Democratic Education Around the World

If you are interested in education that allows students to choose their path in the broadest sense, that grants or gives each of them the freedom and respect accorded to every human being that the words “grant” or “give” should not even be used because they imply a “giver” or a “granter” when it is actually already everyone’s right, then you may be interested in the International Democratic Education Conference which will be held on March 2017 in Israel.

I am almost finished reading Yaacov Hecht’s book, Democratic Education, but I can’t wait to share some things from it because they jive with what I hope to study and research while traveling around the world with my husband and two sons.  The book details Yaacov’s experience of starting the first democratic school in Hadera, Israel and of being involved with setting up similar schools in his country and promoting the principles internationally.  The book does not paint a rose-colored picture but reveals the stark challenges and struggles of growth through failures and perseverance.  The idealist is also a realist with his feet firm on the ground, dealing with disappointments and mistakes as well as celebrating the triumphs.  The trajectory of the book goes from the small local communities all the way to the global stage where the network of democratic schools is empowered by knowing and studying each other, learning by example available worldwide.

And this is what I am so eager and stoked to put in table form: in Chapter Seven of the book called, The International Journey, Yaacov lays out an overview of democratic education efforts around the world.  Because I want to visit as many alternative schools as I can in the United States next year and in other countries in the future, I was high-school-crush-tickled-pink reading the general history of the movement in each country.   I wish I could join the IDEC in Israel but because we changed our plans to go to America first, I can only attend the Asia Pacific Democratic Education Conference (APDEC) in Tokyo in August next year.

Plus there’s the talk of Yaacov and Simon on self-directed learning that we are organizing in Manila for July 29.  My friends, Donna, Lucy and I have this crazy, lofty dream that someday, mainland China and the Philippines would have their own democratic schools and be the future hosts of APDEC.  We also wish our own children can attend Summerhill or Sudbury.

Japan Democratic education system in Japan focuses chiefly on children who are defined as “school refusing children.” By establishing a large network of democratic schools, the democratic education system offers these students the possibility of achievement in non-academic fields.  A democratic university (Shure) was established headed by Kageki Asakura.  Each student chooses to specialize in a field that interests him with the accompaniment of a volunteer mentor (a high-level expert in that area).
South Korea A large network of over 100 alternative schools have been formed which operate with a democratic approach.  Some are for students who have dropped out of regular schools, while others are regular schools which have created alternative tracks to success.
India The central question occupying the educators of India is how to develop an educational system that would be active and relevant to street children and working children who do not come to existing schools at all.  Democratic educators in India began to operate frameworks that would enable children to choose from subjects that were close to them.  Recently, they have noticed that the young children prefer to learn from older children.  There are teacher-advisors aged 16-17 who work with younger children, where the subjects are determined together.
Thailand Saowanee Sangkara and Jim Connor have founded one of the most fascinating centers of democratic education, “Whispering Seed.”  This is an orphanage which runs on principles of democratic education and sustainability.
New Zealand Tamariki in Christchurch is the main democratic school in New Zealand.  It is an integrative public school subsidized mostly by the State.  The Institute for Democratic Education Aoteaora (Aoteaora is New Zealand in Maori) takes part in opening innovative schools throughout New Zealand.  These schools do not call themselves democratic but they implement most of the principles of democratic education such as individual learning programs and the use of the city and its many institutions as a major learning resource.
Australia Most of the alternative schools have been in operation since the 1960’s.  AAPAE, a network of 14 schools is the main organization working in alternative education.
Russia The Self-Directed School in Moscow was founded by the innovative educator Alexander Tovalsky with some 1,200 students.  This is a fascinating model combining Russian culture and democratic education.
Netherlands Around 20 democratic schools of various kinds were established recently.  These schools are recognized as public schools.
Scandinavian countries Democratic schools with partial or total government funding.  Regular schools are also undergoing processes of democratization.
Germany There are some 50 open schools (small, private school) some of them working with “free approaches.”  Arno Lange is operating a center for alternative education in the city of Jena.
U.K. Summerhill has some 100 students and continues to be the most famous alternative school in the UK and perhaps in the world.  In 1987, the Sands School was founded in Southern England.  In recent years, students and staff members of Summerhill have been involved in processes of change in public and private schools around the UK
U.S.A. The movement is large.  Every there is an AERO conference (Alternative Education Resource Organization).  Since 1995, there has been the Sudbury Valley Conference which unites all schools belonging to that stream.  Despite the large number of democratic schools in the USA (about 100), the majority of them are private and have few students.

