Education and Disadvantaged Children and Young People

reviewed by Susan Roberta Katz & Afsoon Alishahi - November 12, 2015

coverTitle: Education and Disadvantaged Children and Young People
Author(s): Mitsuko Matsumoto and Colin Brock
Publisher: Bloomsbury, London
ISBN: 1441117962, Pages: 192, Year: 2013
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Education and Disadvantaged Children and Young People’s admirable and ambitious objective is to present examples of programs from around the world that attempt to fulfill the right to education for children and young people suffering from the traumas of war, natural disasters, and marginalization. Amidst current global strife and turmoil, we urgently need to see ways that communities are struggling to meet the educational needs of children in the face of great odds. Despite the right to education inscribed in Article 29 of the Convention of the Rights of the Child (1989)—ratified by every nation but the United States—and Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), at least 67 million children around the world were out of school during the academic year ending in 2009 (UNESCO, 2010). Moreover, even among children who do attend school, huge inequities exist in the quality of education that they experience, particularly when the children are from groups of people that have been historically oppressed.

The first few chapters of the book discuss different research studies, with the first one presenting data from the author’s larger ethnographic study of a small, racially diverse autonomous public high school in NYC that has shown success in transforming the school culture for African American and Latino youth, who too often are targeted for being pushed out of high school before graduating. The author illustrates how teacher-student relationships based on “critical care” can make all the difference in the world in keeping students engaged in learning. In the next chapter, the author draws from her critical ethnography to examine how a Shi’I Islamic school in Lebanon mitigated the impact of armed conflict after the Summer 2006 war between Hizbullah and Israel. She shows how the school’s integrated approach towards community empowerment demonstrates that “education can be a powerful tool to address issues of structural violence” (p. 32). The book also presents three participatory research projects initiated by the Children’s Society of London as interventions to address the educational challenges faced by refugee and migrant children. A persistent problem that arose in those three projects was bullying, and the young participants provided ideas, suggestions, and strategies to further their inclusion process within schools and reduce bullying.

The fourth and fifth chapters then turn to overviews of different case studies. Siddiqui looks at state policies, national surveys, government documents, and other research studies to investigate the situation of a broad population of marginalized children in India, consisting of girls, children of Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, Muslims, migrant workers, deprived urban children, and children with special needs. Danilko and Ivanenko then offer a detailed account of the geopolitical situation and economic hardships confronting Ukraine after independence, which have contributed to the increase in the number of orphans, street children, trafficked youth, and HIV/AIDS incidents among minors. The authors describe local, state, and national programs and initiatives established to address these new challenges.

The book also includes descriptions of various models used internationally. For example, Coach for College (CFC) is an intervention project designed to help youth from rural areas and low-income communities in Vietnam through exposure to sports and college student role models. The author of the chapter on CFC conducted surveys with 1,200 students from different Vietnamese middle schools who participated in CFC programs in the summers of 2008 and 2009, finding that sports can be a low-cost and effective way to teach academic and life skills. Another model that the book presents is a conceptual one of long-term social development through sports, developed by Commonwealth Games Canada (CGC). The authors of this chapter state that this model, which aims to achieve conflict reduction and peace through involvement in sports, has been implemented in Africa and the Caribbean. Unfortunately, they do not identify specific locations, except for two references to development through sports programs in Swaziland and Lesotho. Successful programs based on social development through sports have been linked to HIV/AIDS prevention, such as Kicking Out AIDS and Bowling Out AIDS, in which CGC partners with local organizations.

The scope of this book is quite broad, and this breadth could be considered a strong point in offering a large range of examples of schools and programs. However, it could also be regarded as a weakness in that the book seems to lack a unifying thread. Part of the issue is the editor’s use of the problematic term “disadvantaged” to identify the children and young people involved: from underrepresented African American and Latino youth in the United States; to refugees, migrants and Roma in the United Kingdom; to Muslims in India; to rural youth in Vietnam. “Educationally disadvantaged” implies that the children and young people lack equitable access to schooling and quality education, as if access alone would solve all the challenges from, in some cases, centuries of historical marginalization. The term “disadvantaged” also centers the source of the problem in the individual (whether child, young person, or family member) rather than holding the social institutions accountable to honor the right to education for all.

In the introduction to the book, the editor states: “The underlying epistemology of the volume is that the disadvantaged children and young people themselves can be engaged directly in research and that their voice matters” (Matsumoto, 2013, p. 6). Although we strongly agree with this statement, we lament that only four chapters actually engage children and youth in the research process. Those chapters provide powerful examples of how particular schools and programs have transformed educational experiences of historically or currently marginalized children and youth. However, the chapters on India, Ukraine, and social development through sports are not based upon empirical research at all, relying instead on secondary reports and accounts. This inconsistency in both methodology and perspective weakens the potential impact of the book.

Education and Disadvantaged Children and Young People contains a few gems that make the book worth reading—particularly Chapters One and Two, which use theoretical models of youth empowerment that contrast sharply with conceptions of “educational disadvantage.” If the other chapters had similarly challenged this deficit notion and were equally grounded in research methods that tapped into youth perspectives, the whole book would shine.


UNESCO. (2010). Reaching the marginalized. Oxford, UK: United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: November 12, 2015 ID Number: 18256, Date Accessed: 10/22/2021 2:25:19 PM

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