Culture for Children and Young People
The invisible child
"The threat to children and children's culture is not video violence but lack of culture among role models in society," said Bengt Göransson, Swedish minister of culture, in 1982. As long as they do not care about culture or are directly hostile towards culture, it will be difficult to assert the cultural rights of children and young people.
It is therefore important to increase cultural awareness among adults, which is one of the things which Our Creative Diversity (UNESCO Report of the World Commission on Culture and Development 1996) is striving for. Children are completely dependent on how adults form their cultural environment, how they carry on traditions and renew lifestyles.
In its widest sense, culture may now be said to be the whole complex of distinctive spiritual, material, intellectual and emotional features which characterise a society or social group. It includes not only the arts and letters, but also modes of life, the fundamental rights of the human being, value systems, traditions and habits.
Culture is not only the cultural expressions of the 19th century middle class, which is the traditional concept of culture. Popular culture and the contemporary living environment also belong here. Children do not distinguish between buildings and historical monuments, between play and theatre or between rhymes, verse and poetry. Their whole environment and what they encounter there in the way of human contacts, language and experiences, attitudes and values, forms their cultural identity. This in turn they pass on to the next generation of children.
Children are practically invisible in Our Creative Diversity. For that reason it has been necessary to impose a children's aspect on the discussions and proposals which this report contains, in order to see what effects they may or may not have on children and young people.
This document is mainly concerned with the right of children and young people to a cultural identity, diversity, their own creativity and participation. It discusses whether these rights can be satisfied by means of proposed cultural policy measures or if other demands must be formulated to provide for children's and young people's cultural development needs. The discussion includes topical examples of successful children's cultural projects. It concludes with a summary and contributes pointers and recommendations for cultural policy measures for children and young people and how these commitments can be followed up.
Other documents relevant to the analysis include The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989 and Learning: The Treasure within. Report to UNESCO of the International Commission on Education for the Twenty-first Century, 1996, In from the Margins, A contribution to debate on Culture and Development in Europe, 1996 and Children and the Politics of Culture (Ed. Sharon Stephens) 1995.
Culture for children and young people
Background and definitions
The world consists today of about 200 states and 10,000 clearly defined communities. Urbanisation is on the increase and in the year 2025 it is estimated that 60% of the world's population will be living in towns or town-like communities. We are moving towards a world in which children and young people in the majority of countries are considerably more numerous than the adults and where one fifth of the world's population will be aged 1524 years. The gulf is widening between rich and poor in every country and between rich and poor countries.
But self-esteem is also increasing and democracy is gaining ground. Literacy is increasing. Women's competence is beginning to be utilised and there is greater gender equality. Environmental consciousness is being strengthened. The fight for a better environment is being carried on, not least by children and young people. They are gaining a greater global consciousness while increasingly being at the centre of interest for the international cultural industry.
"As representatives of the contested future and subjects of cultural policies, children stand at the cross-roads of divergent cultural projects. Their minds and bodies are at stake in debates about the transmission of fundamental cultural values in the schools. The very nature of their senses, languages, social networks, world views, and material futures are at stake in debates about ethnic purity, national identity, minority self-expression, and self-rule," observes Sharon Stephens in Children and the Politics of Culture.
A positive foundation for cultural development for children and young people is that in 1989/90 the countries of the world signed The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child which affects children's fundamental conditions of life in a concrete way. Therefore, the emphasis of this document on children's and young people's culture is on their cultural rights. These should include creative schools which provide communicative skills. In addition children's and young people's participation in cultural life and the cultural heritage must be strengthened. Books and libraries, areas which have been briefly touched on in Our Creative Diversity, are given particular attention in our document.
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child does not use the term children's culture but speaks instead of children's cultural rights. These include the right to rest and leisure time, play and recreation and to freely take part in cultural and artistic life. The convention requires a change in our attitude to children. Adults should respect children's integrity and listen to children. Adults should always think of the children's best and respect the fact that all children are equal and have equal rights.
Discussions on children's culture are mainly concerned with children and the media. Here the discussion is restricted to the need for communicative skills and children's right to quality in what is offered in the media and freedom of expression, i.e. the right to be heard themselves in the media.
The term "media" is often misused and requires a definition. It originates from the word "medium" or means, i.e. technical/electronic aids which act as distribution channels for messages from broadcasters to receivers. Consequently, mass media are channels through which the same message can be sent at the same time to as many people as possible (a mass market). The messages are perishable, i.e. they must be repeated constantly. Multimedia is nothing but several channels being used together.
