How Children find their Voice at BIS

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By Ms. Anjali Karpe, Deputy Head of School

Ms. Anjali Karpe shares an inside view of how the long-held tradition of a children-elected Student Government has enabled student agency and impact across everyday life at BIS 

We talk of student voice and student agency and at BIS, nowhere is this more visible than our student leaders. Come February every year, BIS begins its election process – a time when students decide to contest in the elections to be part of the Student Government. What follows is a display of innovative election posters, a few days of frenzied campaigning, a morning of fiery, dramatic speeches culminating in the casting of votes. This democratic process has been part of the school ecosystem for the longest time and it is unquestionably exciting for those who decide to take on the leadership journey as well as those who realise the power of their vote and its impact.

Soon after the results are announced, the new Student Government (SG) gets sworn in and as they take their oath as  the office bearers of the Bombay International School, there is a ripple that goes through the audience witnessing the ceremony. A new chapter begins and the post bearers embark on a hectic journey as they take on the mantle of responsibility, serious in their intent to sincerely do their best as they step into the shoes of the outgoing seniors. The ten- member strong Core SG consists of the Head Girl, Head Boy, President, Vice-President, Secretary, Treasurer, Social Awareness Secretary, Sports Secretary, Tech Secretary and the Communications Secretary. They get into a huddle for what their jobs demand – planning for the immediate set of events as well as a pitch for future happenings. House Captains for Alpha, Beta and Gamma discover that the first of their events is round the corner and there is barely enough time to meet their House members and get to know them. Prefects assigned for different duties get into the thick of all this planning and class representatives settle down to await the first set of instructions that must be passed on to their respective classes.

Yes! It’s a big group and it has certainly grown in size and scope over time, reflected in both the areas of responsibility and the extent to which they are able to strongly contribute to the school. This change has been organic and dynamic, in line with the changing world around us – a greater awareness of community service, an exponential growth in technology impacting education and a stronger voice from some of our youngest students that needs to be heard. We have also realised that if we bring in students for collective decision-making, we are likely to have a greater buy-in and ownership. With this in mind, we started “consulting” students – be it the introduction of new snacks to be sold during school breaks or changes to be made to the discipline policy; tweaks to the school song or the creation and adoption of a school mascot; planning and layout of the “chill-out spaces” or the reworking of the Founders’ Day.

All this has meant a significant change in our outlook as a school and faculty – we have had to let go, make allowances for things being less than perfect and accept an opinion or idea that may not be completely in sync with what we may have originally planned. The rewards have been unimaginable as the student body realises that they have a strong voice and it counts. They discover that if their opinion is sought on matters that affect them, it will be taken seriously. And most importantly, as the ones elected to represent the students of the school, they learn the earliest lessons of responsibility and respect for the institution they are part of.