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Participatory Education

Page history last edited by Stephanie Knox 13 years, 3 months ago


Participatory Education

Participatory Education is an educational model in which students are given as much of a voice as their instructors or leaders in determining curriculum and activities (Sauve, n.d.).  All participants are active in defining their own needs as well as their own desires.  Beyond simply defining these goals, all participants work to implement them and then to evaluate the process that they used to achieve said goals.  The overall purpose of participatory education is defined as improving one's own life as well as the lives of others in the world by promoting justice and equality.  As such, participatory education is a methodology that fits the methods of peace education.


Examples of participatory education

One example of the use of participatory education for the promotion of peace education is through a program called Horn Relief, which is based in Somalia (Horn Relief, 2005).  Horn Relief works to promote empowerment of women through leadership building in pastoral communities in Somalia.  Horn Relief uses a participatory education model because it values the priorities and concerns of its participants, and finds this is more effective than having priorities set by outsiders who do not have the same perspective. 


The participatory education model is also seen in a program by the NGO Project Muso Ladamunen, which works in rural Mali (Participatory Education Program, n.d.).  This program uses a diffusion model, based in participatory education, for teaching.  A few women from the community determine which subjects are of interest to them and their community.  They learn these subjects and then teach other women in the village, who then repeat this process, creating a cycle.  The program teaches about practical skills such as hygiene and health care, academic areas that impact the women's lives such as basic literacy and math, and human rights and democracy, as related to the lives of the women.



In classroom settings, the most common way in which participatory education is enacted is through role playing and simulation.  Role play/simulations work to pique students' curisoity.  When students are in role they learn how to ask important and thoughtful questions and to use this to critically analyze situations.  Simulations are particularly useful when they designed and selected by students, and present a holistic picture of the situation that is being depicted. Simulations and role play can be particularly daunting for teachers.  Therefore, we have worked to compile as many tips and as much advice as we can to make this task somewhat easier. 


Research conducted regarding simulations has identified several elements as key to success. For teachers who design their own simulations, five elements have been determined as key for planning: target audience, instructor control, duration of the simulation, the goals of the simulation and how students will debrief the activity. Additionally, the objectives should be clear,  both in what the teacher wants the students to learn and what the students are supposed to achieve during the simulation. Furthermore, all students should be actively engaged. It has been found that simulations are effective when they teach students skills for future professions, empathy or how to navigate intercultural interactions and promotes intercultural understanding.


Preparing for the Simulation 

Paul Dosh is a professor of Political Science and Latin American Studies at Macalester College (MN, United States) who uses simulations successfully in all of his courses.  He provides his students with the following guidelines when they are preparing for a simulation. These guidelines ensure that students are as prepared as possible for their role.  Preparation is key for simulations, since students need to understand the material before they can participate in a simulation.  Additionally, students cannot simply prepare by knowing the information; they also must understand how the simulation will operate and how their character would respond to specific situations.   By putting themselves into character and thinking about specific situations that might arise, students are also working on learning the specifics of the situation that is being simulated.  The following are his guidelines (Dosh, 2010):


  • Review your notes on readings and discussions relevant to the simulation.   
  • Find out specifics about your character if possible and understand the specifics of the situation
  •  Put together a brief introductory statement for the beginning of the simulation.  Depending on your role, this may be brief or lengthy, passionate or not, autobiographical or not, goal-oriented or not, etc. (This is specific to the structure of a simulation which provides brief introductory statements.  However, even in simulations that don't have this component it can be helpful for students to think about how their character would introduce themselves to the situation).    


Tips for Getting into Character

  • Make lists of things you like and dislike (be sure to include the names of other characters in role-play).  Make the lists big so you have an opinion on as many things as possible.  When you make choices, seek to increase conflict and make the story more interesting.  This goes against our normal sensibilities, but in this setting, conflict is desirable. 
  •  List 10 positive adjectives about your character.  This is especially important if you are playing a character with whom you do not agree ideologically. 
  •  Refrain from moral judgment on your character. 
  •  What is your status and power relative to everyone else in the game?  The point of the exercise is not for you to "win," but for you to do a good job playing your character.  Who are you afraid of?  Who do you have power over?  In our game, your character may end up “losing,” but if you acted your character to the fullest than this is not a bad thing.
  •  What do you want?  What are the consequences if you don't get it?  How far will you go? 
  •  Avoid advertising your "true colors," especially in your introductory remarks.  Think about what your character would actually say in public."


