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Student councils and citizenship in Pakistan and the UK

Last week I was in Lahore, Pakistan, talking to teachers there about what makes a school council smart. It was an event organised by the British Council and the Citizenship Foundation as part of the Connecting Classrooms initiative focusing on how citizenship education can be improved. This conference concentrated on how school councils (known as student councils in Pakistan) could be used as a vehicle for citizenship education.

Just like many schools in England, many of the Pakistani schools we heard from have school councils that only involve small numbers of students and are primarily concerned with philanthropy. It seems to me that both of these factors limit the usefulness of school councils as an educational tool. One of the Pakistani speakers made an excellent analogy that I will borrow:

[quote]Schools are the DNA of society, they show us what society will grow into.[/quote]

If you think about your school council and imagine it scaling up into society as a whole, is that the society you would want? Do we want a society where 98% of people are only involved by voting once every year (or 5 years)? Or do we want to try to change that DNA to be something better, more involved, more questioning and more engaged?

It seems to me that most schools both in Pakistan and England have designed their school councils by copying adult systems that few people think work well, rather than thinking about what would be an ideal structure. Where we do see effective school councils that encourage students to question, act, learn, take ownership and responsibility it is because teachers have asked themselves:

  1. What do we want people to learn through taking part in the school council?
  2. Which students do we want to learn these things?
  3. What structure would enable those people to learn those things?

Has your school ever asked these questions? What answers did you come up with?

I’ll come back to the issue of over-focus on philanthropy and why it undermines effective school councils in a couple of days.

A few of the teachers at the conference asked for my presentation, which touches on some of the themes above. Here it is:

Download the presentation: [Download not found]


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