Newspapers, magazines, radio, television and the Internet are all mass media. Books are not usually included, though both The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and Our Creative Diversity do include them. Books are, it is true, printed in larger or smaller editions but are seldom read simultaneously by many people. Nor are they perishable or require renewal in the same way as messages in newspapers, magazines, radio, television and the Internet. They have possibly been assigned to the mass media area with reference to the major media conglomerates, where an increasing number of book publishers end up.
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child as an ethical basic document
About a new global ethics
In Our Creative Diversity's introductory discussion of a new global ethics and its sources of inspiration The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is not mentioned among international and regional conventions and agreements.
Since 1989/90 this has constituted one of the main components of the new global ethics. Its demands are beginning to have a real impact. Existing international standards for human rights cover both children and adults. But in this convention children have been given a more far-reaching document on their rights and how these are to be protected to the maximum extent of a state's available resources, always with the best interest of the child as a primary consideration.
Indigenous populations and ethnic minorities risk that their language and culture will be repressed by schools and obliterated by the international cultural industry. Here also The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child has concrete demands that children who belong to indigenous populations or ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities may not be discriminated against. They are to have the right to their language, their religion and their cultural life.8
Our Creative Diversity develops an ethical discussion on justice within and between generations and the responsibility for future generations. In order to protect the interests of future generations the idea is put forward of an institution or "mechanism", a kind of cultural supervisor. This "Guardian" is to guarantee future generations rights on the international level as regards decisions within the scope of the UN and international legislation. The idea is interesting and should be possible to develop in a more operative form in the perspective of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Without imagination you can only think back
About creativity and empowerment
The heading was formulated by a six-year-old who was reflecting on what imagination is really needed for. Without imagination people are afraid of the new and seek out what they are already familiar with. They think back.
Imagination, creativity also means creative power and is the driving force in everything children do. Our Creative Diversity wants to broaden the concept of creativity to also include technological, social and political creativity. But among children and young people there is already such comprehensive creativity. If the creative power of children is utilised then this could be the social force which the report is seeking. A good example of this is the environmental movement, which has become what it is today thanks to the commitment of creative children and young people.
The European Task Force on Culture and Development, established by the Council of Europe as a complement to the work of the Commission, has emphasised a concern over the apparent decline of basic creativity in Europe. This may be due to the fact that society is becoming more abstract. Abstract thinking is rewarded while the concrete, creative is not given a place in today's educational society.
In Our Creative Diversity education is referred to in the traditional way as the best method of strengthening children's and young people's cultural development. Education is a goal in itself and involves the right to share in the collective knowledge of humanity. Education, in addition, leads to higher productivity, is good for the environment, promotes social and political stability. The World Bank regards education as an "investment in human capital".
Compulsory schooling produces a well-educated labour force but can also lead to the abolition of child labour. By this means, unemployed youth can instead get jobs, believes the report on culture. This is, however, quite a naive solution to two topical world problems: child labour and youth unemployment.
Children's creativity and potential to contribute to cultural development must be acknowledged and stimulated. Each situation has its own possibilities and requires its own choices, states the report. It contents itself by stating that education strategies must be created on the basis of local conditions. However, three things are regarded as important: to educate, to protect and to listen.
The UNESCO report Learning: The Treasure within lays down life-long learning as a basic principle. The goal is that everyone, through learning how to learn, learning to know, learning to do and learning to be, shall learn to live together. The chairman of the committee, Jacques Delors, believes that none of the talents which are hidden like buried treasure in every person must be left untapped. These are, to name but a few: memory, reasoning power, imagination, physical ability, aesthetic sense, the aptitude to communicate with others.
It is the duty of every nation to ensure that all children receive a free, compulsory basic education (pre-primary and primary schooling). This was agreed by all the countries of the world in 1990 at the "World Conference on Education for all" in Jomtien, Thailand. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child has a long list of measures intended to gradually realise children's rights to education on equal terms and also refers to the overall purpose children's education should have.
Delors writes, with some rhetoric, that this is a Utopia, but a necessary one, in his introduction to Learning: The Treasure within: "Does the point need to be emphasised? The Commission was thinking principally about the children and young people who will take over from today's generation of adults, the latter being all too inclined to concentrate on their own problems. Education is also an expression of affection for children and young people, whom we need to welcome into society, unreservedly offering them the place that is theirs by right therein a place in the education system, to be sure, but also in the family, the local community and the nation..."
