Iuventa / Výskum mládeže / Data catalogue / 2012 / School self-government and civic activation of the youth in Slovakia

School self-government and civic activation of the youth in Slovakia

Research identification sheet ID: DAYR 035

Authors of the survey: PhDr. Stanislav Krošlák in cooperation with Prof. Ladislav Macháček (author of the final report)
Period of data collection: 2011 – 2012
Data collection: an undergraduate student of the FSV UCM in Trnava and a graduate student of the FF UKF in Nitra


After 2003, the government youth policy in Slovakia started to intensively focus on the field of education of the youth to democratic citizenship. From the methodology and content viewpoints, the education of subject civic education and society studies improved (ICCS 2009) and concurrently setting up of school councils at secondary schools was supported in line with Act of the NC SR on school administration and self-government at schools ((No. 596/2003, § 26 5 November 2003). The survey experiments verified that learning by experience, unlike traditional forms, can increase the level of students’ knowledge and competences. Certainly, the specific “positive-democratic atmosphere” in the class positively influenced the success of the experimental group. The survey in school year 2010/2011 confirmed existence of school self-government at as many as 58.4% of secondary schools (in 2004 it was only 32.8 %). Individual interviews with members of coordinators of students’ school councils (ŽŠR) in Nitra and Bratislava confirmed that school management is of key importance for development of participation in school self-government.

Goals of the survey

The purpose of the survey was to show how is “informal school of democracy” in the form of ŽŠR at school self-government connected to formal citizenship education of the subject civic education.

Survey questions focused on two aspects of the issue:

  1. are non-traditional forms of education more efficient than traditional ones also in real growth of civic knowledge of students?
  2. as self-governing movement of students is initiated mostly by teachers who take part in formation of the students’ council, the question is how it influences also the selection of areas of activities.

Methodology of the survey and survey sample

Out of a range of surveying methods, we selected the following ones:

  • “pedagogical experiment” in order to verify efficiency of informal experience-based teaching methods in the field of citizenship education on civic knowledge of students
  • Individual interviews with school self-government actors (students, teachers, director, regional coordinator) in Nitra
  • Cases studies of operation of ŽŠR at two schools in Bratislava
  • Testing civic knowledge of secondary school students as a part of quantitative survey (2011) carried out by research group of UIPŠ in Bratislava
  • Content analysis and reinterpretation of results of the survey ICCS 2009 Slovakia (Núcem in Bratislava)

Conclusions and main findings of the survey

The goal of our research is to characterize the development of the civil movement of the youth aimed at new possibilities of participation in decision making processes by means of school self-government. Young people in Slovakia can rely on legislative basis for participation at schools as well as in the public. It is made up of the Act on state administration at schools and school self-government and the Act on universities. School student councils at secondary school and academic senates at universities are the structural possibilities that, with the help of the law, can constitute the “informal school of democracy”.

The Act on state administration at schools and school self-government (No. 596/2003, §26) žiacka makes it possible, in one of its provisions, for student councils

  • to provide opinions on material issues, proposals and measures of schools in the field of education and trainings,
  • to participate in drafting and adhering to the school code of conduct,
  • to represent students in relation to the school principal and school management,
  • to elect its representatives to the school council.

The sociological survey of the youth in Slovakia since 2004 transferred its attention from the issue of civil associations of children and youth also to school self-governments of pupils and students as an important place of civil education of European citizens. We built upon the assumption that civil knowledge has a material importance for the purpose of effective civil participation. Thus, in the long term, we have been verifying the ICCS 2009 research hypothesis according to which “higher level of civil knowledge guarantee higher level of participation of young people in various forms of civil and political life at school and in the society.”

In the pedagogical experimental teaching at secondary school we verified whether if it is possible to achieve better results concerning students’ knowledge by direct activity of teachers of civic education. In the experimental group, the study material was explained by experiencing (or in the form of a game) and, in the control group, the same study material was provided in the form of classic explanation. It is possible to conclude that the experimental group achieved better results after completing the lessons. Based on responses of students we can conclude that they appreciated non-traditional activities at lessons. There is another valuable finding, too. When such “experiments” occur too often, they become not only usual but also tiring.

Results of the ICCS 2009 in Slovakia confirmed the actual trend of the change in formal education of students. The subject “civic education” focuses not only on factual goals (adoption of civil knowledge) but, surprisingly, also on development of civil competences (support to critical thinking, ability to solve conflicts and defend one’s own opinions). However, what is missing there is the knowledge preparation of students about how school self-government works and, what are the legal possibilities of participation of students in decision making about many issues of their everyday lives at school.

Surveying the issue of school councils provides the youth policy and work with the youth with data necessary not only for understanding of how school students councils are set up and wound up at secondary schools but also provides the possibility to assess their activities, set new priorities of development of the student movement and, in particular, provides methodology assistance in how students should co-decide about their school self-government. Results of statistical surveying in preceding years show that the number of schools in the Slovak Republic with student self-government has increased: from 32.8 % in 2004 to 58.4 % in 2011.

Comparison of results of surveys for the monitored period 2005 – 2012 shows that two areas dominate among expectation of students towards the school student councils:

  1. initiate and operate special services for students (e.g. refreshment vending machines);
  2. set up and improve conditions for extramural activities;
  3. at the same time, the survey confirmed that requirements concerning improvement of the education process keep increasing each year:
  4. students’ awareness of activities at schools;
  5. possibility to make amendments of the school code of conduct;
  6. equipping classrooms with modern teaching technology.

The purpose of the development of the self-government at schools with the participation of students is not to reduce acquiring civil knowledge to “learning by playing democracy at school”. Increasing involvement of students in the self-government of schools should be, above all, a “real” tool for solution of everyday and potential issues at schools. Qualitative survey (2011 – 2012) carried out at several secondary schools and universities in the format of focus groups and in-depth interviews has indicated that there are many examples of formal understanding of self-governing democracy with the participation of students.

Young people actively participating in school self-government have uncovered that the self-government at schools is only at the formal level. One respondent – a chairwoman of the student council expressed in as follows in out qualitative survey: “In fact it is only formal. I have no real influence on anything. What I can do is to sign minutes prepared by the coordinator.” Another participant of in-depth interviews stated that “the school management simply made note of existence of the student council, let it decide what movie will be seen by students in the cinema and let it hold immatriculation party (of course, after teachers’ censorship)“.

Young people get experience with power misuse. Our respondent was not elected as the student council chairwoman. The school management selected another student. She commented it as follows: “They did not select me because I would take a different vote in elections of the principal”. But that is also part of political and civil socialization when learning democracy from practical and personal experience.

Recommendations of the survey

  • Methodological preparation of coordinators of school self-government: Prepare the concept of methodological directives for schools at the level of regional self-government (VUC).
  • Methodological publication for teachers of civic education with the following topics: volunteering, emigration, legal institutions and courts, various cultural and ethnic groups.
  • Presentation of the issue of student school self-government in Slovakia at lessons of civic education. There should be certain link between “learning democracy” and “doing democracy” (learning by doing) and teachers of civic education should extend knowledge about civil rights and obligations also by information about school self-government, student self-government or student parliaments.

Prepared by: Prof. Ladislav Macháček and PhDr. Stanislav Krošlák