The Big Picture Learning is a network of schools headed by Dennis Littky and Elliot Washor developing all over the USA, makes use of a school model based on every student’s points of strength and fields of interest.  The students choose areas of interest and twice a week, they study outside of school in the community, guided by professionals in their chosen areas.

The greatest challenge facing American educators is to try and create democratic schools that will be recognized by the State as public schools.

Canada Some ten democratic schools, the most prominent of which is Windsor House in Vancouver.
Brazil Lumiar was established in 2002 through an interesting partnership between the industrialist Ricardo Simler and Elena Singler, a leading educator in the area of democratic education.  They also founded the Institute for Democratic Education Studies which later became the institute for Democratic Education in Brazil which helps establish democratic schools throughout South America, as well as leading processes of democratization in regular schools.  One of the most significant activities of the Institute was the establishment of some 85 schools in the democratic spirit operating along the banks of the Amazon.

The Apprendiz City School in Sao Paolo is part of the program called, “the neighborhood as a school.”  The entire street, including workplaces, shops, restaurants, art galleries, a circus and sports facilities, all have become a part of the school.

Other Countries Other countries that have democratic schools:

Nepal, Taiwan, Hong Kong, France, Italy, Colombia, Honduras


The AERO (Alternative Education Resource Organization) has a  list of democratic schools around the world.  If you want to learn more about democratic education, you can go to the IDEC 2017 website where this is from:

Democratic schools are schools that attempt to use the democratic approach in all their systems:

Learning – The right of choice is a leading principle. The students build their own individual study program within which they decide what, how, and with whom they are interested to learn.

Assessment is based on a continuous dialogue aimed at developing the student’s ability to carry out self-assessment.

In management – The school works as a microcosms of a democratic state and includes the three democratic authorities:

The Legislative Authority – the entire decision-making process in school includes all the community (students, staff members, and in some schools also the students’ parents).

The Executive Authority – The parliament’s decisions are performed by execution teams which are comprised of students, staff , and members of the community.

The Judicial Authority – Disagreements in school are resolved by mediation and judicial committees, which are operated by students, staff, and members of the community. 

In personal guidance – Each student chooses a staff member to be his/her personal mentor in one’s learning quest. The role of the mentor is to produce a triangle between the mentor, the student, and the student’s parents. The goal of this triangle is to advance the student.

In the content – The learning contents are those selected by the students. The objective is to teach a subject as a combination of knowledge from the past, up-to-date knowledge, and references to predictions on future development in the area. In addition, the learned subject should never be referred to as a goal in itself. For instance, a mathematics teacher must ask himself how to teach math in a way which is mindful of human rights and promotes them.


The democratic schools are based on humanistic concepts which most likely, had an effect, to some degree, on the education world throughout the human history, and particularly since the organized education processes have started operating in schools.

The pioneers of the humanistic education were Rousseau, Tolstoy, Pestalozzi, Fröbel, Montessori, Decroly, Dewey, Janusz Korczak, A. S. Neill, and many others. Nevertheless, many single out Summerhill School (1921) as the first to implement a democratic system in it, and in all probability as the first to disseminate the idea on a large scale (the book Summerhill by A. S Neill was sold throughout the world and became a guiding light for numerous educators). In addition, it is important to note, that it is the only alternative school that exists and successfully operates since the beginning of last century (1921) and until today. Another guiding light is Sudbury Valley School in Framingham Massachusetts, United States. Dan Greenberg, in his books and articles, tells the remarkable story of the school that also made a huge breakthrough and is showing the way since 1968 until today to educators and schools all over the world.      The first democratic orphanage (without a school) was founded by the Polish-Jewish educator Janusz Korczak (1912). Korczak’s ideas also received a wide distribution and generated a meaningful effect thanks to the children’s books that he wrote (i.e. King Matt the First, which depicts the tale of a state run by a child); the newspaper in which children wrote for children; and the radio program in which he talked to children with children.


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