Student participation in decision-making in senior high schools in Ghana
Glover, Dorothy Abra
This case study was conducted in Ghana to explore the arenas available for student participation in decision making in public senior high schools. In Ghana, students are considered stakeholders and collaborators in decision-making alongside parents, teachers, and community members. This role is of particular importance since their participation equips them with the attributes and skills needed for active citizenship. Student Representative Councils (SRCs) are established in all public senior high schools in Ghana and their representatives serve on committees and present students‟ views to school authorities. Their role as representatives is therefore very significant in promoting the student voice. The objective of this study was therefore to explore the key arenas available for student participation in decision making in four senior high schools in Ghana and the levels of their participation within them.\ud \ud In Ghana, no specific policy is provided for student participation in decision making even though the SRC is mandatorily established in each public senior high school. Literature on student participation in decision making in senior high schools is also scarce when compared to other African countries such as South Africa. The international literature on student participation in decision making stresses that participation is a right and that it must be given serious consideration. However, the perception some people have about students‟ participation in decision making is that students in senior high schools are not mature enough to participate fully in decision-making forums in schools. Consequently, opportunities provided for student participation tend to be limited to roles of supervision over student peers and fundraising activities. Arnstein‟s (1969) theory of citizen‟s participation which portrays a striking representation of power structures in society forms the theoretical basis of the study. Relating the theory to the school context, the study is conceptualized on Hart‟s (1992) ladder of student‟s participation and Backman and Trafford‟s (2006) Democratic Schools concept. Backman and Trafford (2006) assert that a school can be democratic in spite of its bureaucratic structures. Given that senior high schools in Ghana are hierarchically structured, with students at the bottom of the structure, these two theories provide an appropriate conceptual framework for exploring students‟ participation in democratic decision making.\ud \ud The study was conducted in four senior high schools in Ghana. The research participants included Student Representative Council (SRC) executives, non-SRC executives, staff members and heads of schools, purposively selected according to their roles in relation to decision making arenas in schools. The study was conducted in the interpretivist paradigm, adopting a qualitative approach, using interviews and focus group discussions. These methods were employed in order to gain in-depth insights into the interactions and perspectives of key stakeholders on students‟ participation in decision making in the case study schools.\ud \ud The findings of the study suggested that the forums provided for student participation were similar in the four selected schools. These decision-making forums included feeding, discipline, students‟ accessibility to school heads, school durbars and SRC general forums. The study however focused on decision-making forums of feeding and discipline as these were the areas participants mostly stressed on in their feedback. The study found that participation in the forums studied varied across the schools, with some schools providing more opportunities for students‟ participation than others did. In all but one school, students‟ participation in decision making appeared to be episodic, restricted and largely initiated by the school authorities. Furthermore, interactions between school leadership and staff were affected by power relations which also affected the level of students‟ participation in decision making. As contribution to knowledge the study notes among others that the interpretation and application of children‟s democratic rights is culturally determined and therefore vary across culture.
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