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User:Astirmays/Vikidia, an equivalent of Wikipedia for children and the information and participation rights

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Mathias Damour - contribution to the 7th International Janusz Korczak Seminar in Geneva on May 30, 2015. On the topic Childhood Protection and Participation

Vikidia is a wiki encyclopedia designed for children aged 8 to 13, open to contributors of any age. It aims both to offer a suitable corpus of knowledge for children and to let some of them, as well as teenagers, be involved in building it. It is very close to Wikipedia in its aim and functioning, except the age range of the readers.

Origins[edit | edit source]

I began to participate to Wikipedia in French in 2006 because I liked the project, its functioning and values.

A few months later I became aware of a discussion about building a selection of Wikipedia articles for children. It would have been about 2000 articles, checked and curated as far as needed. It nevertheless didn't address the fact that the levels of Wikipedia articles was often not adapted to children, and wouldn't have offered much more than a fixed resource as a textbook, that's to say children would not have been able to add or change something.

A few months before, some German “Wikipedians” proposed to open a full new wiki for children (yet without realization), and another group had already launched it in Dutch. I argued to rescope the “articles selection” project into such a wiki, and as it was not to be done soon, I then opened Vikidia.

Its model of functioning was not difficult to elaborate since we just had to copy the one of Wikipedia. Nevertheless the example of diverse progressive education approach and of Korczak orphanages and other democratic schools functioning was crucial to imagine that the Wikipedia functioning was possible with children – and teenagers and adults, working together.

Children participation, age distribution of the editors[edit | edit source]

Beside the content objective (and aim of a good quality content), we have the purpose to enable children to write and be involved themselves on the wiki.

Adults involvement is still essential for building content that is of quality and significance, to ensure a certain stability in the functioning of the wiki, whereas children's involvement has several benefits such as creating contents on subjects that interest their peers, and they definitely take their share in growing the content and in maintenance tasks.

The user's age distribution or edit distribution by user age is difficult to draw because the "quantity" of users can not be traced directly. Users are involved in very diverse activities and their level of involvement are very disparate making comparison or counting difficult. During the first years on Vikidia in French, the distribution seemed to be about one-half adult editors, one-third teenagers and the remaining one-sixth from the readers age range. After the increase in site traffic, children are now the majority of new editors.

Only few of them are intensely involved: out of about 200 peoples that make at least one change on the wiki in one month, there is about 15 to 20 very active editors of every ages. The Internet's “1% rule” does (roughly) apply here.

Regular editors, whatever their age, participate in some decisions on the wiki such as keeping or deleting a page, appointing a new administrator, setting a new feature or a new rule. It happens by discussion and sometimes votes, and some children especially love to vote.

There is a numerable feature on age range among the “administrators”, the ones that have the technical right to delete pages: On fr.vikidia, may 2015, out of a 23 people team, there are 4 administrators who are 10 to 13 years old, 5 who are 14 to 17 years old and 14 adults (out of them 3 were less than 18 when they started to edit Vikidia, or became administrators). There is 2 girls among them, including the one that was the youngest to be granted this role as she was 9 years old.

There is also repeatedly some school projects working on one or a set of articles on the wiki. They can bring some good content (about 400 out of the 20.000 articles of the wiki) but we hardly communicate with them online as the regular editors communicate with one another.

Antecedents[edit | edit source]

This project is not the first one to let children be involved in building a resource for children. We may mention the Freinet movement which has been publishing magazines for a long time, whom articles are prepared by pupils in classrooms after they have done some inquiries, interviews. These magazines aim to make a (serious) set of documentary resources for the classroom. All the same, these magazine articles are checked and reviewed in a similar way as in any magazine before they are printed, whereas on Vikidia, articles and contributions are checked in the Wikipedia way, which works well too!

Of course we may mention as well “Mały Przegląd”, the “Little Review” of Korczak!

And at last, more directly and obviously, Wikipedia that allows people from any educational background to edit is another antecedent.

Who should Vikidia be written for?[edit | edit source]

Vikidia is diplayed as a free encyclopedia designed for 8-13 years old children. It is of course a way to fill a need for this age range and it may also be a simple and efficient way to guide and describe which kind of content is to be elaborated, compared to “write with a limited vocabulary” for example. However, this description doesn't exclude its usefulness to others.

Michel Barré, a Vikidia “follower” and former official of the Freinet movement expressed that the ideal documentary resource for children, “beyond considerations of age range, would address a comprehensibility level of any particular subject. Indeed, at any age we can be considered a beginner in a particular field of knowledge, and would need simple documents to take our first steps. However, as we become more familiar with the basic ideas in a field, we become – whatever our age – able to explore and better comprehend ever more complex documentation. A child that is impassioned by archaeology would certainly take advantage of Wikipedia articles or even subsequently specialized articles if they do not contain too much technical jargon.”


