For social justice education to take hold it must be taught as a way of living, rather than limiting it to isolated projects, Dr Agbenyega says. In practice, this involves asking every student what they want their schools to be like.
“Very young children must also be included – all must be able to make a contribution,” he says.
“At primary and secondary schools, students who have been included in decision making will perceive themselves as part of the school community and will hold themselves accountable when part of rule-making. This also drives them to participate in the classroom.”
Dr Agbenyega says there are various roles that schools can play, including:
- capacity building according to the different capabilities and abilities which individuals can use to help them escape from disadvantage
- building students’ strength by focusing on ability rather than deficits, as a deficit focus can lead to exclusion
- creating transformation in personal agency, building an ability to act with intent
- building a range of new relationships, ensuring students meet with different types of people and transform the way they see the world
- developing students’ emotional, cognitive and physical wellbeing by linking with families so schools know what students are going through, and
- everyday education that provides a convivial atmosphere leading to personal skills and development.
Dr Agbenyega says relationships within schools are fundamental to a functional school. He also suggests intercultural and multicultural – not mono-cultural – buddy systems to help students learn about each other’s culture while providing academic support.
Learning from Mandela
The legacies of Nelson Mandela provide key principles for living social justice, Dr Agbenyega says. These principles include:
- look at me, myself, and then you learn from me
- education is living and living is education
- use education as a platform for sustainable living
- where children cannot speak for themselves advocacy is vital, and
- being relentless in pursuit of our dreams and what we believe in.
Legacies in the making
When looking for inspiration for social justice teaching, Dr Agbenyega says many people are still making legacies.
Ertharin Cousin As Executive Director of the United Nations World Food Program, Ertharin continues to advocate that there should be zero malnutrition and that no child should go hungry on any day. Bringing food to children in war-torn countries and those impacted by environmental disasters and other issues is vital. If children are hungry they cannot talk about social justice.
“Children can’t learn when they are hungry so education and social justice must go hand in hand,” Dr Agbenyega says.
Zhan Haite This “ambitious girl growing up in rural China” is standing up to the government policy that rural children must remain rural educated and cannot be admitted to the better resourced city schools”, Dr Agbenyega says.
“She migrated to Shanghai and in response to the exclusionary policy is advocating and mobilising around it. She is now having great breakthroughs,” he says.
“Our schools and educators can transform the way our society is today by ensuring all students are included, and by diversifying and valuing all subjects equally.
“We live as role models so students learn how to come to the next level.”
Wherever they are schooled, whatever their socio-economic backgrounds or their nations’ political systems, young people demonstrate an innate desire to actively work for a better world. When they speak out, their voices carry a power and a purity that begs our attention. When they act, they inspire us to follow.