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obessu :: organising bureau of european school student unions

active citizenship showing action in school

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OBESSU Organising Bureau of European School Student Unions Rue de la Sablonniere 20 1000 Brussels Belgium

editorial office: OBESSU editorial staff: Peter Gerlach Ilia Dib proofreading: Bruno Selun Layout:

Ilia Dib

showing action in

obessu :: organising bureau of european school student unions

active citizenship



content introduction few words before we start

active citizenship an attempt to define

school student structures in Europe. What is OBESSU and what can school students do at an European level?

get active!

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in school, on regional and national level


get up, stand up get involved in European politics.

annex contacts to school student organisations in Europe



During 2005 the national school student unions in Europe have been defining their understanding of active citizenship; Questions like what is it? what is democracy without the citizen‘s activity? and how to become an active part of society? have been raised. Bringing young people to a critical analysis of their environment in order to change it for the better is certainly the most important thing to do for school student organisations.

This means that active citizenship is a keyword in the work of OBESSU and its member organisations. The following pages give a short overview on active citizenship, OBESSU and school student work as such. One will find concrete ideas and actions one can take to actively participate in school or at a regional, national or European level. We hope you enjoy the reading, Yours,

obessu :: organising bureau of european school student unions

On the initiative of Council of Europe, the year 2005 was named the „European year of active citizenship through education“. The Organising Bureau of European School Student Unions - OBESSU - also celebrates its thirtieth aniversary this same year.


active citizenship an attempt to define

a c t i v e c i t i z e n s h i p “Our democracy is at risk. There is increasing evidence that students go through school without learning the knowledge, skills, and values that are essential to becoming responsible citizens (…)” This was said by John Minkler, initiator of the curriculum “Active citizenship, empowering America‘s youth”. But active citizenship is not only about being a law, abiding citizen, it is also to actively enlarge one‘s own horizon, to be courageous and willing to fight for what one believes is right. With no people standing up for their ideals, society would never have changed; with no people opening their eyes, inter-groups conflicts will never reach an end. If people are asked what active citizenship means to them, one gets a lot of different

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Active citizenship is ...


the feeling in my stomach!

To reach democracy, to improve society.

answers. Some might only recognize revolutionists, politicians or important scientists as active citizens, others will say active citizenship starts with smaller things, like intervening when someone is being bullied, taking part in the local debate, reflecting over how to make one‘s school better, etc. An open and democratic society is based on trust, respect and understanding. These values are something we must continuosly fight for in our everyday lives. They are won over and over again by citizens who do not passively stand by and watch as someone is being abused or mistreated. To make sure that each future generation will be able to win these fights, we need a school to embrace these values and where the students learn how to participate actively in their society - how to be active citizens.

What active citizenship is for me? It‘s to improve my surroundings.

Taking action in what you belief in and what you achieve to change your society.

active citizenship an attempt to define

an attempt to define For us active citizenship means to share life with your community and to feel alive!

Say what I think, if something is wrong to fight that it becomes better.

Playing an active role in society means liberty.

Active citizenship means participation in life.

Active citizenship is about being a subject in society.

Use possibility to think, talk and take action - that‘s active citizenship for us!

obessu :: organising bureau of european school student unions

It‘s to be a part in what you’re a part of!

It‘s the ability to be critical.


school student structures in europe

school student structures in Europe The European tradition of school students organising themselves in order to actively participate and fight for a better education has deep roots. In the early 1900s school students in the Nordic countries started to build organisations. They grew, the phenomenon started to spread through Europe and today the importance of student participation is acknowledged in most parts of Europe, and national school student organisations exist in more than twenty countries.

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Due to the fact that the education differs from country to country, the organisations also do. But the main ideas remain the same all over Europe: to ensure high quality education fostering the values of democracy and respect, and to provide school students with the tools needed to improve their schools and their society.


It’s at both local and national level where the most important work is done. It’s in the schools the attitudes can be profoundly changed, alsong with pedagogical methods.

At the national level, we are able to exchange local and regional experiences in schools, to defend the students‘ rights, to coordinate the work across a country and to work together on changing policies and legislations. The history and background of European school student structures is quite different and so is their work: Some organisations are focusing on political issues beyond educational policies, mobilising students against war or corporate globalisation; other organisations are strictly working locally, letting every students council in every school define their own aims, but whatever one organisation decides to focus on, the work of the school students affect the society and hopefully improve it. In the same way that the local activists sometimes need to exchange experiences and coordinate the local work, the national activists sometimes need to exchange experiences and coordinate the pluri-national work. This is where OBESSU enters the stage.

school student structures in europe

what is OBESSU? The Organising Bureau of European School Student Unions (OBESSU) is the European platform for cooperation between the national school student organisations and unions, active in general secondary and secondary vocational education. It was founded in 1975, and brings together member and observer organisations from more than 20 European countries. All member organisations are independent, national, representative and democratic school student structures.