“We may keep as a criterion that the quality of a children-directed content should be such that it could, without embarrassment, be offered to someone in a learning situation on that subject, whatever his age, be he a non-native speaker, a high school student in another language or just someone needing, in a particular field, to start from scratch.”

I also believe that paradoxically, the children participation may helps to avoid the infantilization pitfall: I mean that when a child starts an article, be it insufficient, he or she takes the subject seriously. When an adult that will correct and expand it, he may therefore be prevented to write in an infantilizating style.

We know that not only children but even late teenagers and adults read Vikidia. We sometime worry that our articles would be too difficult for children, which is not easy to evaluate.

Relation to the Rights of the Child[edit | edit source]

Such a Wikipedia for children may fulfill/answer some of the prescriptions and rights stated by the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child. Let's point it out.

Information and documentary material[edit | edit source]

Many children already use Wikipedia on a daily basis, for the substantial content and the well known convenient way it is to find material on any subject. However, it is often said that Wikipedia article are too long and difficult for them, and they appreciate to have a more readable content for them. The vast majority of the Vikidia's users are just readers. Providing them a decent corpus of material and knowledge may answer, in one king of content: an online encyclopedia (just as there is other ones among television, radio or books), to what demands the article 17 on mass media:

Article 17. States Parties recognize the important function performed by the mass media and shall ensure that the child has access to information and material from a diversity of national and international sources, especially those aimed at the promotion of his or her social, spiritual and moral well-being and physical and mental health. (...)

Freedom of expression and information[edit | edit source]

Article 13 - 1. The child shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of the child's choice. (...)

The functioning of this wiki is collaborative, on the Wikipedia model, and have both aim and actual functioning to let children and teenagers be involved in building its content. In that way, it certainly sticks to this article that states not only the right to receive but to seek and impart information.

We may even guess that while a child's particular writing may look trivial (because it would be just two lines just once), it may nevertheless represent a notable involvement and boldness for him.

Expression of the views and children's participation[edit | edit source]

Article 12 - 1. States Parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child. (...)

The functioning of a Vikidia is led by its purpose towards the readers; this purpose as well as the action for its good functioning prevail over a pure democracy game. However its organization is structured or institutionalized in a way that often give to any participant the opportunity to have his voice heard and to take part in the decisions whatever be his age, thus be a fulfillment of their aspirations and their desire to participate. This is following both the pattern of the best known wiki, but also the principle and implementation of the children's republics (such as the ones implemented by Korczak) and patterns of the institutional pedagogy.

Freedom of association[edit | edit source]

As an organization in which children take an active part, Vikidia answer in a way to the article 15.

Article 15 - 1. States Parties recognize the rights of the child to freedom of association and to freedom of peaceful assembly. (…)

Discussions[edit | edit source]

The “size” of Vikidia in french is about 1 to 2 % the size of Wikipedia in french in number of articles, audience, and activity (yet it's growing faster!) That means that it is quite a success as a resource (we have some nice feedback on our guestbook: children say that they love it and find it useful). Meanwhile it is not “massive” in participation: the community that built it is pretty small.

There is an homologous in Dutch: with a similar functioning and very similar development and success. There is also a more recent project in German ( that aim to be primarily a “content” wiki, and don't put the emphasis on children participation in writing, even less in taking part in decision about the wiki. They want to be much more restrictive in the desired subjects and don't want to mix stub/draft articles with completed ones. However, they lead their project with a “real-life” organization to recruit, meet and train new contributors, which we don't have in Vikidia. So it's interesting to observe other similar experiences.

We opened other versions of Vikidia in Spanish, Italian, English and now Basque but we found out that it was very difficult to reach the same activity as on Vikidia in french and Wikikids in Dutch.

In one hand we know that:

  • some children and teenagers are really enthusiastic about writing for such a wiki,
  • it can works well to built a valuable resource with an intergenerational community,
  • children appreciate it a lot as an alternative to Wikipedia which they find too difficult for them.

In the other hand there is some big languages in witch we didn't manage to really settle such a wiki, and neither other people have launched it. So I am both quite amazed about how Vikidia has developed and is appreciated and I am surprised to see that it doesn't come out easily in some other languages be it with Vikidia or independently.

Other “Vikidians” and I would be happy to see some counterparts of Vikidia thriving in other languages! We probably need for that some promoters and leaders in one language.

Links[edit | edit source]