“Nothing about us, without us, is for us.” These powerful words from International School of Dakar (ISD) senior students Anna Fall and Chinwe Bruns were recently shared with participants of the AISA Child Protection online training that included a session on Student Voice. They are a timely reminder that all efforts to foster positive school cultures, where each child is enabled to flourish and where their rights to safety and inclusion are respected must be informed by the active engagement and empowerment of young people to promote their own safety and wellbeing.
The message of the ISD students was clear, if your school is serious about whole school child safety and wellbeing, then work with students as co-contributors to a strengthened child safety culture by seeking their unique perspectives on their safety and perceived risks and including them in decision-making processes.
Child protection, wellbeing and DEIJ are interconnected. Student safety has been shown to be a vital component in positive school climates. Schools with a positive school climate are more likely to achieve better student outcomes, behavioural issues are less likely and both staff and students report better mental health outcomes.
Anna and Chinwe had a number of suggestions on how schools can effectively promote effective student engagement:
The heart of successful student participation is strong relationships between students and adults. Adults who show an authentic interest in students, a commitment to their welfare and value the views and opinions of students are more likely to be seen as trustworthy. Students are more likely to seek out these adults should they need to disclose abuse or seek support.
Participation by students should not only be sought after an event but rather be a regular feature of child protection, wellbeing and DEIJ initiatives. At ISD, Listening Sessions were introduced as a forum for students to get together to talk. With no pre-defined agenda, students had the freedom to raise the issues or challenges that were of concern to them. Empowering students to identify issues as well as potential solutions is more likely to create a positive school culture where the needs of all students, particularly the most vulnerable, are adequately addressed.
ISD has invited students to lead teacher professional development on issues such as micro-aggressions, social schemas, and intersectionality. Inviting students to facilitate staff training has helped shift the power imbalance that exists between students and adults. It communicates to students that their views matter, that they have something to say and teach the adults and that we are all learning together. This helps creates a culture of openness and mutual respect.
Processes that were led by students are more likely to be inclusive. The ISD students talked about the impact that peer-led participation can have on other students, potentially engaging more students than would otherwise occur from an adult-led process. Peer-led forums also provide a space for students to participate as learners which fostered a greater sense of connection and belonging amongst the student population.
For student participation to be successful, it needs to be voluntary. If participation is a requirement, students may perceive that their input is not genuinely valued which may stifle participation and dialogue.
For more information or ideas on how to promote student voice at your school, contact Nneka Johnson, Director of Innovation at ISD at email@example.com
AISA Child Protection & Wellbeing Programme Manger
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