Once a year a General Assembly is held, consisting of all OBESSU members, to decide the policies and projects for the upcoming year. Through OBESSU, representatives from the national school student unions meet to exchange experiences from national work and define strategies and positions for how to promote the interests of the school students at the European level. The organisation has a secretariat in Brussels that co-ordinates and executes the activity-programme of the association, and who represents it towards other structures and institutions under supervision of the board. Working at the European level makes it sometimes difficult to involve school students in daily work. To ensure not to loose the contact with the school students, working-groups and committees, consisting of school students and

board members, can be established whenever it is deemed necessary. Further volunteers can join the secretariat and work for several months in Brussels. Beside facilitating the exchange of experiences between the member organisations and promote the school students‘ interests to the European institutions OBESSU is working to build new school student unions in countries where such organisations do not exist yet. This is a work that has been going on ever since OBESSU‘s founding in 1975. Back then, national school student organisations only existed in northern Europe. During the eighties organisations were established in the southern European countries, during the nineties there were numbers of organisations established in Eastern Europe and during the last years many organisations have been established in Southeastern parts of Europe.

obessu :: organising bureau of european school student unions

OBESSU is working to promote a greater solidarity, co-operation and understanding between school students and their respective national organisations in Europe. OBESSU is recognized as the official representative of European school students and is representing their various interests and views towards European educational institutions and structures.


school student structures in europe

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anno 1975 – the history of OBESSU


When OBESSU was founded in Ireland 1975 by the national school student unions from Sweden, Denmark, the United Kingdom, Ireland and the Faroe Island the aim of the organisation was to create an all- European school student organisation that could be a platform for cooperation between the national school student unions. The organisation was in many ways a result of the will to unite East and West, but it took almost 20 years until OBESSU got its first member organisation from the former Eastern block.

on the debate on educational policy on the European level have increased immensely. This motivates an increased Euroepan cooperation between the national school student unions which will demand more from OBESSU, a challenge we gladly accept.

Much of the exchange and the work of OBESSU have always been organised through conferences and seminars. There have been at least one conference organised every year since the founding of the organisation and from the mid nineties, when the OBESSU secretariat in Amsterdam was established, the number of conferences organised have increased radically (during 2006 there will be five conferences organised by OBESSU).

1976-80 Organisations from the rest of the Nordic countries (Norway, Finland and Iceland), Austria, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg and West Germany join OBESSU.

During the eighties OBESSU releases a newsletter under the name “on the blackboard” 3-5 times a year. In this newsletter the member organisations could read about international events and promote their most important events. Today the OBESSU website ( and the e-newsletters serve the same puropose. In this period there was a general boom in Europe for international work and international solidarity not only in the political sphere but also in the cultural (expressed, among else, through happenings such as “band aid” and “live aid”). This also affected OBESSU which during these years was involved in a lot of international work. With the development of the European Uni-

Important events 1975 OBESSU is founded on Ireland by national school student unions Sweden, Denmark, United Kingdom, Ireland and the Faeroe Islands.

1982 For the first time a French national school student union, Union National Étudiens Lycéens, joins OBESSU. 1984 OBESSU organises a seminar on school student solidarity campaigns. This seminar results in the Nordic countries organising a joint Operation Dayswork for the school students in El Salvador. The Campaign was one of the biggest single donations to the country during their 12 years of civil war. 1985 OBESSU organises a conference on school student structures in southern Europe. This is the first time representatives from Spain, Portugal and Malta are participating in an OBESSU event. 1985 OBESSU and its member organisations state their support for COSAS (the Congress of the South African Students) in their struggle against the apartheid regime. A study visit to South Africa is planned but

school student structures in europe

1987 The international initiative was also strong in the former east block countries. The organisation IUS (international Union of Students) that had their secretariat in Prague had started to work more with secondary students and in 1987 the first international school student meeting was organised in Havanna where representatives of the OBESSU board and many of OBESSU’s member organisations participated. 1987 Representatives from USSR, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and DDR participate in an OBESSU conference in Strasbourg. The conference’s aim is to establish a more stabile contact between the national school student unions in Eastern and Western Europe. 1991 OBESSU starts a project called ESSE (European School Student Exchange). ESSE is planned to be a nonprofit exchange program by students for students. 1991-93 The first East European member organisation and the national school student union of Italy, Unione Deglie Studenti (UDS) joins OBESSU. 1994 The OBESSU project “All rights included” was kicked off through a conference in Copenhagen. The aim of the project was to create a European school student rights charter ratified by all governments on the continent. 1995 OBESSU gets an office of its own in Amsterdam. Before this different member

organisations were hosting the OBESSU secretariat depending on where the Secretary General lived. 1995 OBESSU launches a major project for supporting the growth of school student unions in central and Eastern Europe. Since the early nineties national organisations have been established in Estonia, Slovenia, Slovakia, Lithuania and Hungary. Macedonia joins OBESSU in 1995 and is soon followed by Slovenia. OBESSU is supporting the organisations since then. 1999 OBESSU launches the UNBASCO project which focuses at supporting the stabilization of school student unions in the Baltic States. Today OBESSU have member organisations in both Estonia and Lithuania. 2001 OBESSU adopts the first political platform on educational and school student related policy. Before this OBESSU’s political work had been regulated through single one-issuedeclarations and resolutions adopted on OBESSU events. 2003 OBESSU starts a project which aims at supporting the growth of school student structures in South Eastern Europe. Today it has member organisations in Macedonia and Slovenia and observer members from Serbia and Montenegro. 2003-06 OBESSU is recognized by the Council of Europe as the official representative for the school students on the European level and the first European school student convention was organized by OBESS. The convention was the starting point to renewing European school student‘s political platform.

