Kinder Republic is Sri Lanka’s first and only Democratic School and is designed on the following principles:
1. Child-Directed learning
Conventional education, and indeed most alternative forms of education in the world, including Progressive Education, is adult-directed: adults decide what should be learned, how, when, to what standard and how proficiency is demonstrated. There can be varying degrees of student voice in these decisions, but ultimately “the adults know best” and children receive education provided or facilitated by adults.
At Kinder Republic, children are trusted to direct their own education, because we believe that it is their right to do so, and we recognize that children are biologically programmed to educate themselves... that’s why they begin exploring and learning about their world as soon as they can see, hear, and move; and it’s why they begin asking questions as soon as they can talk. Their natural curiosity, playfulness, sociability, and planfulness were shaped by natural selection to serve the purpose of their education, and we see no good reason to override that, nor to convince children that their own curiosity and questions don’t count, that their opinions and feelings don’t matter, that play is trivial and only to be engaged in “after completing your studies”, and that adult “wisdom and experience” trumps their own faculties of critical thinking.
2. No predefined curriculum
Conventional education requires a curriculum, segregated by subject – to recruit and train teachers, to prepare study materials and text books, to define proficiency standards, and to conduct assessments and examinations.
In child-directed education, there is no need for a curriculum – that would only restrict a child’s opportunities. However, in situations where they find the structure of a curriculum helpful, they can tap in to them on a piecemeal basis, including accessing a variety of curricula offerings catering to children outside of conventional education.
3. Adults: Stewards rather than Teachers / Facilitators
In adult-directed education, the adult Teacher is responsible for the learning of the child; they teach, guide, inspire and mentor the children. Ideally, they differentiate their instruction by knowing their students’ strengths and weaknesses, understanding their learning styles and being aware of their interests and passions – the Holy Grail of teaching as embodied in movies like Dead Poet’s Society and Freedom Writers.
In a Democratic School, the primary role of adults is to be Stewards of the philosophy and values of the school and to act as Role Models worthy of emulation by the children – including demonstrating that they also self-direct their learning as adults. However, if freely chosen by the children, they can play any of the roles a conventional Teacher performs. It is even possible for children to decide to hire a teacher to instruct them on a particular subject or discipline, if they feel that is the best way to achieve their objectives, just like an adult might obtain the services of an instructor or attend a class.
4. No Exams, No Assessments, Feedback only if requested
In adult-directed education, children must be assessed in some form: For adults to make decisions about the child’s education, they must know how well the child is performing. The most common form of assessment is the standardized examination (in Sri Lanka this is the be-all and end-all of assessment with immense pressure being applied on children to obtain high marks), but other methods include building a portfolio of their work, completing projects, or meeting specific objectives set out in a learning plan.
In Democratic education, children are not required to prove themselves in the eyes of adults. Instead, they assess their own progress towards their own goals and can even evaluate adults on how well they are fulfilling their roles, especially if they have been recruited as teachers. Children naturally reach out for feedback from those who can help them (within or outside the school) when they find it useful, just like an adult who is self-directing their learning. They will also usually choose a way to demonstrate their competences that is compatible with their future aspirations – so A/Levels for a child pursuing conventional higher education pathways that require them, portfolios / certifications if they are seeking employment (whether full-time or freelance), and perhaps no evidence at all if they are going to become an entrepreneur.
5. Collaborative rather than competitive learning
Learning is an inherently social, collaborative process — but the individualistic nature of conventional education (where we test what each child has learned, not what the community has learned) coupled with increasing competition means that many children are pushed to compete — “how can I learn better than others?” whereas in Democratic Education the question becomes “how can we learn better with each other?”.
6. Age mixing rather than age segregation
Prior to the emergence of age-graded schools, children were never segregated by age. Children, including teenagers, almost always played and explored in age-mixed groups, which has many benefits over age-segregated play. In age-mixed play, the less experienced, typically (but not always) younger, children are continuously learning new skills, and more advanced ways of thinking through their observations of, and interactions with, their more capable peers. At the same time, the older children acquire leadership and nurturing skills, and a sense of their own maturity, through interaction with the younger ones.
7. Unlimited Free Time
To educate themselves well, children need great amounts of free time - to make friends, explore, play, get bored and overcome boredom. They need time for fleeting interests and to immerse themselves deeply in activities that engage their passions. They also need space - to roam, explore, get away, and experience the sense of independence and power that is only possible when no adult is breathing down their necks.
Adults often assume that it is their job to keep children more or less constantly busy. But the crucial lesson that children must learn is how to take control of their own life, and for that to happen we must back off. Our greatest gift to children, concerning their education, is free time to discover and pursue their own interests.
8. Full Citizenship
Children are integral, full citizens of the Kinder Republic community. They learn to care for one another within the community and for the community itself. They are involved, democratically, in making and upholding the community rules, in determining the school schedules and budget, and ensuring that it is physically and emotionally safe for everybody. In that process, they hear all sides of every disagreement and the moral and logical arguments related to it. Their own views are taken seriously by others and influence the community’s decisions, which motivates them to think more deeply about those views than they otherwise might.
9. Restorative Practices rather than Carrots and Sticks
External motivators like Prizes and Rewards are essential in Conventional education, but are unnecessary, even counter-productive, in Democratic Schools.
While Sri Lanka still struggles to eliminate Corporal Punishment in schools, we not only do not use any type of corporal punishment, we do not use any form of punishment at all. Instead, we make use of Restorative Practices – for any conflict, children and Stewards work together to identify what harm has taken place, what steps should be taken to restore relationships, and what can be done to prevent future infractions.
10. Universal Access
Our ambition is to make Democratic Education accessible to every child in Sri Lanka who desires it. Our main focus for this is the full-time option offered by Kinder Republic schools:
Local access: We aspire to have a network of Kinder Republic franchises, each owned and operated by adults who fully embrace the philosophy of Democratic Education. Franchise applications will open in late 2023 for Parents who will enrol their own children in the school.
Non-discrimination: We welcome all families regardless of their race, ethnicity, national origin, class/wealth, religious affiliation, political affiliation, caste, sexual orientation, sex, and gender identity.
Financial access: We strongly believe in the ethos of Dr. C. W. W. Kannangara’s Free Education policy (to “enable the pupil to achieve the highest degree of physical, mental and moral development of which he is capable irrespective of his wealth or social status”) and operate a sliding scale of fees to ensure that fees are affordable for every family.
Inclusion: While we strive to keep Kinder Republic as inclusive as possible, we are not a Special Needs school: the majority of families who choose us do so because they believe that our approach is better than that of Conventional Schools for all children. However, there are many children who are labelled Neurodivergent simply because they rebel against the unnatural demands of conventional schooling (such as learning to read and write at a young age to prepare for exams; being required to sit quietly for extended periods of time; arbitrary restrictions on their bodily autonomy; being forced to learn subjects that they have no interest in; not being allowed to pursue their curiosities and passions; etc.) who will thrive in Democratic schools.
In addition to the above, we will endeavor to introduce Democratic Education as a part-time option in conventional schools, for families who are not yet ready to enrol in Kinder Republic