Digital competence is as important in the 21stC as numeracy and literacy and in recognition of this the Welsh Government (WG) has made Digital Competence a cross-curricular theme that all teachers and practitioners in Wales must systematically plan for.

Glyncollen Primary, Student Council Pupil Voice, VocalEyes

The WG has also adopted the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC, 1989) as the basis of all its work. This has implications for pupil participation and it is a statutory requirement for all schools in Wales to have a school council. However, participation is much wider than the School Council and many schools want to go beyond this and fully integrate pupil voice into the school community.

Welsh Government, Donaldson Review - Report on the Curriculum and Assessment Arrangements in Wales - Successful FuturesThe Donaldson Review of education in Wales identified a key purpose of the new curriculum is to produce “ethically informed citizens… ready to be citizens of Wales and the world” (Donaldson, 2015: 33). Donaldson calls on schools to build young people’s digital skills and help young people become “ethical, informed citizens” who can “engage with contemporary issues”, “understand and exercise their human and democratic responsibilities and rights”, “respect the rights of others” and “show their commitment to the sustainability of the planet”.

The WG policy on ESDGC (Education for Sustainable Development and Global Citizenship) can support teachers and schools in developing ethical citizens.
As Donaldson (2015: 30) says,

“citizenship requires the kind of understanding of democracy and human rights, interdependence and social justice that should inform personal views and sense of commitment… Active citizenship requires the confidence and resilience that underpin the ability to exert influence and participate in vigorous debate”.

Central to achieving these goals of citizenship is the requirement to become competent digital citizens. However, recent research identifies that there is a significant mismatch between the digital skills acquired during education years and those that are needed for use in later life.

Schools in Wales are required to find ways of promoting citizenship that is participatory and can promote democracy.

Introducing VocalEyes

Sue Lyle, Dialogue Exchange
Sue Lyle, Dialogue Exchange

Recently Sue Lyle at Dialogue Exchange has been working with Peter Anderson at VocalEyes to help schools turn the rhetoric into action. Working with schools in Swansea, Cardiff, Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire we have embarked on the journey towards participatory democracy in schools that will fulfil the vision of Donaldson by helping students gain digital literacy and prepare them to take part in the upcoming Youth Parliament.

What is VocalEyes?

VocalEyes is a digital participatory democracy platform that has can bring together digital competence, pupil voice, citizenship and ESDGC across the primary and secondary school. It supports the UNCRC participation rights for children including the right to a voice, the right to be listened to, to exercise agency and negotiate meanings with others.

Results from pilot schools has led to the Local Authority in Cardiff to integrate VocalEyes into all 128 of its schools. They believe that this online platform can help children and young people of Cardiff can gain much of the knowledge, skills and attitudes they need to become confident, creative and critical users of technologies and systems in our digital world.

Cathays Student Representatives peer mentoring other secondary school students on participatory democracy using VocalEyes
Cathays Student Representatives peer mentoring other secondary school students on participatory democracy using VocalEyes

VocalEyes seeks to create and facilitate a participatory digital community in the school to ensure every child and young person (CYP) feels their voice is heard and acted upon. It creates the structures and opportunities for young people to learn and demonstrate their digital skills, but far more than this, the platform sees students as active partners in the process of learning and school decision-making and is designed to support CYP to influence their own education and what happens within and beyond the school.

The schools involved in the pilots have shown us that students have important ideas about how the school can be improved. When they know that their ideas are welcome and will be taken seriously they feel valued and gain agency in the school. CYP know first hand what works for them, but a significant problem is how to listen to the voice of all students, not just those who have been elected to the School Council.

VocalEyes, Student Voice, Classes on embracing culture
VocalEyes, Student Voice, classes on embracing culture

To embed participatory democracy in a school culture takes time and includes the following stages. Each stage covers many of the learning outcomes identified in the Digital Framework for Wales.

Overview of the process

A VocalEyes platform is set up for each school and a Participatory Democracy Group of children and young people from across the school is established to lead the initiative with pupils supported by a teacher who takes on the role of VocalEyes Coordinator.

In the first stage the PDG group are taught how to:

  • log in and use VocalEyes
  • rate, debate and add ideas

Glyncollen Primary, Student Council Pupil Voice, VocalEyes

This process takes about 45 minutes. The group then move out into the school and spend 45 minutes with each class to:

  • establish the platform across the school by teaching others how to use it

Glyncollen Primary, Student Council Pupil Voice, VocalEyes

Once the platform is established and all CYP are rating, debating and adding ideas the PDG learn how to:

  • create a safe digital space by developing digital behaviour guidelines
Grand Council workshop - Digital Etiquette using VocalEyes
Grand Council workshop – Digital Etiquette using VocalEyes

This is really important. All comments entered on the platform are marked ‘pending’ before they go live. The PDG group takes on the job of examining the comments before they go live. This is an important stage in digital etiquette as the young people look at the comments and decide if any can go live and what to do if any are deemed inappropriate.

Unlike social media sites that often attract negative or personal comments that can lead to cyber bullying, VocalEyes is anonymous so only the editor (the VocalEyes Coordinator) can see who has made the comments. If the PDG are unhappy with a comment they explain why to the VC and if it is decided that the comment can’t go live the teacher can see who made it and take appropriate steps to explain why it wasn’t approved for the site. Students have welcomed this aspect of the platform as many of them have been victims of cyber bullying and can see how this approach is preventative.

Identify priorities for action

The PDG group start the process of analysing the results as the whole school is involved. At the press of a button they can see what rating each idea has had and how many people have rated it. They can see the ranking of each idea so the ones that have attracted the most stars and engaged the most students rises to the top of the list.

VocalEyes reports, download to Excel
VocalEyes reports, download to Excel

The next job of the PDG is to examine the highly rated ideas and decide whether or not they are worded in a way that indicates clear action priorities. This is important if they are going to have clear ideas for action to present to senior management (we discuss this process in our next blog: a case study of VocalEyes in action).

Decide how to progress an idea towards action

Once clear ideas for action have been identified the PDG create a report to present to the School Council who in consultation with senior management decide how to proceed with action.

All stages of the procedure can be logged onto the VocalEyes platform to keep a permanent record of meeting minutes of all discussions that maps the progress of ideas from initiation to action.

VocalEyes Events, Cathays Student Council meeting & meeting notes
VocalEyes Events, Cathays Student Council meeting & meeting notes

Once action has been taken, or it has been decided that action can’t be taken at this time, the ideas can be archived with clear reasons logged for the decision. This provides an open and transparent record of everything that has taken place making it very easy when students leave the group and new students replace them.

VocalEyes, logging actions and outcomes
VocalEyes, logging actions and outcomes

Once an idea has been approved for action it is possible to make use of the participatory budgeting tool in the platform which clearly shows how much money is needed to take an idea to action and to understand how money is allocated or raised and spent. This has the potential to develop financial understanding and sound budgeting skills.

VocalEyes, participatory budgeting
VocalEyes, participatory budgeting

Participatory budgeting allows children to see how the budgets work and helps them to gain a sound understanding of the principles of budgeting. This can lead to fund-raising or crowdsourcing to raise the money to finance their ideas – more on how one school does this in a future blog.

Once the platform is being used regularly by having VocalEyes time built into the timetable the school will be well on its way to becoming a model of participatory democracy in action as it listens to pupil voice by teaching the skills necessary for digital competence and democracy.

What a great preparation for the upcoming Youth Parliament!

Youth Parliament for Wales
Youth Parliament for Wales
Pupil Voice, Digital Democracy and Digital Competence: a framework for implementation