Democratic education is education which most appropriately meets the needs of the learner, the community and society. It does this through developing reflective individuals who are collaborative problem-solvers and creative flexible thinkers… These schools are communities where Article 12 of the UN convention on the rights of the child, which states that children have a right to have a say on matters which affect them, is fully realised.
Hudson Valley Sudbury School, established in 2004 in the US, is a democratic community for students ages 5-18 engaging in self-directed education.
The Learning Cooperative, established in 1973 in Victoria, is a great example of a small, parent-run, democratic school.
As you can see, democratic education is nothing new. In fact the oldest democratic school, Summerhill in the UK, was established one hundred years ago in 1921 by educator and author A.S. Neill.
School Circles is an independent documentary (2018) that explores the practice of democratic schools in the Netherlands. The film shows students, teachers and staff members coming together to dialogue, discuss proposals, mediate conflicts and make decisions about their school life.
Schools of Trust is a German documentary (2014) about Self-Directed Education.
Forest school is outdoor, nature-based learning that focuses on the holistic development of children. This type of learning environment helps children develop confidence, self-esteem, independence and creativity through experiencing the natural world and by teaching practical, outdoor skills.
To see an example of forest learning in action, see the Forest School Program at Mt Nebo State School that was implemented with support from Nature Play QLD.
To learn more about the origins of forest education, see SBS Dateline’s documentary about Denmark’s forest kindergartens.
Place-based education is the process of using the local community and environment as a starting point to teach concepts in language arts, mathematics, social studies, science, and other subjects across the curriculum.
Place-based education differs from conventional text and classroom-based education in that it understands students’ local community as one of the primary resources for learning.
Whole city as a learning environment
“Helsinki is our learning environment… children go outside the classrooms and can learn in museums, theatres, libraries, streets and everywhere in the city.”
Some rural examples of place-based education
“Place-based education can redress concerns about a lack of connection of students with their local place or community. This disconnection can cause poor personal development and the desire to seek a new location – a particularly important point in locations where there is a concern that too many young people do not see a future for themselves in their local community, and instead desire to relocate to an urban centre as soon as they are able, with no plans for a return to their rural community. This is a concern for communities where there are aging rural populations and patterns of out migration”