Our first guest post links with Topic 1: Power and decision-making in the school and features several Key Thinkers. We wish to kindly thank Paddy for sharing and we hope all our members find it beneficial. (File also available in Documents T1)

Hello to all, I hope you and all of your school communities are keeping well in these challenging times for education settings. The following is some thoughts from a PhD I completed some years. I hope it is helpful. Apologies for perhaps an overly strong emphasis on theoretical aspects of Citizenship Education. I know that when teaching myself, I always liked some practical suggestions for dealing with curriculum and day-to-day classroom work. – Paddy Duggan

Paddy Duggan is a former Mathematics and Chemistry teacher at St. Brogan’s Bandon and a former Principal at Clonakilty Community College.
PhD Thesis: Citizenship Education in Irish Secondary Schools: The influence of curriculum content, school culture and stakeholder perspectives

The Student Voice in Irish Education

Education for citizenship can be considered from the Freirean perspective which seeks to enable students to “read the world” as well as “read the word”. This paper considers the place of the student voice in educating for citizenship. The Irish education system affords limited opportunities to students to have a voice in educational matters (Gilleece and Cosgrove, 2012). The rights of students to participate in decision-making are recognised by the 1989 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). Article 12 of the UNCRC asserts the right for children to express their views freely and, to be afforded opportunities to be heard. Rudduck (1995) argues for schools to have structures in place that enable students to be genuinely engaged in decisions concerning their education. Taking “seriously the question of [student] “voice” and “participation”” is a necessary pre-requisite for educating for citizenship in the general school environment (Ibid.: 11).
This recognition of students’ voice encourages students to become acquainted with democratic practices while in school. Such an approach helps students to become engaged and informed citizens and, to interrogate different forms of democracy and, much more also. This approach to citizenship education regards students as being citizens of the here and now, not becoming citizens for some time in the future.
The adoption of Freirean pedagogy in schools is appropriate for the mediation of the student voice through the affirmation of dialogue between student and teacher. Freire (1998b) insists that educating for “technical efficiency” alone is not sufficient for engaging “in the process of becoming a citizen” (Ibid.: 94). Allowing students to voice their opinions and concerns in the school setting provides learning opportunities that supports their future engagement as citizens in society. Freire (1996) in addressing the “urgency of the democratisation of the public school” articulates the need for students to get “a taste for democratic practices” while in school (Ibid.: 21). Students need to be involved in dialogical encounters that interrogate political and social issues that are conducive to the “re-creation of a kind of society that is both humane and just” (Ibid.). Both students and teachers need to be aware that:
open, curious questioning, whether in speaking or listening, is what grounds them mutually – not a simple passive pretence at dialogue (Ibid.: 81).
There is an onus on schools to strive to be “crucibles of democracy” (McQuillan, 2005: 641) that prioritise teaching for critical literacy through the provision of opportunities for listening to students and, affording them a voice.
In the opinion of Jeffers (2008), the present CSPE syllabus in secondary schools shies away from “overtly political components” and, “”power” as a key concept” has been omitted (Ibid.: 14, 15). It is generally concluded that the “Action Projects focus on “safe” rather than controversial topics” (Wilson, 2003 cited in Gleeson, 2008: 85). The empowerment of students as citizens demands that the conditions for “true learning” be present in the school to enable “the discovery of truth” and not “the imposition of an official truth” (Chomsky, 2000: 21). The current mode of neutral teaching does not empower students with the critical literacy to:
discover the truth and not to suppress information and insights that may be embarrassing to the wealthy and powerful people who create, design, and make policies about schools (Ibid.).
McLaughlin (2005) exhorts schools to be proactive in affirming the student voice through: “imitation, habituation, training in feeling, attention and perception, induction into patterns of action and habit, forms of guidance and experience, and exemplification” (Ibid.: 319).
Respecting the opinions of students as members of the school community is thus a critical element of education. That is, affirmation of the student voice in the school setting is necessary for the educational experience to be truly dialogical and supportive of the development of their critical literacies. Trant and Ó Donnabháin (1998), in their interrogation of the Irish educational system propose that the school of the future should:
be a place not only where relevant and efficient learning happens but also a place where relationships can grow in a humane and civilised manner . . . the appropriate model for schooling should not be custodial or instrumental but familial and expressive. A school should not be an instructional factory but a learning community (Ibid.: 78, 79).
That is, the culture and relationships in the school setting have to be such that the hearing of the student voice is facilitated. Arguably, this facilitation can occur through the following: (1) the adoption of critical pedagogical approaches that affords opportunities to students to be part of an educational project that follows dialogical and problem-posing methodologies (Freire, 1972); and (2) the promotion of strategies for the democratisation of the student voice in the general school community.
Olssen (2010) promotes the view that education plays a fundamental role in the nurturing of democracy through facilitating “political and educational discourses . . . [which] challenge the hegemony of economics over social, personal and political life” (Ibid.: 7). While students may specialise in certain curricular subject areas for enhancement of employment opportunities, they also need “to learn how to learn, how to be, how to think, how to relate, how to critically examine, and how to understand and be part of society” (Carr, 2008: 83). These sentiments are fundamental to the work of teaching for humanisation and critical consciousness. In this respect, the teacher has a “key role in facilitating classroom discussions of social and ethical issues” (Kelly and Minnes Brandes, 2001: 438).
Education for citizenship seeks to prepare students for participation in democracy by being practiced in the skills of analysis and communication. This occurs through according respect for the student voice in the classroom. In this way, students develop “capacities such as debate, reflection, and discussion across differences, criticism, persuasion, and decision making” (Ibid.). The facilitation of the student voice in this manner requires a re-conceptualisation of the habitus of the Irish classroom through: the embracing of Freirean theories of critical pedagogy; the teacher disposition being that of a transformative intellectual; and the use of dialoguing and problem-posing teaching methodologies.
The affirmation of the student voice can also be achieved through the democratisation of student participation in the school setting. This is facilitated through extending genuine respect and an ethic of care to students in the day-to-day practices of school life (Noddings, 2005) coupled with an invitation to them “to discover for themselves the nature of democracy and its functioning” (Chomsky, 2000: 28). What students experience, observe and participate in, in the school setting, has implications for their role as active citizens. The National Youth Council of Ireland in a document entitled “Educational Policy 2007-2010” acknowledges the importance of the school as a forum for affording students opportunities for familiarisation and experience in the ways of democracy (National Youth Council of Ireland, 2007: 9). One such opportunity for democratisation of student participation is through involvement in the Student Council. The Education Act (Government of Ireland, 1998) provides for the establishment of a Student Council in each secondary school. The Act stipulates that:
[a] student council shall promote the interests of the school and the involvement of students in the affairs of the school, in co-operation with the board, parents and teachers (Ibid.: Section 27(4)).
The National Youth Council of Ireland endorses this legislation that: (a) provides for the establishment of student councils; (b) the facilitation of the involvement of young people in the life of the school; and (c) encourages a partnership with staff and management. However, the Council argues that “there is inconsistency in terms of the nature, scope and decision-making role Student Councils play in schools throughout the country” (National Youth Council of Ireland, 2007: 9). The rights accorded to students in Irish secondary schools, as stipulated by the Education Act (1998), are termed “participation rights” which are defined as:
those that incorporate civil and political rights, including, for example, the right of the child to be consulted and to be taken account of, and the right to challenge decisions made on his/her behalf (Lansdown, 1994 cited in Gilleece and Cosgrove, 2012: 226).
