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Student power: no longer a utopia?

learning world

Student power: no longer a utopia?

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Pupils running their own schools may sound like a recipe for chaos, but today more and more people believe in the benefits of involving students in decision-making processes. In this edition of Learning World, we look at some examples of how it could work.

Australia: students interviewing teachers

In some Australian schools, students help to interview new teachers before they are hired. The decision is ultimately made by the principal, but being involved in the selection process allows pupils to bring a fresh and important perspective on who will educate them.

Nossal High School, on the outskirts of Melbourne, is among a handful of Victorian schools using student selection panels.

“The students are the ones in the classroom learning from the teachers, not other teachers at the school learning from the teachers. So it’s very important for the students to be able to choose exactly what they want and if they feel like they communicate well with the teacher,” says Cherry Chan, Year 12 student at Nossal High School.

Portugal: students rating their teachers

In 2007, the University of Porto launched a survey enabling its students to rate their teachers. Through an online survey each semester, students were invited to rate their learning environment, the relationship they have with their teacher and the help he/she provides.

If a teacher’s survey results remain negative for more than one school year, the university’s pedagogical council steps in and the teachers introduce changes.

“We’ve had several cases where the results in the pedagogical surveys improved significantly over the years, including for teachers who were considered not to have a very good relationship with students, and who have better evaluations today,” said Pedro Teixeira, Vice-chancellor of the University of Porto.

UK: pupils having their say

Britain’s Summerhill School, for pupils aged 6-18, calls itself the “oldest children’s democracy in the world”. It also gained fame as one of the world’s most controversial schools.

At Summerhill, pupil power reigns, lessons are optional, creative arts are valued and children make up the rules. Former student Quincy Russell, who has since settled in France, loved this radical approach to education so much that he sent his own children, Jake and Maïlys, to study at Summerhill too.

The eldest, 25-year-old Jake, is now a professional cameraman. He says what he learnt there were not hard facts about history or geography, but an overall philosophy and life skills such as learning “to make good choices… listening to myself and listening to what I want to do”.

How do you feel about giving students the power to select teachers, rate them or make other important pedagogical decisions? Come and share your thoughts with us on Facebook and Twitter.


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