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Educational reforms are useless without student involvement

09 May 2021

Educational reforms are useless without student involvement

By Alan Peters, 


It sounds familiar, cliché even. School is boring. Teachers are slave drivers. The school curriculum does not reflect what is really out there. All of which has contributed to and been affected by the perception of school held by most students. And while most of what people say is subjective, these statements, rattled off so habitually and practically a staple of television and film, do reflect a deeper problem. Yes, school is often challenging, but it is important to look into the issues that result in this.

There is little doubt that the education sector is in need of reevaluation. The problems that have to be dealt with are varied, from increased violence among the youth, to the seven-headed monster that is drugs. There is also the need to improve school facilities in general and review the curriculum. On the bright side, the leadership and all stakeholders acknowledge the need for reform. There are efforts being made to improve schools. The problem is that these efforts fail to factor in arguably the most important stakeholder in all this; the student.

Yes, it is from the student that these anecdotes about school originate. Students, more than anyone else, experience the challenges that come from being part of the learning community. Schools are designed to serve a purpose, so its activities and structures are naturally geared to meet these objectives. Academic excellence. The growth and expansion of the institutions. Nothing about the parties who are actually being catered for. It seems so simple, when you think about it. Who better to talk to about reforms in schools than the very people who will be affected by them?

Noted education reform agent Michael Fullan once posed the question, ‘What would happen if we treated the student as someone whose opinion mattered in the introduction and implementation of reform in school?’ He went on to state that ‘Students, even little ones, are people too. Unless they have some meaningful (to them) role in the enterprise, most educational change, indeed most education, will fail’

There have been several other voices added to the fray, all acknowledging that the student should have a say in education reform. Even if we were to take only the opinion of the students themselves, there would still be plenty of material on the matter. Consider the well-presented arguments of Nikhil Goyil, himself a student when he published his first book, ‘One Size Does Not Fit All: A Student's Assessment of School’. Why not treat students as human beings whose voices can make a difference?

Naturally, the question then becomes how. What is the best way of factoring in student voices? There is already plenty of literature on the subject. The key thing is to acknowledge that an important stakeholder has been overlooked, and to ensure they are accommodated in the future.

This comes down to one simple thing, in my opinion; listening to the students. A common feeling among students, from my experience, is that the school is the man, so it is out of reach. Even in the unlikely event they wish to make themselves heard, there are no channels through which this can be done. 

Any reform must focus on making students feel involved. Open up the communication channels. This helps the students feel like their opinion matters, because it does. A few good ways of doing this include electing student representatives and cultivating good relationships between students, teachers and administrators. 

Student involvement starts from the lowest level upwards. In the classroom, all students should feel free to interact with their peers and the teachers. It is often an unpleasant experience, to have the teacher stand in front of the classroom and deliver a lecture, aloof, and intended to serve all the students regardless of diversity. The same should apply outside the classroom.

Student councils and governing bodies should be given due importance. It is through them that students can express themselves. Students must have a say in who gets to represent them. Regular forums can also be held, where students can interact with each other and voice their concerns, complaints and opinions.

The biggest advantage of this is that it fosters within the students the feeling that they are valued. This in turn helps them view the school not as an oppressive entity, but an environment from which they can benefit. When they are invested in their school, the learning experience is made better, problems are addressed faster and more effectively, to mention a few benefits.

The fact is, I will have nicer things to say about my school if I actively took part in its activities. If, for example, a chess club was introduced after student suggestions, the student who went on to become a Grandmaster will forever appreciate his alma mater.

The reform train is picking up steam; as it rolls out of the station, it is imperative that we ensure students are on board. Otherwise we are likely to arrive at our destination and realize we will have to make another trip.



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