A creative school system is basic to this development. A school system in which the children, right from nursery school can share in vitally important artistic expression in words, pictures, movement, sound/music. When you train your senses, you are also training your ability to empathise, the capacity to know others.
Young people often state how participation in a music group, a theatre production, a writers' workshop, has given their lives a new turn. Creativity must be given a greater place in the compulsory school and not only be used therapeutically. More dance, music, theatre, photography, film, art and writing is needed for all children within the schools.
Children have the right to develop their creative power, get to know different forms of expression, since they need them to be able to utilise the freedom of expression and opinion which The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child guarantees them.
Our Creative Diversity quotes a phrase in an OECD report: "School is above all or at least should be the place of rational knowledge". But school must be creative in order to develop the creative power of children, which constitutes the actual charge of creative energy which the world needs. This applies to all countries, not least in Asia's well-developed educational machinery. Karan Singh, an Indian member of the Delors-commission, goes as far as to say, under the heading "Education for the global society" that: "What is urgent therefore is a creative revolution in our education and communication policies."
The Delors report observes that it is in the stage of basic education that the spark of creativity may either spring into life or be extinguished, and that access to knowledge may or may not become a reality. This is the time when we all acquire the instrument for the future development of our faculties of reason and imagination, our judgement and sense of responsibility, when we learn to be inquisitive about the world around us... Unfortunately the school report does not make any proposals as to the changes needed in schools in order to achieve this goal.
Art and music are usually included in the school curriculum at the lower and intermediate levels (primary education and the first two or three years of secondary education). Music/choir-singing and dance are among the most common cultural leisure-time activities outside the setting of school. Around the world there are schools which have progressed a little further, by establishing media study courses, drama study courses, art and music classes and even culture schools. Nevertheless, in these the creativity is reserved for children and young people who are regarded as being specially gifted.
But creativity must be conceived as a general capacity which should be encouraged throughout the compulsory curriculum; in language teaching, in science, in mathematics as well as in the arts. This expansive conception of the creative capacities of the human mind is the more fruitful and well-founded approach for education.
Culture and people's own creativity must permeate all school work. Why? Carneiro da Cunha, Brazil, answers very consciously in Children and the Politics of Culture: "Precisely because culture is production and not a product, we must be attentive in order not to be deceived. What we must guarantee for future generations is not the preservation of cultural products, but the capacity for cultural production."
In the chapter of Our Creative Diversity in which children and young people are mentioned, the basic elements of The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child are described. However, it is mainly young people UNESCO is concentrating on in its arguments. The Nordic delegate, Nils Gunnar Nilsson, observed in a contribution to the discussion in UNESCO's Executive Board on 30 May 1997: "UNESCO has a somewhat troublesome relation to youth, at least when it comes to language... Today's item has the headline "Tuning in to youth: how to involve it in UNESCO's ideal". "It". That puts it in a nutshell, I think, our faltering way of dealing with our latest priority group. "It": that sounds like we are talking about some kind of strangers out there..."
It is important to allow young people to participate in decision-making and in the establishment, design and implementation of all youth programmes, states the report Our Creative Diversity. The governments bear the responsibility for introducing and maintaining strategies in the field of education and the social and cultural areas. These strategies should be developed by and for young people.
As in The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child it should be required that we listen to children of all ages. The period of reproducing knowledge should be in the past. The world's children and young people have any amount of initiative, creativity and desire they only need to be allowed to use their potential.
It is important also to support and develop children's and young people's creative environments outside school. Children's and young people's own creativity is dependent on the adult world taking greater responsibility and providing opportunities and scope for children's and young people's creativity. Artists and cultural institutions are important resources in this context and they must give higher priority to children's and young people's needs within the frame of their ordinary activities.
About challenges of a media-rich world
It is difficult to predict what the children of today need to "get on well in life" in a world more or less characterised by urbanisation, a mobile labour market, lifelong learning etc.
We know that the children will need communicative skills, i.e. they must develop such skills and abilities which will allow them to interpret, understand and handle the reality in which they live. The World Conference on Education for all in 1990 noted: "The need throughout the world for the question is not one that concerns the developing countries only is for everyone to be in command of the knowledge they require in order to understand the world in which they live".
