What happened to them: Korczak in Australia
After participating in Children as Actors for Transforming Society (CATS), Karin Morrison wanted others to share this experience. So when Child Rights in Action (CRIA) its first event, with her advice and encouragement, a school she’s working with in Australia sent a delegation to CRIA in France. Now, inspired by what CRIA is promoting, she’s setting up a Korczak association in Australia, and is involving children in the process.
CATS and CRIA are authentic pictures of practice of children living their rights. Jonathan Levy, the initiator of these programmes, introduced me to the ideas, educational theories and work of Janusz Korczak, the man whose ways of respecting and educating children formed the basis of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. CATS and CRIA bring these rights into in a time when children are often seen as little and young individuals, who will over time grow into citizens and then be taken seriously.
“I was determined for students from this school to participate in CRIA”
Wooranna Park Primary School, a public school in an outer suburb of Melbourne, Australia, is a school I have had contact with in different ways over decades. This school is in a very disadvanted area and with students from more than 40 different cultures. The Principal (Director) of the School, Mr. Ray Trotter is a visionary leader and educator and, together with a team of teachers who put children first, rather than numbers on required assessments, empower students to lead their own learning. The more I learned from CATS and Korczak, I was determined for students from this school to participate in CRIA.
This school was functioning very much in accordance with Korczak’s ideas and when I approached Mr Trotter about some students participating in CRIA, his support was immediate. There were challenges. Understandably, there are rules and numerous conditions for student travel and different programmes, particularly about safety when students are far from home. The financial costs were also a major challenge. Mr. Trotter and senior staff members navigated these challenges and the three 10-year-old students, who were enthusiastic to become CRIA participants, initiated fund-raising activities to help with the costs involved. I had given the school a copy of King Matt the First, a book by Janusz Korczak, and the Vice Principal, Jennie Vine, told me it stimulated much discussion about leadership, decision making and children’s rights. This school already had a student council and school assemblies were often run by students.
After meeting all the challenges, Chase, Charlotte et Furwah were able to travel across the world to France, accompanied by two Wooranna Park teachers. At CRIA this group was very actively engaged in all activities, made new friends, participated in the Talent Show and didn’t hesitate in volunteering to lead groups in the Open Space time. Charlotte and Chase explained Enigma Missions, a project their school developed to enable students to initiate their own research projects to explore topics that are of great interest to them. The other student co-presented a session on Child Labour. Furwah also interviewed Genevieve Garrigos from Amnesty International.
“CRIA led me to invite young people […] to design the website for this association”
Recently, I was invited to establish and lead a Janusz Korczak Association in Australia. My experiences and learning from these events, CATS and CRIA, led me to invite students from Wooranna Park to design the website for this association. Young people are in the best position to be integral in the shaping of an association that is determined to heighten awaraness and understanding of children’s rights and create more opportunities for young people to live their rights.
I spoke to the school about this new Korczak Association being established in Australia and asked if a group of students could help develop a website for this association. The technology co-ordinator has a group of children very interested in learning about websites and he was very happy for me to come and talk to this group about Korczak and the planned association.
“The students were excited to be invited to help”
The students were excited to be invited to help create the website and then started working on their ideas for this. I didn’t say a word while they did this other than that I wanted them to also think about what people of different ages might be interested in if they go to the website. They enthusiastically started placing ideas on a mind-map and, when it was time for them to go back to classes, they were talking about thinking about this some more and what they might do next to continue creating this website.
There will be discussions and others I have spoken with about this Association will add ideas, and we will have a website. While it will be very difficult to have meetings or events while this pandemic is here, the digital world is part of children’s existence today and I have no doubt they will continue with this website even though for now they can’t meet in the same place. When the website is further developed it will provide a way of communicating Korczak ideas and possibilities of what young people can do to help others live their rights and information about CRIA and other events.