New research conducted by ISC Research this year has identified that some international schools are giving students the chance to speak out and have a voice in shaping their educational experiences.
However, the same research has highlighted some weaknesses in the area of pupil voice, which may leave some schools keen to re-evaluate their approach to this important area.
Students and alumni were surveyed, and separate research was conducted with educators and administrators, to explore if international schools are listening to students to inform change and improvement. It is good news to see that some international schools are proactively encouraging student voice.
A shift in culture
Over 150 students and alumni from a wide range of international K-12 schools around the world completed a detailed survey. A total of 91 per cent were current students and 9 per cent were alumni of international schools.
A total of 54 per cent of the students who responded to the research said that, in the last two years, they believe there has been an improvement toward enabling student voice in their school.
Triggers towards change referenced in the research included internal school community initiatives, educational research, the impact of Covid, the International Baccalaureate, and the influence of movements supporting equity and inclusion.
While some schools are working towards improvement, there is a learning process for school leaders and educators to ensure that students are able to speak out and be heard in authentic and accessible ways.
The ways students raise their voices
Most students are happy with their school’s provision to share their views (86 per cent within the report). It was interesting to see that 54 per cent of students who said they feel all students’ voices in their school are heard believe their school has an increasingly diverse staff and is addressing discrimination rights.
“Some students described their school’s provision as limited, patronising or tokenistic.”
However, although 40 per cent of students said they feel comfortable sharing their opinions within their school, 43 per cent said they do not feel they are listened to.
This is an important message for all schools: students need to believe that, regardless of outcome, their voices are authentically heard within their school.
Some students described their school’s provision as “limited”, “patronising” or “tokenistic” resulting in negative impact. Authentic listening is vital and can result in positive change.
Joel Jr Llaban, director of diversity, equity, inclusion and justice at International Schools Services and former international school educator, who commented on the research for the report said: “As educators and school leaders, it is important for us to listen to students and to give them opportunities to be active participants in their own learning. By doing so, we can create a more engaged and empowered student body.”
“Even though there is a student council in my school, they make themselves less approachable and so do teachers”.
Most students who were surveyed said their school has at least one channel accessible to them to speak out, the most common channel being the student council. This is not always seen as a trusted solution for all students, as one student explained during the research: “Even though there is a student council in my school, they make themselves less approachable and so do teachers”.
Additional or alternative channels for speaking out and being heard in safe ways could include student forums and/or anonymous surveys.
A total of 59 per cent of the students who said they do not feel comfortable sharing their opinions in their school also said they are unhappy with the channels their school has for students to share their voices.
Some students use student voice groups to speak out. Some of these groups are within their school and some are independent and external to their school, often active and visible on social media channels.
A total of 21 per cent of the students and alumni in our research said they actively contribute to a student voice group with comments and opinions, and 14 per cent said they follow a student group and its content on social media but don’t actively contribute.
“Only 49 per cent of schools invite students to comment about their learning.”
According to our research, although many international schools give students a chance to share their voice about some aspects of school life, only 49 per cent of schools invite students to comment about their learning. Also, only 24 per cent of schools encourage students to speak out about diversity, equity, inclusion and justice within the school, even though students ranked it as a high priority for them within their school.
The research suggests that all schools may want to evaluate their approach to student voice, including what current student voice channels they offer, who accesses these channels, and who might feel ostracised and why. In doing so, they can create more engaged and empowered learners.
Pia Maske is the research manager for the East Asia Region at ISC Research. The free Listening to international student voices report is available from ISC Research and includes school case studies as well as practical advice from experts.