Participation in school settings


Prof. Dr. Kathrin Aghamiri
E‑Mail: k.aghamiri (at) fh-muens­ter (dot) de

Prof. Dr. Benedikt Sturzenhecker
E‑Mail: benedikt.sturzenhecker (at) uni-ham­burg (dot) de

Participation in school settings

Democratic par­ti­ci­pa­ti­on in schools and class­rooms has beco­me an incre­a­singly dis­cus­sed and tes­ted topic in Germany over the past years. The rea­sons for this lie, amongst other things, in the cur­rent “class­room cri­sis” aff­lic­ting German schools, as edu­ca­tors and offi­cials grapp­le with issu­es of how to keep stu­dents moti­va­ted and enga­ged in class, while at the same time avoid “poor” per­for­mance results (see PISA stu­dy). Schools in Germany are the­re­fo­re gra­du­al­ly star­ting to shift towards a lear­ner-ori­en­ted edu­ca­tio­nal con­cept in the sen­se of a “house of lear­ning”, an edu­ca­tio­nal set­ting in which empha­sis is pla­ced not as much on the strict trans­fer of know­ledge but rather com­pe­tence acqui­si­ti­on and lear­ning groun­ded in and gai­ned through mutu­al poli­ci­es and prac­ti­ces of stu­dents and edu­ca­tors wit­hin the school community.

Democratic com­pe­tence by means of acti­ve acqui­si­ti­on gai­ned through expe­ri­ence is pre­cise­ly one of the com­pe­ten­ces that such schools under­go­ing struc­tu­ral and cur­ri­cu­lar tran­si­ti­on are star­ting to embrace. Democratic par­ti­ci­pa­ti­on in school set­tings has a dual aspect invol­ving, on the one hand, its incor­po­ra­ti­on into the for­mal school cur­ri­cu­lum and, on the other hand, its acti­ve acqui­si­ti­on as a form but also qua­li­ty of life wit­hin the immedia­te school com­mu­ni­ty. Participation is her­eby lear­ning objec­ti­ve and at the same time stan­dard of qua­li­ty with respect to the orga­niz­a­ti­on of school life.

Opening school to the out­side world of its stu­dents as well as socie­ty at lar­ge also inclu­des, as a third aspect, estab­li­shing a rela­ti­ons­hip bet­ween school and demo­cra­tic socie­ty. Participation in school set­tings is not meant to be an iso­la­ted pro­ject, but rather a means of for­ging rela­ti­ons bet­ween school and the out­side world of its stu­dents with its own respec­ti­ve demo­cra­tic and poli­ti­cal pro­ces­ses. Participation and demo­cra­cy ther­eby con­sti­tu­te sub­ject mat­ter taught in class, a struc­tu­ral cha­rac­te­ris­tic of school life, and an ele­ment of invol­ve­ment in social demo­cra­cy and politics.

However, put­ting the­se con­cepts into prac­ti­ce has pro­ven dif­fi­cult for schools: Given the struc­tu­ral imba­lan­ce of powers among tho­se invol­ved, the tra­di­tio­nal empha­sis on per­for­mance and acqui­si­ti­on of know­ledge, the poli­ti­cal neu­tra­li­ty in schools as well as the distance bet­ween school and the out­side world of its stu­dents, par­ti­ci­pa­to­ry demo­cra­tic prac­ti­ce in school set­tings can by no means be regar­ded as a mat­ter of cour­se. Despite a cer­tain level of fami­lia­ri­ty with demo­cra­tic con­cepts as part of poli­ti­cal edu­ca­ti­on clas­ses, for examp­le, the­re is often a lack of pedago­gi­cal ide­as and methods nee­ded in order to con­struct class­room set­tings, but also life wit­hin the school com­mu­ni­ty as a who­le, con­du­ci­ve to par­ti­ci­pa­to­ry demo­cra­tic prac­ti­ce. Studies show that genui­ne stu­dent par­ti­ci­pa­ti­on is often all too easi­ly wate­red down by cir­cum­ven­ting their invol­ve­ment in “tru­ly important” decisi­on-making processes.

Within the scope of major edu­ca­tio­nal pro­jects on demo­cra­cy, such as the BLK (federal edu­ca­ti­on com­mis­si­on) model pro­ject “Learning and Living Democracy”, German schools are incre­a­singly chal­len­ged to deve­lop con­cepts and set­tings for stu­dents to expe­ri­ence demo­cra­cy. Child and youth wel­fa­re orga­niz­a­ti­ons can play an important role by sup­por­ting schools in such endea­vors, as they can draw from their vast expe­ri­ence in democratic/participatory con­cepts wit­hin child day­ca­re faci­li­ties as well as child and youth work. Working tog­e­ther to estab­lish child and youth rights to par­ti­ci­pa­ti­on as well as deve­lop pro­fes­sio­nal prac­ti­ce con­cepts is one of the most pro­mi­sing are­as or topics of col­la­bo­ra­ti­on bet­ween school and youth welfare.


The Institute for Participation and Education can pro­vi­de sup­port in the fol­lowing areas:

  • Examination and expan­si­on of the scope of child and youth par­ti­ci­pa­ti­on prac­ti­ce wit­hin schools
  • Development of appro­pria­te pro­fes­sio­nal prac­ti­ce con­cepts for indi­vi­du­al schools
  • Teacher/staff trai­ning in par­ti­ci­pa­to­ry practice
  • Development of coope­ra­ti­on pro­jects on democracy/participation bet­ween school and child and youth welfare
  • Development of school pro­jects on par­ti­ci­pa­ti­on to assist child­ren and young peop­le in their gro­wing invol­ve­ment in decisi­on-making pro­ces­ses at local com­mu­ni­ty and government levels