Let every voice be heard
To educate is to believe in change.
This is a discussion exercise in small groups and plenary, working on:
• What education is and how it meets, or does not meet, people's needs
• Participation in decision-making processes.
- Related rights
• The right to education, including the right to human rights education
• Freedom of opinion and expression
• The right to take part in the government of one's country
• To reflect on the education system and how it meets people's needs
• To develop skills of co-operation and participation in democratic decision-making at school and club level
• To promote justice and inclusion
• 4 large sheets of paper or flipchart paper and pens per small group of four people
• Extra paper, sufficient for people to make notes on if they wish to
- Make copies of the handout, one per small group
- The week including 15 OctoberEuropean Local Democracy Week
This activity is in two parts: part 1 (35 minutes) is a discussion about what sort of education people want, and part 2 (60 minutes) is a discussion about how to develop democratic systems so that young people can have a say in the education that they get.
Part 1. What sort of education do we have and how would we prefer it to be? (35 minutes)
1. Start with a short general discussion about what people understand by the term "education". Point out that education is more than what goes on in school or college. Draw out the differences between formal, informal and non-formal education. Participants should know that to receive an education is a human right (Article 26 of the UDHR).
2. Brainstorm all the positive and negative aspects of the school system in your country and note the keywords on flipchart paper.
3. Briefly review the keywords and consider why the education system is like it is with reference to some of the points listed, for instance, the curriculum, class sizes, school rules about clothing and extra curricular activities.
4. Ask participants to get into small groups of 4 to 5. Hand out the text of Article 28 of the Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC). Give the groups 15 minutes to assess the value of their right to education. For instance, is primary education available and free to all in your society? If not, who are excluded and why? What forms of discipline are there and is the individual's dignity respected? Does the curriculum foster the development of everyone's personality, talents and abilities? What is the focus, for instance on producing good citizens or a trained work force? Is human rights education included?
5. Come back into plenary and ask people to give feedback.
Part 2. Developing democratic systems so people can have their say. (60 minutes)
1. Ask the group who makes the decisions about the sort of education that they get.
2. Ask people to go back into their small groups to review how decisions are made in their school. For instance, who decides what is taught or what extra curricular activities will be arranged? How is the school or college administrated? How are budgetary and spending decisions made? How are policies developed and agreed? How much say do young people have?
3. Tell them that not only do they have a human right to education, but also that according to Article 12 of the CRC, "the child has the right to express views on all matters affecting him/her and the child's views should be given due weight."
4. Ask each group to consider the positive and negative aspects of having a democratically elected body, such as a student council, to make decisions about their education at the local level.
5. The next stage depends on the circumstances of the group. If there is no council in your school, then the groups should work to decide what sort of council they would like, what its remit should be and how to go about establishing one. If your school or college already has a council, then they should review how it works and develop plans for how to make it work better. Explain how to do a SWOT analysis and tell the groups that they have thirty minutes to develop an action plan written up on a large sheet of flipchart paper.
6. Come back into plenary and ask the groups to report their results.
Many points will already have been made at the various stages of the previous discussions. However, take time to review the activity as a whole, to reflect on the general learning points and to plan what to do next.
• Did people enjoy the activity? Was it useful? Why? Why not?
• Why are the existing decision-making structures as they are? What are the historical precedents? Did the structures fulfil their functions in the past? Are they appropriate now? If not, why?
• Why do decision-making structures and procedures need to be reviewed regularly?
• How did the different groups' action plans compare?
• What do they cost in terms of time, effort and money?
• How realistic were they? (Note: it is good to have big visions, but you need to take one step at a time towards the goal!)
• "The child has the right to express views on all matters affecting him/her and the child's views should be given due weight." Is this a realistic demand in relation to the national education curriculum? How could young people have an input?
• To what extent is Article 12 respected in the classroom? How much time should be devoted to "having your say"?
• Some groups, for instance the Roma, often find their right to education violated. Why is this and how could access be made easier?
