A learner-centric approach

A learner-centric approach

Is it possible to make our education system more democratic? What if there was a school where:

All the students, regardless of age, had all the rights and responsibilities in the school as given to a citizen of a democratic country?

Where the students are free to choose their own activities, and are able to practice freedom of expression and association?

Where students vote on rules that affect them and arrive at a consensus about the consequences if and when anyone oversteps a rule?

Needless to say, most adults would be sceptical about such a system. Would children and teenagers be able to handle such responsibilities at such a young age? Many of us would be surprised to learn that such schools do exist and some of them have been running for years!

These schools are known as democratic schools. Such schools are characterised by involving students in the
decision-making process that affects what and how they learn. While it does sound nice in theory, how would such a school actually function?

Facilitators of learning

In a democratic school, children are responsible for their learning and for the school community as a whole. For example, democratic schools often have structured programmes where children care for school spaces and help with farming, cooking or cleaning. Such schools accept students from as young as four to teenagers.

They do not separate children based on age since it is believed that children learn very well by interacting with others younger and older than themselves. Older children may supervise or mentor younger children spontaneously. In one of the schools, older children act as ombudsmen in disputes between children of all
ages. This helps them to develop a sense of respect and caring for more than just oneself.

Often, in such schools, the teachers facilitate the learning rather than teach. They know that the children learn a lot from each other as they interact and work together. Established education techniques such as
'cooperative learning' are used to teach, and students learn not only the class material well, but also some valuable skills in teamwork.

Equal participation

The classrooms are structured in such a manner to enable students and staff to sit around in a circle. While there may not be a separate desk or position for the adult member, there is equal participation from
all the members. This way, all channels of communication are open, and students feel more inclined to participate in class.

Many democratic schools have periodic meetings to discuss and vote on rules to be followed by the school. These rules are strictly adhered to with appropriate consequences for those who do not abide by them.

In short, as Yusef Waghid writes in his book, Pedagogy Out of Bounds: Untamed Variations of Democratic
Education
, "democratic education is an educational ideal in which democracy is both a goal and a means to the goal; it is a practice."

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