The report Our Creative Diversity and several current contributions to the debate express a diffuse anxiety in face of the "mass media" which acts as an indeterminate cultural factor of power, just as "the market" is for the economy. This fear of the mass media is a question of generation and often originates in adults' uncertainty in face of children's and young people's mass media competence.
Adults are easily gripped by moral panic in face of what reaches them via new mass media. This was true of radio, television, video and the Internet. If you cry "wolf", too many times you won't be able to mobilise help when it is really needed.
When the role of the mass media in society is discussed the importance of freedom of expression and the independence of the media should be stressed. The fundamental freedom of expression is guaranteed by Article 10 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.
Our Creative Diversity refers to The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child as regards the mass media. It believes that article 17 (see note 29) provides an international framework by preferring to encourage the development of appropriate guidelines for the protection of the child from information and material injurious to his or her well being. It is proposed that this pioneering work is followed up at global level in order to find a common platform for measures.
In most national and many inter-governmental contexts, discussions and exchange of experience are already in progress on "Violence on the Screen and the Rights of the Child". Usually voluntary agreements (guidelines) between television companies are made concerning restrictions on advertising during children's television programmes, programmes which will not be broadcast or which will be broadcast late in the evening. Recommendations are given concerning which programmes are suitable for various ages or unsuitable for children.
In Sweden, there is a ban to direct television advertising to children under the age of 12. It is considered that children under this age do not usually understand the true purpose of the adverts. Furthermore, there are clear indications that children cannot generally distinguish between television advertising and ordinary programmes. There is a similar ban in Norway. Both were decided after a report was published concerning the effects that advertisements had on children. Several surveys and reports have been published since then. The latest is made by BEUC (Bureau Européen des Unions de Consommateurs) in 1996 which express profound concern at the proliferation of marketing practices aimed at children, the growing trend towards "hidden" forms of advertising and the insufficient and out-of-date regulatory framework to deal with these developments.
In the reports to The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) the State Parties describe what concrete measures they have taken to live up to the requirements of the convention. In 1996 "The UNESCO Clearinghouse on Children and Violence on the Screen" was also created, to collect and distribute current agreements and current research on children and young people and media violence in the perspective of The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
As regards the mass media, there are considerable commitments in The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, though somewhat vaguely formulated, such as "recognise the important function performed by mass media" and "encourage the mass media" to take various measures. The State Parties have undertaken to safeguard diversity, i.e. ensure that every child has access to a varied assortment of quality television programmes, films etc. Many of those taking part in the debate, however, shut their eyes to this important commitment.
Mass media research shows that children and young people are not primarily seeking violence, but action. Video is used by younger children to see the same favourite film again and again, just as they constantly read and reread their favourite books. Film/television is a way of getting two kinds of information. Firstly these media give a picture of actual circumstances and secondly they make it possible to understand and enter into other people's lives and develop the empathy which many adults believe that today's youth does not have. The real television and video abusers are mostly adults.
It would, however, be wrong only to consider films, TV and other media as something that is bad and damaging. It is in this context also important to point out the positive aspects and possibilities of the media - for example regarding education, news supply, entertainment and diversion, communication and art, the creation of public opinion and the capacity to cause debate. The media have a very important role in todays society.
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child also asserts children's freedom of expression and their right to freely express their views, i.e. the right to gain access to production resources and speak for themselves via the mass media.30_ By making films and television themselves, children and young people gain the chance to investigate and shape the world around them.
Nevertheless, television often function as surrogates for communication between people. It is important to encourage children and young people to learn to know themselves, i.e. process their own problems, gain understanding of how others feel and think. Adults must take an interest in what films, television and video programmes children and young people watch and take the time to talk about it. Not least important is that both children and adults are critical and question what is shown in various media.
When it comes to the protection of children from the negative influence of the media the best and most important tool is perhaps media-education. The living conditions of children differ and parents take part in the media-consumption of their children to a varying extent. In school, however, you can reach all children. Media-education should help the public to develop critical attitudes and to exercise reasoned choices in the face of the increasing multiplication of services offered by the various media.
About Gender and culture
Of the world's 900 million illiterate people, two thirds are women. Of the 130 million children who do not have access to elementary education, 60 per cent are girls.
Girls have as much right as boys to the development of the child's personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential.31 The contributions of the aid organisations have been increasingly focused on gender and equal opportunities projects, since profitability studies also show that concentrating educational efforts on young girls gives a greater return than the equivalent efforts on behalf of boys.