• How is human rights education delivered in your school? Do you learn about human rights and the various conventions? Do you have the opportunity to get involved in projects to promote human rights in your school and community?
This activity has been written with reference to schools and colleges with mention of "school or college councils". This should not deter anyone who works in a non-formal setting; the activity is equally relevant to young people in youth clubs and associations who will have a board rather than a council as its governing body. Just adapt the terms you use accordingly.
Familiarise yourself with Articles 12 and 28 of the Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC). If you are working with young adults over the age of 18, then refer to the right to education in the UDHR (Article 26).
There is general information about education and human rights in the background information in chapter 5. Notes about the differences between formal, non-formal and informal education can be found here. The SWOT analysis is described and explained in the Taking action section.
Why have a school council?
A school / student council is intended to give students a voice in the school issues that directly affect them. There are many good reasons for establishing school councils and ensuring that they work effectively. The same arguments apply to the board or management committee of youth organisations.
Participation in a school council promotes the educational or personal development of pupils because:
• Councils promote citizenship learning, political efficacy and democratic attitudes.
• Councils promote social confidence and personal values.
• Students are empowered to challenge authority.
• Students learn how to make decisions in a fair and accountable way.
• Students learn about the realities of life, for instance, how to work within limited budgets or with unresponsive authorities.
• Democratic management styles work better than autocratic ones because they are ultimately more effective as they encourage pupils' to take responsibility.
• Councils encourage co-operation, harness energy and reduce alienation.
• Councils can improve the atmosphere of the school: teachers are trusted more; rules are shown to be more fairly based.
• Whatever the limitations because of outside social and political pressures, a student council is a practical way of demonstrating to students the good faith of the staff and commitment to certain values.
Let the group work further on the ideas generated in this activity and, taking tips from the "Taking action" section , strive for more say in the decision-making in their school, college or club.
If the group enjoyed thinking about the sort of education they would like to have, they may enjoy the board game, "Tale of two cities" , which raises issues about what sort of city people would like to live in. If participants would like to find out about general attitudes to voting, then look at the activity "To vote or not to vote".
The participants might consider linking and exchanging information with other student councils in their area, at the national level, or internationally.
The degree to which young people can participate in decision-making processes depends on their age and the matter to be decided. For a useful model, see Roger Hart's ladder of young people's participation, www.freechild.org. There is more information about the ladder of participation in the section on Citizenship and Participation in chapter 5.
Opportunities for direct involvement in decision-making processes are growing in many countries, for example, Participatory Budgeting, a process in which the effects of people's involvement are directly seen in either policy change or spending priorities. It is not just a consultation exercise, but an embodiment of direct, deliberative democracy: http://www.participatorybudgeting.org.uk. One example is Newcastle's (UK) Udecide participatory budgeting programme, where in May 2008 young people had a 20% vote in the procurement of services for the city's £2.25m Children's Fund. Recognising that children and young people are the experts, the project aimed to give those young people in the city who were most likely to benefit from the Fund the chance to have a real say in how it was allocated. By challenging providers to pitch their idea to young people, the project aimed to make them think differently about their services and how it was allocated.
The Organising Bureau of European School Student Unions (OBESSU) is the European umbrella organisation of school student organisations. It works in order to:
• Represent the views of the school students in Europe towards the different educational institutions and platforms
• Uphold and improve the quality and accessibility of education and educational democracy in Europe
• Improve the conditions in the secondary schools in Europe to promote greater solidarity, co-operation and understanding among the school students
• Put an end to the discrimination and injustice where they exist within the educational systems in countries in Europe.
More information at: www.lightontherights.eu
The Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 28:
The child has the right to education. The State shall make primary education compulsory and available and free to all and encourage the development of different forms of secondary education, make them available to every child. School discipline shall be administered in a manner consistent with the child’s dignity. Education should be directed to the development of the child’s personality, talents and abilities, the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, responsible life in a free society in the spirit of peace, friendship, understanding, tolerance and equality, the development of respect for the natural environment.