Bal Sansads to promote social justice and social inclusion
As per the Convention on the Rights of Child (CRC), children have the right to be consulted and involved in all matters relating to their education. This led to the introduction of the concept of Bal Sansad or Children’s Parliament. It is another matter that these remain by and large on paper and marginalized children are not members or leaders therein. Additionally, we found that these spaces lacked any perspective on the marginalized children within them. It did not ensure that marginalized children were part of these bodies, it did not orient the members on issues of marginalized children, did not intervene to promote the rights of marginalized children.
It was found that the current structure of the Bal Sansads is a 12-member body, which is elected by the assembly of students in a school. The positions include one Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister. Further Ministers and deputy ministers are elected for 5 portfolios: education, health and sanitation, water and agriculture, science and library, as well as culture and sports. Each ministry is aided by a council of 10 to 16 students, to advise the minister and take forward the specific agenda. The students in each school are divided into five houses to help the minister in carrying out various activities. The Student Government would meet once a month and it would report to the students' assembly on quarterly basis the activities taken up.
The aim of the Bal Sansad as seen is to provide a platform for children to express their views and to also involve them in the developmental activities of the schools. Expectedly, the measures taken would improve the personality of the students in terms of self-awareness, leadership quality, group activities, motivation and decision making skills and confidence.
Promoting Social Justice and Rights through Bal Sansads
Bal Sansad in our perception can also be effective platforms to orient children on their rights and also help them experience and translate them into their lives as well as adult life. It can effectively review the rights of children under RtE, other rights given to them through the Constitution, policies and provisions. Given that the RtE mandates that children’s rights be ensured and a grievance redress mechanism be set in place, the Bal Sansad can be a forum where children learn their rights and seek ways to make schools child friendsly spaces. We propose that two additional posts –social justice minister and deputy minister be created in the Bal Sansad.
The broad roles of these 2 posts are identified as:
- To monitor and bring to notice any child rights violation under the RTE (discrimination, corporal punishment, non implementation of norms, delay/non implementation of equity measure)
- To dialogue with school and school management on how to address issues of exclusion and discrimination faced by any child.
- To promote social equity and inclusion among all children
These roles can be further evolved in keeping with the broad objective in mind and made more specific with time when it becomes part of the formal structure and is adopted by the government.
Over the past few months we have discussed this with the schools that we were engaged with and schools were open to activating the Bal Sansads.
Experiential Learning to Promote Social Justice/Human Rights Perspectives among children
Human right or Social Justice and Inclusion are not topics of conversation among young people's life. The younger you are the less chances are that you have ever looked at your life in “rights's perspective”. What further makes it difficult is the education in the way it is delivered. Brain-body compatibility research shows that emotions are integral part of our learning (experience). So, if children learn in an environment of authority, not having a say, accepting whatever is offered to them by teachers, their learning is completely devoid of any connection to their rights. It also makes them accept authority as it is and their ability to raise questions if severely undermined.
In a way children experience that they have no voice/say in the system. How do we expect them to know about Human Rights (HR), be aware about rights violation(self and around) and take any action towards ensuring HR. Therefore any HR's education to have an impact it has to work at all levels; knowledge, awareness, understanding and action.
Experiential Learning can thus work towards an effective HR education.
- Being a participatory process it offers a level playing field for learner in relation to facilitator and not a one way process as it is in current system
- Since there is no judgment or sense of right/wrong participant are able to take responsibility of their own emotions and trust themselves more, this is the foundation of triggering a sense of inquiry and ask questions.
- Experiential learning process includes reflection where an experience is understood by asking questions of 'it'. This leads to critical understanding of an experience and also nourishes an attitude of raising questions.
- Use of metaphor (in Experiential Learning) allows participants to link experiences in a session/training to larger issues/life itself.
All this can lead to growth of critical thinking abilities and such experience can lead to application. This gives a chance for learning to go beyond just knowledge and understanding and move to synthesis and application.
A classroom session on human right can at best increase knowledge but it will not lead to any reflection or formation of opinion. It will be contradictory to treat young people as passive recipients for any understanding of HR that will lead to any action.