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Pupils can, and should, be agents involved in changing and improving the school climate at their institution

To begin with, it is important that the pupils' representative bodies have a real voice and are listened to. Basically, each school should elect pupil representatives in accordance with whatever system it is part of.

The entire election process must be implemented in a serious way and should be carried out throughout the whole school making sure to include everybody both pupils and all educational staff. The election process must be seen as a major event in the school, and the conditions must be similar to that of a true election, so that the voters and the future pupil representatives can be chosen in a realistic manner. The role of a pupil representative must have a real value so that all pupils will be truly engaged in this democratic process and feel that they are being really represented.

Once this role is valued and makes sense to pupils, the pupil-empowerment process begins, turning them into agents of change.

Pupils are not “de facto agents” when it comes to initiating changes to the school climate. For this to happen, their desire for real involvement must be aroused, motivated, encouraged and channeled, by the adults around them in a clear school project, which should give pride of place to the participation of elected students. It must be real!

If pupil-representative recognition – which in turn creates a sense of academic justice – is lacking, it will not be possible to spark the truly motivated involvement of pupils.

For this reason, it is extremely important to involve the pupil representatives in everything. For example, during celebratory events, managing a budget independently but also, allowing and encouraging them to draft school regulations because it is the pupils who must respect these school regulations.

This whole process enables pupils to feel empowered because not only they are contributing first-hand to improving the school climate and its’ social characteristics, but they are also becoming more aware of the process behind implementing these changes. For example, understanding legal matters and any constraints linked to this and managing the budget.

It is important to highlight the benefit of collaborative projects such as eTwinning. Pupils can collaborate with other pupils and as part of this, they are able to understand the different school systems and ways of thinking. These collaborative exchanges enable pupils to become more motivated.

Pupils’ involvement in the life of the school, at all levels (regulations, celebratory or solidarity activities, collaborative projects) will gradually create a greater sense of belonging to the school. This feeling becomes the catalyst for renewing pupils’ motivation as agents of change.

Edouard Caburet - Senior Education Advisor

Examples of best practice

Dr. İlhami Tankut Anadolu Lisesi is an eTwinning school located in Antalya, Turkey which has participated in the monitoring and development activities in 2019-2020. The school has empowered students and allowed them to play an active role and let their voices be heard in the decision-making process.

İlkay Çekirdek and Didem Parlak shared with us how they established a democratic participation platform in their school; a powerful and engaged student council. The school staff recognised that there is a strong need to engage students to participate in the school community life in all aspects, including decision making and recognising and solving problems in the school.

Students were invited to present themselves as candidates, and after a short campaign period, elections followed, and subsequently, the student council was established. The members of the council decide the topics for the monthly sessions as they recognise problems within their school for which they then propose solutions, which are then shared with school management. With the support of school management, the student council attended training sessions on arbitration during which they were trained by the Antalya city bar lawyer. This training provided the council with the necessary tools and information so that they can solve possible conflicts among students.

Natalia Ztizi, from 10th Helioupolis Primary School in Ilioupoli, Greece, shared another interesting example on how students can be empowered to initiate change in their schools. The eTwinning eSafety club (5th and 6th grade representatives) in the school organised an information session to students and teachers on eSafety regulation (data protection, GDPR, netiquette etc.) Using theatre play, they turned the issue of eSafety into a fairytale that engaged listeners and at the same time sent a strong message of the importance of being safe online. The play and activities planned and drafted by pupils gained a lot of success and neighbouring schools were also invited to attend the event.

Natalia explained that students’ expertise gained in eTwinning projects is fostered through various activities. For example, members of the eTwinning club in the 6th grade tutored teachers and parents on how to use various ICT tools. Starting with a questionnaire that identified the needs of parents, students researched the identified topics and created pedagogical materials including presentations and documents and workshops for their parents.
Students decided who will be the tutors for each workshop (members of the club of course) and finally, after a publicity campaign, two successful training sessions were held with 12 adult participants in each. In addition, students in the reporting eTwinning club in the 5th and 6th grade collected data from each class regarding the eTwinning activities and project ideas their peers prefer. This information is summarised by the pupils and presented to teachers; thus, teachers follow their pupils suggestions and have an open dialogue discussing what kind of learning works for them. As Natalia says and clearly explains the idea of students’ agency through this excellent metaphor: “children give life to schools, they are the protagonists, teachers are only the facilitators”.