Quality school comes from student participation

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Two hundred sixty students from Croatia, North Macedonia and Portugal were asked to describe if and how their schools take into consideration their perspectives on school life and processes. They unanimously agreed on the fact their voice is mostly not heard. And, if it is, it is not backed by follow up actions necessary to tackle the issues.

It is the state of play emerging from the comparative research report “Student voice as a token of a quality school – observations by students from selected schools in Portugal, North Macedonia and Croatia on active participation, relationships and classes during the COVID-19 crisis, in the frame of the EU project Start the Change – creating a generation of change makers through intercultural education and volunteering, that promotes democratic values, fundamental rights, social inclusion, and active citizenship in schools.

Twenty nine focus groups were conducted between September 22nd and November 12th 2020 to obtain the student perspective on their participation in various activities at school, the responsiveness of the school to their needs, the diversity they are surrounded by, and inclusion possibilities.  Students claimed that they often encountered closed doors and that their complaints are either trivialised, often resulting in inaction. «We can try to resolve a problem, – stated a student from Croatia – but we cannot resolve it because we don’t have our teacher’s support». «I talked to the class director to solve this and she paid no attention to it», echoed a peer from Portugal.

Why is student voice important?

Previous research shows how student participation is not only a basic child´s right, but also has numerous benefits and implications for their individual and social development. Furthermore it fosters the conditions for a democratic and participative society. In the education context, «the representation of student interests and acknowledgement of their opinions is important in connecting the school experience to their developing identity and in gaining ownership of the education process and school-related decisions and events».

In accordance with Robinson and Taylor conceptualisation, students’ voice implies that communication is intended as a “dialogue”. When this condition is met, «students feel empowered and motivated for action because they jointly participate in the processes of creating and interpreting the reality that they live and share with the rest of the school staff» – the report says.

The comparative report and other Start the Change project activities are meant to enable student voice to be more relevant, more influential and a more frequent factor in policy-making that directly concerns students. According to the researchers, «the cooperation between students and teachers should be focused on creating a quality approach to communication in which all students, regardless of their background, will be able to critically think about their own reality and to take action in order to change it». If follows that the role of teachers is crucial: it «should not only be to transmit knowledge, but also demonstrate consistency with the rhetoric through their actions. In other words, it should be demonstrated to students that talking about democratic values, inclusion and participation is much more than empty ideal».

The full report is available here.

author: Pietro Santilli

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