Transformation by Participation: Model Schools for learning of democracy and peace

"Peace and prosperity for all on a healthy planet" is the United Nations' vision with its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). To achieve this turnaround, the UN regards education as a central field of action. At the same time, UNESCO states drily that the current conception of schools is simply inadequate to reach these goals.

This insight is the starting point for the project "Transformation through Participation: Model Schools for Democracy Learning and Peace Building" (Transform4School). Ultimately, decades of efforts of teachers and trainers in all fields of education have led to sobering findings. This is most of all due to the dilemma that educational goals cannot be realized through mediation alone, but also require the learners’ self-activity, and are thus open-ended by default. This is why transform4School builds on an understanding of learning as experience. Schools cannot simply „teach the correct values“ but can be organized in a way that allows students to make their own experiences in democracy and alternative forms of acting, and to learn from them.

The project explores the possibilities of transformative learning in two selected schools (in Carinthia and Lower Austria). Class councils oriented towards grassroots democracy, and a student parliament oriented toward representative democracy, are established as the primary tools. The participatory orientation of the project encourages students to try out additional alternative attempts at democracy. Participants are invited to engage with their school and its social environment, and to involve other relevant parties, including teachers, school administrators, parents, and other stakeholders. In a second step, the students will select from among the 17 SDGs those that interest them the most to relate them to their local situations: How does our way of living affect other areas of the world, and what positive influence could small changes, made through alternative ways of living, have on a global scale?

The learning processes, resistance met, moments of failure, and success stories are documented, reflected and evaluated by the participants as co-researchers, so-called Citizen Scientists, and the research team. The findings from the experiences in the project will be made public especially available for school development and teacher education.

(Photocredit © I. Sandner and H. K. Peterlini)