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Democratic classrooms allow students to shape their own destiny4 min read

September 10, 2021 3 min read


Democratic classrooms allow students to shape their own destiny4 min read

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Pallavi Sharma

What is an ideal classroom? Is it a place where the teacher decides what is good for her pupils and goes on a monologue, expecting the students to follow through? Or should it be a space where students have the agency to help create classrooms that they are interested in participating in?

Democracy in the classrooms

An ideal classroom should be a democratic one, where decisions are taken by everyone involved rather than rules being imposed. The International Baccalaureate (IB) emphasizes on ‘student agency’ as an essential component of implementing inquiry into learning.

Student agency gives students the voice and choice of how they learn

EdWords. (n.d.)

As a part of the agency process, the students involve themselves in the process of creating rules in the classrooms. This not only fosters a democratic atmosphere but also allows the student to feel like an owner of their own education, rather than a participant. But no method is without its flaws. So let’s discuss the pros and cons of approaching education in this fashion.

The positives

  1. The democratic is more effective, both for classroom management and student learning. If the precepts of a democratic classroom is based on that of a democratic society then the individual rights of a student would be balanced with that of the classroom as a whole.
  2. When students create rules, they are bound to follow it as well.
  3. Usually, when students are a part of the discussions in class, they create more authentic relationships between themselves and are quick to point out when their peers step out of line.

The negatives

  1. Lack of time makes it difficult to follow through the good work of creating a democratic classroom.
  2. Due to a littany of school events, parent meets and administrative obligations, there is often no time to foster student voice and choice.
  3. Inconsistency in the involvement of students is another limiting factor that may reverse the positive effects of students’ involvement.
  4. Teachers and students come from various backgrounds and temperaments, and it takes patience and calm to be able to honour individual rights. The biggest challenge of democracy is being able to listen to everyone and come to a solution that doesn’t always benefit one party over another.

Ideally, teachers should involve students in classroom activities from the beginning. But this would require teachers to “invest time to discuss expectations, set up rights and responsibilities, and follow up on disruptions in ways that will help and not harm students” (McEwans, 1997 p.147). The article also goes on to say that effective integration of pedagogical knowledge, educational psychology, patience, hard work, and unwavering dedication to equal educational opportunity for all students, and a passionate belief that everyone, including teacher, can learn from mistakes builds a democratic environment.


Democratic Classrooms. (n.d.). Retrieved September 22, 2020.

McEwan, B. (1997). Contradiction, Paradox, and Irony: The World of Classroom Management. In R.E. Butchart & B. McEwan (eds) Classroom Discipline in American Schools. Retrieved September 22, 2020.

Student Agency – What is Student Agency? – EdWords. (n.d.). Retrieved September 22, 2020.

Author’s Note: Pallavi Sharma has about a decade of experience in education as a lecturer, teacher-educator, and curriculum coordinator. She has co-authored a book on ‘Gender divides in the Mauritian Society’ under the aegis of Council of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA). She also freelances as a curriculum consultant.

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