Original Research - Special Collection: Doing Theology with Children: Exploring Emancipatory Methodologies

Towards emancipatory research methodologies with children in the African context: Practical possibilities and overcoming challenges

Kholofelo C. Motha, Matthews M. Makgamatha, Sharlene Swartz
HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies | Vol 75, No 1 | a5496 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v75i1.5496 | © 2019 Kholofelo C. Motha, Matthews M. Makgamatha, Sharlene Swartz | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 10 April 2019 | Published: 20 November 2019

About the author(s)

Kholofelo C. Motha, Education and Skills Development Research Programme, Human Sciences Research Council, Pretoria, South Africa
Matthews M. Makgamatha, Education and Skills Development Research Programme, Human Sciences Research Council, Pretoria, South Africa
Sharlene Swartz, Education and Skills Development, Human Sciences Research Council, Pretoria; and Department of Philosophy, University of Fort Hare, Alice, South Africa


Despite having international and national legislative frameworks and policies that guarantee children’s rights and encourage their participation in matters affecting them, consulting children has received scant scholarly attention in the African context. Notwithstanding this state of affairs, it is important to ask whether, in keeping with growing progressive practices, having children as active researchers is a feasible goal to achieve and, if so, how might this be possible. Drawing on Swartz and Nyamnjoh’s framework of research existing along an emancipatory continuum, we argue for practical, methodological interventions to bridge the researcher–researched divide. We show, using four case studies, how giving children a voice – a key feature of emancipatory research – as participants in educational research has the potential to afford them space to co-enact the research and develop their sense of agency. The four case studies were drawn from investigations of (1) lived experiences of orphaned children and conceptions of education quality in South Africa; (2) consulting children about sex and HIV/AIDS education in South Africa, Tanzania and Kenya; (3) a study of a community-based peer education programme in South Africa and (4) language and mathematics skills assessments in a large-scale study. Within each case, we (1) evaluate the extent to which the research methods used aims for and achieves children’s participation and emancipation and (2) offer ways to overcome challenges for adopting emancipatory approaches in the schooling sector from ethical, policy and political perspectives. The article concludes with recommendations for implementing emancipatory methodologies in educational research involving children.


Emancipatory methods; Children; Rights-based approach; African context; Schooling sector


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