Exploring Democratic Student Leadership and Active Citizenship: Virtual Visits to a Kenyan and an Italian school

This week, IEN goes inside schools in Kenya and Italy as part of a series of posts based on the “virtual school visits” offered as part of the 2022 (virtual) Conference of the International Congress on School Effectiveness and Improvement (ICSEI). This post was produced by Sara Romiti, a Senior Researcher at INVALSI (National Institute for the Evaluation of the Education and Training System) in Rome and Kristina Westlund a PhD Student at Kristianstad University. During the ICSEI conference session discussing the virtual visits, they hosted Stephen Derwent Partington and Mutheu Kasanga, School Principal and Board member at Lukenya schools in Kenya and Giacomo La Montagna and Flavia Passi, School Principal and primary school teacher at Istituto Comprensivo Boville Ernica, Italy . This is the second post  in a series that began with Promoting equity through language access: A virtual visit to Liceo San Nicolas (Chile) and Easton Academy (UK).

What does democratic student leadership look like in a Kenyan school? What does support for active citizenship look in an Italian school? And how are they related? These are just some of the questions raised by virtual visits to the Lukenya Academy British Curriculum School in Kenya and the Istituto Comprensivo Boville Ernica in Italy.

Lukenya Academy British Curriculum School, Kenya

A virtual visit Lukenya Academy British Curriculum School

Situated in Machakos County, Kenya, Lukenya Academy British Curriculum School is an international-system school that offers the IGCSE qualification. In their presentation, Lukenya schools takes pride in its deliberate ‘Uniquenesses’ in relation to other Kenyan schools:

  • They are a mixed-gender boarding school, which is quite rare in the country, and particularly notable in a clearly patriarchal society. 
  • They explicitly seek to admit mixed ability students, unlike many private schools in Kenya, which are highly selective.  Nonetheless, they have won several national prizes including in a  Great places to School Competition, a competition for all private secondary schools. They note they won because of their academic performance and “value added” (the difference in performance between a pupil’s arrival and their graduation from Lukenya) but also point out they are “deliberately mixed ability and concentrate on helping every child, regardless of intake grades.”
  • They take an entirely democratic approach to student governance – pupils vote for their leaders who, through consultation, work to shape all aspects of school life from co-curriculars to academics.

The video created by Lukenya schools illustrates several of the school’s characteristics, including highlighting student voices and the roles of students in leadership and organization.

It’s been challenging to run and coordinate a school of mixed students, both boys and girls, which is pretty rare in Kenya. However, leadership has been very fun.
We believe in democracy; we believe in listening to people’s opinions. We don’t believe in making rules that other ones follow” – Shawn Omondi, student council leader

The engagement of students in arranging activities at Lukenya provides another striking example of student leadership. These activities include a wide range of sports and other co-curricular (e.g. extracurricular) activities like football for both boys and girls, basketball, swimming, cooking club, drama club, and environmental club.

After watching the video, the Italian professionals asked their Kenyan colleagues an interesting question: how do you reconcile the British curriculum with your traditional culture? Board member Mutheu Kasanga replied:

“The law does require that all the schools, from any curriculum, teach Civics and Local History. In addition, the British curriculum allows us to use what is available locally. For instance, when we are teaching a subject like business studies, all the key studies are local. So, in Lukenya we are using the local business around the school, to teach the students who come from these communities how to apply these international concepts into the local business.

Kenya is an English-speaking country, so we don’t have particular problems with English language, even though as an international school we do receive students from other countries, especially in the East African region, so we get French speakers as well and other languages.

In our school we are able to even go an extra mile and bring in aspects of our culture. Culture in Kenya is difficult, we have many small cultures within the country. Everybody speaks at least three languages in Kenya, along with English and Swahili there is another language. So, bringing “Kenyanness” into that, is made easier by the fact that the curriculum allows us to bring these elements within the curriculum: local history and using the local areas to bring all the projects that we require to bolster the curriculum.”

Istituto Comprensivo Boville Ernica, Italy

Boville Ernica is a small town in the centre of Italy, about 90 km from Rome. The Istituto Comprensivo there includes three school levels: preschool, primary and secondary school. Some of the keywords selected by the school to introduce itself are taking care of each other and promoting active citizenship. As principal Giacomo La Montagna and teacher Flavia Passi described it: “Taking Care means for us investing in time and space to achieve quality in social relationships in order to increase wellbeing and social exchanges and to improve learning. Teaching how to take care of each other and of our home planet is our challenge to build a better future. The strategical identity criterion of the Institute is the promotion of Active Citizenship.”

“Teaching how to take care of each other and of our home planet is our challenge to build a better future.” – Flavia Passi

A virtual visit at Istituto Comprensivo Boville Ernica

The video presentation emphasizes these values, illustrating  many “special events” organized during the school year such as the International day for the elimination of violence against women, the Global day for climate action, and the International Day in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust. Some of the issues that the school is fighting for are deeply felt problems in Italian society, such as mafia culture or gender-based violence.

International day for the elimination of violence against women, student works, IC Boville Ernica
Chess lessons to improve logical thinking, concentration, and memory at IC Boville Ernica
Secondary school orchestra, IC Boville Ernica

After watching the video, many of the participants in the ICSEI session wondered how the school manages to combine so many extracurricular activities with the curricular programs of the different subjects. Flavia Passi explained that a new curricular reform In Italy has introduced Civic Education as a subject that is taught by every teacher in their lessons:

“Each subject contributes to these important issues. For instance, environmental education and sustainability, some of the goals of the 2030 Agenda, are strictly connected to Science or Geography. Education to legality, the knowledge of political, social and economic organization, individual rights, are not only the principles on which our constitutional law is based, but they are related to historical and literary debates. Civic education is based on three main themes: the knowledge of the Italian Republican Constitution, Sustainable Development, and Digital Citizenship. These themes are transversely developed from different points of view, in order to create connections between disciplinary knowledge and real-life experiences.”

Passi concluded with a description of the key challenges at Istituto Comprensivo today that serve as a call to action to schools all around the world:

“Our challenge in relation to this matter is finding always new education methods to educate our children in having positive relationships with others, in respecting the rules of a democratic society, being aware of their rights, duties and responsibilities, knowing how to confront peacefully, and taking care of themselves, of their community, and their home planet.”

ICSEI 2023 will be in Chile in January 2023 and schools’ visits will again be held virtually. For more information: https://2023.icsei.net and https://2023.icsei.net/school-visits/

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