Challenges with simulations

Many teachers shy away from simulations since preparing one can appear incredibly daunting both due to its complicated interactions and because of the time commitment needed to make a successful simulation.  However, the studies stress that good simulations do not need to be time intensive and in fact many good simulations already exist and can simply be modified for the needs of the teacher.  Additionally, a simple simulation can be just as effective as a complicated one.


Example: Simulations in US High School History Class (Smith, 2010)

Chris Smith is a high school social studies teacher in Vermont in the United States.  He also uses simulations in his courses.  He discusses that as a teacher the hardest aspect of planning a simulation is finding some way to keep all students occupied and busy in a way in which they feel actively part of the simulation.  With different roles in the simulation, it is almost inevitable that you will create a situation in which a few students have significantly more to do and more power than the rest of the students.  This is not necessarily bad, since simulations are designed to represent real world situations, in which power dynamics are not even.  However to deal with this the teacher needs to design the simulation in a way that everyone has a task to do. 


One example of this from a simulation that Smith conducts in his U.S. history course.  The simulation is about labor relations in the U.S. in the early 20th Century.  This time period was defined by fights for labor rights, using strikes and unionizing, throughout industrial cities of the United States.  In this simulation the majority of students are general laborers.  They are given an in-depth story of their personal history to help them react to specific situations.  However, a few students have roles that are more powerful, such as the head of the factory or the spokesperson for the union.  Therefore, Smith has to work to ensure that the students who have powerful roles do not dominate the simulation, since this will lead to boredom and lack of involvement from the rest of the students.  Therefore, all students are told that there are no rules and that they need to work to, however they can, get what is best for them and their family, even if it does not go through the structures of power that they percieve "required".



Thinking about assessment is also a key aspect of conducting a simulation.  Some suggestions for how to assess students in a simulation are:


1.  Self-Reflection papers:  Self-reflection gives students the opportunity to explain their understanding of key concepts from the simulation as well as to discuss how the information from the simulation applies to other areas of their study and/or life.  Students, especially those at higher levels, can also discuss if the construction of the simulation itself was valid. 


2.  Peer Evaluation is a useful tool when the simulation consisted of mostly group work, since it gives a fuller perspective of the students work.  


3.  Portfolios are incredibly popular as a tool of authentic assessment, or assessment that emulates real-life conditions.  Therefore, they fit perfectly with the idea behind simulations, which is creating real life situations within the classroom. Portfolios work best when the simulation is one that occurs over a long period of time, as they allow student growth and change to be seen.  


4.  Post-tests and grading participation represent more traditional methods of student assessment.  Students can be assessed based on their participation in the simulation itself as well as their preparation for the simulation.  With regards to post-tests, students should be tested on areas of comprehension that the teacher hoped to teach via the simulation.  The post-test can be for a grade but it can often more effectively be a mechanism by which the teacher identifies his/her success in imparting the concepts that he/she wished to share with the students. 



Currently, there is a debate about whether or not simulations teach the academic areas that they are intended for.  There seems to be no evidence that students learn academic concepts better via a simulaiton.  However, there is strong evidence that students learn empathy and decision-making skills through simulations. 


From the perspective of peace education, simulations teach academic skills equally well as other methodologies, and additionally promote skills that are essential to peace education, making them an important tool.  Simulations have been shown to strongly increase student enjoyment and engagement with the material, which is more important in peace education than test scores. 


Participatory education is very much connected to the philosophies and practices that have been put forth throughout this peace education curriculum since it works to connect the real life of the student to the educational experience to make the education relevant and guiding in the student´s life.  



Larsson, E. (n.d.). Participatory Education: What and Why. Retrieved from www.ropecon.fi/brap/



Smith, Chris. Personal interview. 24 May 2010.


Additional Resources

Hora, Jennifer, and Robbin Smith. "Track Nine: Simulations and Role Play." The American Political

Science Association. N.p., 2009. Web. 28 May 2010. <http://www.apsanet.org/



Raymond, Chad, and Denise Vaughan. "Track Five: Simulations and Role Play I." The American Political

Science Association. N.p., 2008. Web. 28 May 2010. <http://www.apsanet.org/


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