiences of leaving and continuing through education suggest that street-connectedness is not spatially or temporally constrained. Young people develop emotional ties to the people and opportunities found on the street, and may have fled difficult home situations. Therefore, becoming street-connected is a process of becoming and making sense of the self within the context of the interactional space thought of as the street; and leaving the street involves another process of becoming in which street-connected identities continue to be constructed and re-constructed in relation to their new situations.
As young people transition into new communities, or return to old ones, they figure a sense of belonging in relation to their experiences of the transition and the interactions they have with others in that community. They are therefore able to settle into schools better when they feel supported and accepted, influencing long-term aspects such as academic performance or the roles that they envision for themselves at home and in society.
Therefore, as we attempt to negotiate street-connected young people’s transition into schools, especially within societies that uphold negative views about young people being on the street, it is important to develop welcoming learning environments, acceptance and support from teachers, and frameworks for friendship and peer support. We need to think beyond access to education and getting children into school, to consider long-term strategies that provide effective support systems – building trusting relationships between these young people and social work teams, building self-confidence and well-being through effective reintegration programmes that strengthen connections with family, school, and the community, and advocating for the provision of further support systems.
Developing inclusive communities
In a recent paper written with Dimi Kaneva from the University of Huddersfield, we focus on the need to develop inclusive communities in formal education settings by looking at the learners of English as an additional language in the UK and street-connected young people in Kenya. In the paper, we explore the importance of listening to young people and how notions of belonging and positioning help to understand educational experiences that can inform the development of effective inclusive practice.
We highlight the limited focus on transitions in education, especially for marginalised learners, in both policy and academic literature and the need for a sustained focus on supportive, inclusive pedagogies of teaching and learning for all learners making transitions into or between levels of an education system, and in the months that follow. We need to better understand learners’ experiences through shared narratives and dialogue, starting with the learners’ experiences to develop pedagogies and foster inclusive communities within and beyond schools.
Su Corcoran is a research associate at ESRI. She would like to acknowledge her coauthors on the two papers highlighted in the blog post above – Irene Aluoch, Lillian Awimbo, Dimi Kaneva and Kevin Mugwanga. Glad’s House is an organisation in Mombasa, Kenya that works with street-connected young people. You can find out more about what they do at www.gladshouse.com.
Corcoran, S. (2016). Leaving the street? Exploring transition experiences of street-connected children and youth in Kenya. Doctoral dissertation. Manchester: University of Manchester.
Corcoran, S., Awimbo L., Mugwanga, K., Aluoch, I. (2020). ‘Street-connectedness and education in Kenya: experiences of formal schooling as rationale for inclusive pedagogies of practice’, Prospects
Corcoran, S. and Kaneva, K. (2021 ) ‘Developing inclusive communities: understanding the experiences of education of learners of English as an additional language in England and street-connected young people in Kenya’, International Journal of Inclusive Education