“For the Children, by the Children and of the Children:” Students Understanding Democracy

Ananya’s Fellowship is made possible by the Rural India Supporting Trust. 

It is in the early week of March 2019. The public schools of Samastipur district in Bihar are organizing their Annual Summit of Student Parliament. On the fine morning, the prime ministers of all the schools are gathered to share their stories of experience, achievement, and failure throughout their journey of one year. On another morning, there is a gathering of all the ministers of the student parliament of the school in one block. Over this period, there are four consecutive Annual Summits of Student Parliament. The students are here to discuss the present status of the work done and what problems they faced while serving their session.    

Yes, today is the annual Bal Sansad Gosthi!

Md. Dildar Hussain, the Prime Minister of Mahnaiya Urdu Middle School explaining how the hygienic practices in his school have reduced absenteeism among students.

They call it Bal Sansad Gosthi, which is an annual platform to share the report card of the activities and changes which happened in the school after the election of the student parliament. The prime ministers and other cabinets are really busy today. Some are tensed, some are relaxed and some are enjoying the ambience, but everyone is ready to get started. You can feel the wave of encouragement and positive vibes circulating around the platform.

While greeting the Prime Minister of Bal Sansad in Bal Sansad Gosthi. Location: Dalsinghsarai, Samastipur, Bihar.

“My daughter is the prime minister of her school; today I am here to listen to her”, says a proud father from Hasanpur block of Samastipur, Bihar while locating the girl on the dais. There is an amalgamation of parents, teachers, students, and government functionaries for these few days. They have come to listen to stories of students initiating the changes and driving the solution.

The crowd is amazing; they are very excited. In summary, 177 public middle schools, 464 students and 169 government functionaries are participating in these consecutive programmes.

This forum also provides an opportunity to share the existing problems in the school. Some problems which cannot be solved by the children are presented in front of the government functionaries, like to the Block Education Officer, Block Resource Person, and Block Development Officer. The platform has created an opportunity to share their struggle in a block level forum. Their stories of struggle inspire prime ministers of other schools, who are going through similar challenges. This connects the schools in need and builds a virtual network.  

What Is Bal Sansad and Why Does It Matter?

A Baal Sansad (Student Parliament) meeting and session. Location: Pusa Block, Samastipur, Bihar.

The literal meaning of the phrase “Bal Sansad” is Children/Student (“Bal”) and Assembly/Parliament (“Sansad”). That is the Student Parliament in every middle school. The Bal Sansad is an elected body of the school which identifies issues, initiates problem solving approaches and drives impactful changes in their school. They act as an inspiration to work with the limited resources and high aspiration for their school. They are the democratic voice of the entire student body.  

If we look into the backdrop of the emergence of Bal Sansad, then it was started in a UNICEF (United Nation International Children’s Emergency Fund) programme, in Nalanda District of Bihar in 1998. Then in 2001, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan has taken up this idea in their strategy booklet and made its set up compulsory in every primary and middle school of India. Thus, the initiation of Bal Sansad laid the interest in the students’ participation in the school building activities. This emphasized that students need to raise their voice on child rights issues and find solutions for their problems and basic needs in the school.     

A gender sensitive toilet in the dream structure of a school made by the students. Location: Bal Sansad Goshthi, Patori,, Samastipur, Bihar.

Anandshala Programme of Quest Alliance is working in 60 innovation schools with special focus in 6 blocks (Pusa, Hasanpur, Ujiyarpur, Patori, Khanpur and Dalsinghsarai) of Samastipur. They are trying to create good examples of joyful schools by generating good practices from them. They are creating a linkage with the government stakeholders, community, and the primary stakeholders. Thus, Baal Sansad Gosthi is an emerging learning platform for the remaining schools in the block, to know about the intervention of Anandshala in the 10 schools. This platform provides information, motivation and clarity to the dream projects of the upcoming student parliament. Anandshala is associated with these student parliaments right from their inception. Starting from stimulating them to stand for election, structuring the election manifesto, orientation about their school, envisioning their dream, milestones to achieve it, involving the stakeholder, government partners, and continuous motivation to reach the dream and navigate possibilities for the next session of students.  