Education of girls leads, for example, to a lower drop-out rate from studies, falling birth rates, decreased infant mortality rates, less child labour, better-educated children, increased gender equality, greater political commitment and mobility between different occupations. Using the terminology of The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, efforts for the good of girls would mean that the best interest of all children would be given primary consideration.
The convention's rights apply to all children, regardless of sex. But knowledge as to how in particular girls are treated lies behind the demands for effective measures to protect the child from all forms of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse and abolishing traditional practices prejudicial to the health of children (for example female circumcision).
Girls must also be given strong role models, both among practising artists and fictional characters within theatre, music, dance, art, film, literature. But reality is different. Most internationally acknowledged artists are men, even though women are beginning to make themselves visible. For example, children's theatre and children's films as well as the children's book market are still dominated by brave boy heroes. A lot is based on tradition and habit. The situation should therefore be easy to change if everyone becomes aware of this "boy trap".
Books build bridges
About books and libraries
Since 1993 Rädda Barnen (Swedish Save the Children) has participated in the training of the peacekeeping forces of the UN/IFOR. The soldiers have been informed of the rights of the child according to The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and how children are affected by war experiences and the psycho-social effects on their development. In order to make it easier for the soldiers to make contact with children, the battalion which was sent to Bosnia in 1996 took with it classical children's books (in translation) which most of them themselves had grown up with: Astrid Lindgren's Pippi Långstrump (Pippi Longstocking) Emil i Lönneberga (Emil in the Soup Tureen) and Madicken (Mischievous Meg), and Gunilla Bergström's Alfons Åberg (Alfie Atkins).
The fact that it was soldiers who took the time to sit down with the children and look at the books in the refugee camps, point at Pippi and laugh together with them had great psychological significance. The books built bridges.
Current statistics of literacy in the world are encouraging. It has increased even among adults, while the gap in literacy between different countries has decreased. The extent of this change and its conceivable impact on cultural and economic demands and activities should not be underestimated.
Being able to read and write is still the basis of communicative skills. In the age of the computer a person must be able to read, which motivates even boys who are unwilling to read to try. Children are reading more than ever, despite the fact that adults claim the opposite. Even young people today read more than adults do.
In order to gain the inclination to read and thus functional literacy it is above all necessary to have access to good books. Many critics maintain that today's schools emphasise the technical aspect of reading and writing too much. They believe that the focus should instead be on the child's understanding of and reflections concerning a text. Many children's lack of reading and writing experiences poses a major problem. In order to learn to read and write a person must read and write often and a lot. There must be something real to write about and something important to read.
The UNESCO report Our Creative Diversity notes that the hunger for books is still insatiable. More and more publishing houses are being amalgamated and bought up by international media conglomerates, but most countries still have several publishing companies. Far from all of them, however, produce books for children and young people, even fewer quality children's literature. In 1996 India reported to the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY) about 130 publishers and 56,000 children's book titles, the USA reported 157 publishers and about the same number of titles, South Africa 21 book publishers and 160 titles, Venezuela 4 publishers and 31 book titles. Despite the fact that the children's book market is profitable, children's literature has low status.
The signatories of the convention have undertaken to encourage the production and dissemination of children's books". But considerably more than "encouragement" of publishers is needed to produce the books which children and young people have the right to demand. Books which challenge thought and imagination, which open the way to empathy with others.
Picture books make special demands which adults sometimes forget. From a number of pictures and a small amount of text and the book's idea itself to turn page after page something unique in the way of narrative is created.
There are many interesting examples of how good picture books can be produced. One is the Little Library Project, South Africa, which has as its goal to publish picture books of a high quality at reasonable prices for South Africa's ten million children. Storytellers, authors and artists worked together in writers' workshops to produce a series of picture books and material to train reading in seven different languages. Children also took part in the process of selection. The intention was to give everyone in multicultural and multilingual South Africa access to the world of children's books. In addition, the aim was to create respect for the country's many languages and the people who speak them.
The majority of the world's children grow up in multilingual environments. Children in ethnic minorities, immigrant children and refugee children have the right to have books in their home languages. Children and young people also have the right to read good books from all over the world in their mother tongue. But the publishers' interest in translating books from small language areas is decreasing. Every country must therefore encourage literature in translation.