In educational settings young people “experience fewer opportunities to exercise their rights”, and even when such opportunities are presented, “these may be considered tokenistic” (Ibid.: 226). Keogh and Whyte (2005) have concluded from their research that Student Councils have a low status in Irish schools. Therefore, despite the recognition of student voice in the Education Act (Government of Ireland, 1998), the form of democracy afforded to students in Irish schools is not conducive to them becoming “critical thinker(s) in the act of practising critical thought; in the act of being conscious in relation to the world (Lankshear, 1993: 110; italics in original). Chomsky (2000) asserts the importance for school authorities to be aware that educating for citizenship and democracy is “not about instilling patriotism or rote memorisation of the ideals of democracy”, it is about students discovering and practising the ways of democracy while at school (Ibid.: 28). Print (2007) argues that the most important influence in engaging young people in democracy after the home and the media is the school curriculum. The effort to significantly engage young people in the ways of “democratic citizenship” is best attained through the “formal and informal curriculum” of the school (Ibid.: 336). Lynch (2001) notes that the preparation of citizens commences in the school as the “first public forum” experienced by students: If we are to educate students to engage in public life as democratic citizens, to become politically engaged as opposed to politically disenchanted and disinterested, it is essential that they learn how to be democratically engaged in the public domain. The first public forum where that opportunity arises for all members of society is in education (Ibid.: 405). Teaching students to have the abilities, capabilities and skills to question, debate and interrogate issues, policies and politics, so necessary for sustaining a strong democracy is not to the fore in the Irish educational setting (Lynch, 2010). Yet such an education is imperative; both for the well-being of citizens and that of society. Seery (2011) warns against Irish schools becoming reductionist and technicist in approach as education is “fundamentally an ethical and moral undertaking (Ibid.: 26). Carroll (2008) argues that “competent citizenship calls for a much more sophisticated set of skills than that of the instrumentally driven, competent producer and consumer” (Ibid.: 47). The pedagogical approach adopted for citizenship education has consequences for all of society. Aspin (1997) asserts that education is not only for furthering economic growth, it is also for empowering students to cope with the demands of the modern era. This empowerment of students in the school is important in the context of education for citizenship as:
. . . learning about democracy, [is about] involvement in democracy. . . [it] cannot be exclusively curricular, but must incorporate as well, the extracurricular focus on both direct and indirect learning through participation in the governance of the school . . . (Olssen et al., 2004: 276; italics in original).
This aspect of citizenship education needs serious interrogation as curricular and pedagogical approaches of this kind “have been under considerable challenge for many years” (Aspin, 1997: 249).
It is desirable that students graduate from schools with the “freedoms” necessary for their enhanced well-being throughout the life-cycle. The meaning of freedoms as used here is in the context of the ideas of Amartya Sen in “Development as Freedom” (1999). The concept of “development” as posited by Sen is that “[d]evelopment . . . can be seen as a process of expanding real freedoms that people enjoy” (Ibid.: 3). Schools play an important role in ensuring that these freedoms are attainable and within reach of citizens as they journey through life. This role of schools, through both formal and informal curricula, is critical to the social and personal development of students. Sen asserts that such freedoms only come through equipping people with the “capabilities” to live the kind of lives that they value (Ibid.: 18). These capabilities can be practised and developed in schools through educators creating and supporting a school culture that affirms education for humanisation and conscientisation. This in turn accords respect for the student voice.
Freire (1998b) argues for respect to be accorded to each student for “the dignity that is in the process of coming to be” (Ibid.: 62) and, for the basing of teaching for citizenship on a desire for “transformation of the world” (Ibid.: 74). This is achieved through the action of “denouncing the process of dehumanisation”, while at the same time “announcing the dream of a new society” (Ibid.).
The foregoing seeks to clarify the place of the citizenship agenda in Irish schools. The Irish educational system, in terms of culture and philosophy, is strongly influenced by the principles of the marketplace. There is little space for the prioritisation of citizenship education in contemporary educational discourse. In particular, affirmation for educating students for their humanisation and conscientisation is lacking.

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Seery, A., (2011) “Philosophy of Education”, in B. Walsh (Ed.) Education Studies in Ireland: The Key Disciplines. Dublin: Gill and Macmillan.
Sen, A., (1999) Development as Freedom. New York: Anchor Books.
Trant, A., (1998) “Giving back the Curriculum to Teachers: Curriculum Development and the Teacher’s Role” in A. Trant, D. Ó Donnabháin, D. Lawton and T. O’Connor (Eds.) The Future of Curriculum. Dublin: City of Dublin VEC Curriculum Development Unit.