After a time, these bands of children have started finding their voice in different platforms. They are taking part in teachers’ meetings and asking about the issues. They help their clan and the stakeholders dare to dream. A dream to transform their school with better infrastructure (drinking water, toilets), engaging spaces (green spaces, colorful walls, cultural elements; creative spaces and libraries) and enriching activities (sports, music, dance, role plays, quiz, etc).  

How to Spot the Bal Sansad in the School?

The Gallery walk for showcasing the stories of change in Pusa, Samastipur, Bihar.
  • An active group of students
  • Taking lead in basic necessities of the school
  • Escorting the visitors in the school
  • Early arrivers in the school
  • Organizing the morning assembly, synchronizing the students
  • Conducting Evening assembly, collecting the students for sports, gardening
  • Lining the students in the mid-day meal hours
  • Raising voice for the difficulties faced by students
  • Meeting the teachers and head teachers of the school to organize a meeting 

 

Notable Activities Done by the Student Parliament:

The students of Kothiya Middle school in Samastipur are performing a role to share their journey about how they were inspired  to work on the infrastructural development of the school. The story of student-led changes in the school in one of Bal Sansad Gosthi. Location: Khanpur, Samastipur, Bihar.
  • 50 students brought back to school
  • Created community contributed libraries
  • Submitted application for water and sanitation facilities in the local government departments
  • Collected contribution from community to buy musical instruments
  • Peer learning groups in the last hours of the day
  • Involved 30 community youths in the painting and gardening
  • Created innovative and creative spaces in 10 schools
  • Started 14 Children Bank and 17 Stationery Bank
  • Seeded Kitchen garden
  • Established student’s court

The student parliament approach has opened opportunities for practical experiences to students on democracy, its responsibility and accountability, and on the supremacy of the law. They are realizing the significance of casting the vote and understanding the importance of dialogue and now developing their attitudes and skills. Whilst engaging in a dialogue, they are listening to the opinions and arguing to prove their points while also respecting the opinions of others. Students are accepting the concept of agreement by majority; and building up a broad social cohesion. They are understanding the crux of democracy and identifying the pillars of democracy. They are valuing the suggestion of others and involving them in the discussion. The student parliament creates opportunities for students to get together collectively and organize and implement different programmes to bring to the attention of the relevant authorities those problems that they are unable to solve.

While moving around the public schools of rural Samastipur, I realize how the students are understanding the essence of democracy. They are getting acquainted with the collective power of the individuals. They are now demanding their rights. They are channeling the locally available resources to fuel the solution. They are conducting meetings with the teachers and the principal of the school to put forward their voice. They are involving the primary stakeholders, the community and parents in the chain. They are now heard in the larger forums. Some members of the student parliaments are even crossing their state borders to share their stories on the national and international platforms. The students are more focused on their demands, they are now utilizing different platforms to place their voice. This situation is helping them to create changes in their community and school. They are growing to be a strong link among the community and the school. Gradually, it is nurturing the bond and ownership of their school.

Fitting into the frame of cabinet ministers of Middle School Darwa, in Bal Sansad Gosthi of Patori in Samastipur, Bihar, India. Photo Courtesy: Rajlaxmi, Programme Officer, Quest Alliance. 

Ananya strongly believes in story-telling and capacity of an individual to share their own story to create change. Through her fellowship with Quest Alliance in Samastipur, Bihar she is trying to capture the stories of change and creating platform to share the same. William J. Clinton Fellowship has provided her an opportunity to explore her creative ideas and skills. She is proud to pursue her fellowship with Quest Alliance. She has completed her post-graduation in Masters of Social Work from Visva-Bharati, India. She flagged her professional career with Pratham, focusing on the education of children of Tea Tribes in North-eastern India. Moving towards central India she has worked in Ekjut with Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (formerly known as Primitive Tribal Groups) of Jharkhand state, for ensuring their nutrition and food security. She is a selected change maker of Change.org campaigning for Universalization of Maternity Entitlement for all women. She enjoys singing and music, especially playing guitar.

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2 thoughts on ““For the Children, by the Children and of the Children:” Students Understanding Democracy

  1. Ananya,

    I think this is such a fantastic way to involve students in important decision making processes. I really appreciated learning about the system and hope that other schools can be as successful in doing the same! Thank you for sharing.

    Dan

  2. Beautifully captured the intent, process and outputs of the intervention. Strengthening students voice helps students and the large school community as well. Thanks for sharing Ananya.

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