Non-fiction books must be able to give sensible answers to the questions which children of various ages put and be edited so that they correspond to the children's way of asking questions. But instead, children often get books with prefabricated answers to questions which they have never themselves asked. In order to capture their interest and convince them, a non-fiction book author must be involved in his or her subject and wish to communicate his or her interest and discoveries to others.
The world market for non-fiction books for children and young people is dominated by Dorling Kindersley (England), Gallimard (France) and Scholastics (USA/Australia). The proposal of the report of the World Commission for international co-production of textbooks is therefore not fully thought through. There is more than enough co-produced non-fiction in the world. Every national group, linguistic group and country needs its own books on its history, its culture, books which utilise the collective memory and which do not smooth over everything into a flattened post-colonial co-production. A tried and tested educational alternative is, on the other hand, that children and adults produce their own reading books and text books, which is made easier by new, simple forms of production (even if paper is expensive).
A reliable way of learning history and geography is to correspond with schools/classes both in one's own country and in other countries and for example, send home-made school/class newspapers. In that way a counterweight is offered to all the traditional schoolbooks' glossy pictures from various parts of the world and the aggressive pictures which appear in the mass media. School children can now (for a relatively small cost) exchange texts, experiences and pictures with letters, packages, fax, e-mail. But it is easy to forget that such correspondence must be regular and have a continuity to have a pedagogical effect.
In comments on the report Our Creative Diversity the Swedish minister of culture deplores the fact that the major culture-bearing role of literature and libraries in the whole world is not considered. Everywhere in the world the libraries play a significant cultural, educational and social role.
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child encourages the dissemination of children's books. In concrete terms this is best done through various kinds of library. The libraries provide many children with a breathing space in a hard and overcrowded reality. Often the library is the only gathering place which is open to children in an otherwise commercial centre and in practice the children's own cultural centre with many different activities. There they can read books, borrow books, listen to books, talk about books, investigate. But also do their homework, find out things, write on a typewriter or computer, read newspapers, play games, talk. They are allowed to exist and be seen, discuss important things with adults who both want to and can listen.
Everywhere children's libraries are springing up, from a shelf in a reading room to their own corner, their own department. Travelling libraries circulate in boxes, in backpacks, on donkeys, in cars and busses with the help of children and young people, parents, voluntary forces and NGOs. The libraries play an important part in children and young people's existence. This is also emphasised in The UNESCO Library Manifesto.
In 1995 the IBBY Asahi Reading Promotion Award was awarded to Fundalectura, Colombia, which supports and develops reading practice among children and young people. It started on a small scale at the end of the 1980s, inspired by Banco del Libro in Caracas, Venezuela, but with its own, Colombian concept. Among other things, Fundalectura has succeeded in achieving a national development plan for measures to promote reading - "Es rico leer!" (It's great to read!). In its motivation, the jury stressed: "At a time when most media reports dwell on drug cartels and violence in Colombia, Fundalectura's exemplary efforts on behalf of reading and literacy promotion offer proof that there are positive developments in Colombia equally worthy of attention by the international public."
France has abundant children's and young people's literature and about 60 book publishers which publish over 6,000 children's book titles. But there are also great differences in access to books and libraries. In 1997 the project "Lis avec moi" was awarded the IBBY Asahi prize, with this motive: "There are big social inequalities in the north of France in the areas where the rates of unemployment and failure in school are particularly high and where there is a large population of immigrants. Here access to reading is non existent. The project "Lis avec moi" is concentrated on reading stories loud, to accompany the book, to create a cultural environment in which children and adults can play with words and language, a prerequisite to learning how to read.
The jury emphasised that the same type of project exists in a number of countries. The prize was, thus, indirectly also going to all those people who work with measures to promote reading in the stubborn conviction that already from the start of their lives, children need books to be able to grow and parents who are aware of this need.
Many children's libraries and school libraries in western countries are threatened due to ignorance and lack of interest among politicians and administrators. Lending of children's books has fallen at libraries, but this is not only because children read less competition from other media has increased but because there are fewer children's books to borrow. The number of libraries close to children has decreased and the book allowances have been cut. It takes special initiatives to secure the access for children to children's libraries and school libraries.
Children and the cultural heritage
The key to preservation is participation. People who live near these monuments and environments must share in the profit which tourism, for example, generates. The world heritage list makes great demands of children, since the world's cultural and natural heritage is to be protected for coming generations, i.e. also by those of them who are now children and their descendants.
It is no longer just a question of "the seven wonders of the world". On the same list as the pyramids of Egypt or the Taj Mahal in India, children and young people can also find, for example, the rock-carvings in Tanum and another 500 or more natural and cultural environments spread among 108 countries (1997). Children's and young people's interest in and commitment to natural environments is even greater. Thanks to films and television they are not unfamiliar with either the Galapagos Islands, the Kakadu National Park or Lake Malawi.
Our Creative Diversity presents youth as a resource only as regards the environment: "In greater awareness of our responsibilities to future generations and greater respect for our natural environment, the key role of young people has been unprecedented. The young have sometimes been accused of concerning themselves passionately with single issues, losing sight of society and nature as a whole. But as the NGOs that were present at the Rio Conference and the follow-up showed, this has not been true of their attitude to the preservation of the environment. Here is an opportunity to enhance their sense of social and civic responsibility and commitment."
It seems as if the report really does not believe in the commitment and anxiety of young people over environmental questions: "The militancy of the young in environmental or Green movements is quite surprising in view of the fact that they are apathetic and display a privatist and individualistic mood in other areas of their lives. Initiative of the young in this field, be they international gatherings or cultural and creative activities, should be encouraged." The statement lacks references and is difficult to interpret other than as a disparagement of young people's interest and/or fear of their knowledge and creative energy.
Adopting a cultural monument is popular in many parts of the world. In Zimbabwe the adopt a site approach aims at educating the locals to appreciate the cultural heritage. Once this is achieved the locals become the custodian of the heritage in the area. In Europe at present fifteen countries are taking part in the EU project "Schools Adopt Monuments".
As world heritage researchers children and young people must have access to material in archives/libraries and via the Internet. They can also help museums and archives to transfer relevant material to modern technology, since the documentation is lagging behind catastrophically at such institutions.
The museums, which are rapidly growing in number, have an increasing responsibility as collectors and guardians of our collective memory. As regards children this is unfortunately a matter of our collective forgetfulness. The archaeologists, whose finds form the basis of a large part of the world's concrete history, are facing a constant dilemma: the invisible child. Children's skeletons are often found, since only about half of all children lived to be adults in ancient times. But they usually took with them to the grave a few beads, a knife, a comb, a little top or a couple of miniature bone objects.
According to Our Creative Diversity there is no question of "children" belonging to the museums' area of responsibility. The report mentions that all forward looking museum curators place great emphasis on the close involvement of the entire community in all aspects of the policy and operations of the museum. Museologists, scientists, art historians, educators and other professionals who form the expert staff regard their roll as being at least in part that of "facilitators" working to empower the non-specialist population of the community. Perhaps, however, children and young people are included in the concept "non-specialist population".
The "ecomuseum" has been defined as an institution conceived, fashioned and operated jointly by a museum authority (local or otherwise) and a local population concerned with the totality of the human and the natural ecology of its defined territory, thereby situating the human population in its natural environment. It aims to serve as a mirror in which the local population may discover its own image, and which it holds up to the visitors to help them understand the ecomuseum's territory and community.
If you change the words "the local population" and "the human population" to "children and young people" an interesting idea can be glimpsed. Traditional museums could be recreated on the same premise: children and young people can work with professionals in order to discover their own history and culture and make children visible in the society the museum is reflecting.
Museums play an increasingly large part in children's and young people's education around the world. They often apply a problem and experience based educational approach which constitutes a positive complement to the traditional school tuition.54_ The Museo Pambata in Manila, Philippines, is one of the centres that is conceived to support non-formal education. Being an alternative learning centre, a sizeable number of the visitors are streetchildren who come to the museum to enjoy learning through its exhibits and programmes.
The museums' exhibitions often function as popular theatre stages in an attempt to bring history to life, ranging from more traditional tours with museum guides wearing suitable historical costumes to tableaux with professional actors and texts. At the ICOM/CECA International congress in Stavanger in 1995 Åse Enerstvedt drew the following conclusion after an evaluation of some Norwegian museum dramatisations for children and young people. It can also close this document.
"Children are competent culture creators and tradition bearers, and so grown ups have an obligation to children, which means that if we take on the task to transfer to them the adult's culture, no matter in what form, it has to be of quality. Sincerity is the key word. People too often seem to believe that if you only simplify and make the object uncomplicated and so called "childish", you have done a good job... We do not need to be uncomplicated children are not afraid of challenges and we do not need to simplify, because the children will understand and then feel offended. The program makers too often underestimate the children."
Pointers and recommendations
The Convention on the Rights of the Child, which until June 1997 had been ratified by 190 states (only the USA and Somalia are missing) is an important basic document which should be used in all discussions of cultural development and a new global ethics. It states that a child means every human being below the age of eighteen years unless, under law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier. The convention speaks of children's cultural rights and demands above all a change in our attitude to children. Adults should respect the integrity of children and listen to them. Adults should always think of the children's best and respect the fact that all children are of equal value and have equal rights. This applies not least to cultural policy.
Our Creative Diversity (The Report of the World Commission on Culture and Development) puts forward ideas of a "Guardian", an institution or "mechanism", a cultural supervisor. This "Guardian" should at international level ensure the rights of future generations as regards decisions within the scope of the UN and in international legislation. The idea is interesting and could be developed.
The conference of ministers should propose that UNESCO
reviews directives and programmes to ensure that aspects of children's culture are introduced and included in all discussions and actions, in programmes and other contributions from all of UNESCO's commissions, bodies and programmes. Children's and young people's cultural rights must be observed and safeguarded
shall co-ordinate the follow-up of the reports Our Creative Diversity and Learning: The Treasure within so that children's and young people's requirements for a creative school and the cultural rights which The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child ensures for them can be fulfilled at national and international level
shall, in the planned Annual report on Culture and Development particularly monitor children's and young people's culture and its development
shall continue to develop indicators in order to be able to measure different aspects of the development of children's cultural rights in the member countries
shall investigate the possibilities of establishing an international Clearinghouse on Children and Culture for global exchange of experiences (corresponding to the UNESCO Clearinghouse on Children and Violence on the Screen)
shall take measures in order to spread knowledge and experience on how to provide all children and young people with knowledge about media, their role in society and their influence, for example by using facts and findings by the UNESCO Clearinghouse on Children and Violence on the Screen (NORDICOM) and similar institutes. Children and young people should also get opportunities to analyze and critically review mass media, i.e. the news and messages from media and the way media perform. It is furthermore important that children and young people are given chances to develop skills and practice proficiencies regarding the use of media
shall intensify the work of promoting reading for children and young people in all parts of the world and draw particular attention to the needs of girls. Exchange of ideas and experiences can take place via the proposed International Clearinghouse on Children and Culture.
The member countries
shall review the directives and programmes in all the country's commissions, bodies and programmes in order to ensure that children's and young people's cultural rights and creative potential are observed and safeguarded
shall develop and implement national strategies for how children's and young people's culture is to be developed and report this in the recurrent reports to The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child
shall develop and implement national strategies so that the compulsory school is developed in a more creative way by strengthening the position of various artistic forms of expression: music, dance, theatre, photography, film, television/video, design, handicrafts, literature, art and artistic form as well as the cultural heritage, in the curriculum and its application
shall support and develop creative environment for children and young people outside school
shall take measures in order to provide all children and young people with knowledge about mass media, their role in society and their influence. Children and young people should also get opportunities to analyze and critically review mass media, i.e. the news and messages from media and the way media perform. It is furthermore important that children and young people are given chances to develop skills and practice proficiencies regarding the use of mass media
shall initiate debates with companies within the sector of TV and film in order to encourage them to assume ethical responsibility concerning the contents of their productions
shall support reviews and reports concerning the effects of advertising aimed at children
shall support publication of literature for children and young people in various local languages and minority languages as well as translation of children's and young people's books from smaller linguistic areas. The member countries should similarly work in support of the awarding of literary prizes of national and international status to books for children and young people
shall guarantee the right of children and young people to libraries
shall demand that museums make children visible. Children's and young people's chances of participating as experts in their part of the cultural heritage should be developed, as should their possibilities of helping museums and archives to transfer relevant material to modern technology
shall demand that cultural institutions within all areas of their activities take children's and young people's needs more into consideration, as well as utilise the skills and experience of the artists.
Britt Isaksson is a librarian, television producer and journalist, specializing in issues of culture for children and young adults. She has lectured at The Research Center for Childrens Culture at the University of Stockholm since 1978 and has published books and articles, and produced television programmes on children's literature and reading, children and the creative arts, children and the media, and children's cultural heritage.