obessu :: organising bureau of european school student unions

cancelled since the regime have banned COSAS and all the leaders in the organisation have been forced to flee the country or go underground.


get active!

get active! ... in the school. Society today is a reflection of education yesterday. If you want to influence the development of society, you should start with the schools. The educational system is the main key to develop a society of active citizens, therefore it should be based on democracy and students participation in the decisionmaking processes. School students are fundamental stakeholders in the schools. The school is there for us, and we are often the firsts to see when the school is failing to provide us with the sufficient knowledge and skills needed for us to actively participate in society. In the same way we have to be active citizens in order to make society function properly, we must also be active school students in order to make school function properly.

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Here are some ideas of how to participate in a school democratic life.


Start influencing your education. All forms of learning demand either that the learners feel interested in the information or that they can see the practical use of the knowledge. Much pedagogical research shows that if the students have a real possibility to influence the content of the education and the way the content is presented, they will automatically guarantee that at least one of these two basic conditions for learning exists with the result that the education will not only be more interesting and entertaining, but the students will also learn more. If you want to influence the content of the education. Think of following things... Be constructive in your critique. Always focus on how you want something to work rather than what you dislike in the

current situation. Criticising the teachers‘ content and choice of methods is criticising their professionalism which might be very sensitive to do. Look beyond the classroom. Maybe it’s easier to create a good learning environment outside the school by for example visiting theatres, debates, public lectures, fairs etc. Everybody works differently. If your classmates don’t like your proposal of what methods to use it might still be possible to use different methods within the class. Pedagogy is based on the student’s interests and these differ from student to student. Therefore different methods should be applied for different students. Act on bullying. Many people’s lives have been ruined during their school years. Bullying doesn’t necessarily have to be obvious and physical. It can be psychological and subtle but just as bad. When it comes to acting on bullying, civil courage is the keyword. It’s about standing up for an individual‘s right against a group of people. Sometimes it’s enough with independent individuals who can say stop when the line is crossed. At other times the abuse is more structured and demands better planned actions. In many schools, students have formed support groups with representatives in as many classes as possible to be able to inform each other on what they have observed and who might need some extra support at a given moment.

get active!

Make your fellow students aware of oppression and injustices! Minorities are often victims for prejudice and intolerance based on people’s lack of knowledge and understanding for what’s different. To treat inequalities one must start by acknowledging the problem and inform people on the current situation. A good idea can be to convince your teachers to dedicate a day in school to invite people and experts to inform on inequalities and oppression of groups in society based on ethnicity, religious faith, sexual orientation or gender. The list of examples of inequalities in our society can be made long. Think of which problems are of the greatest magnitude in your school and where the need for taking action is most urgent. Solidarity campaigns All people are not as economically privileged as we are in Europe. In a global society our solidarity as well needs to reach the global level. In many schools around Europe, school students arrange solidarity campaigns to collect money for different good purposes, such as giving young people in other parts of the world the possibility to go to school.

This can be done as a part of the education, where the campaign precedes of the students researching on different countries and the conditions for the population there in order to determine where the need and the impact of the support are the greatest. Many school student associations already have materials with ideas and good practices prepared for these kinds of campaigns. Of course these campaigns mustn’t be international. The social injustices in your society might be just as present and just as much in need of your and your fellow students’ attention. Spread the word... Here are some tips if you’re already active, want to promote active citizenship and involve more of your fellow school students in your work. Study circles Form a study circle on active citizenship in your school as an off-curriculum activity. Educate your selves more in active citizenship in order to know where and how to take action. Make participating attractive to school students If you have a good project and want it to have greater impact, you need to attract more people to your organisation/project. To be successful with this means winning a tough competition against many other actors that also compete for the time and catch the attention of the school students. You’re up, not as much against other non governmental organisations as against TV, video games, sports, big companies and whatever the students might choose to spend their time with instead of your project. To get more school students involved in your project includes winning this competition.

obessu :: organising bureau of european school student unions

A good social climate is a basic condition, not only for the students to be happy and enjoy going to school, but also for a good learning environment. The centres that categorise knowledge are turned off when the brain is exposed to stress, making any kind of learning impossible. If you’re in constant fear of what will happen during the lunch break or when you go home after school you’re certainly not able to study.


get active!

The amount of engagement that’s needed from the participants must not exceed the benefits such as their satisfaction of doing good deeds, the satisfaction of being a part of something bigger, experience, knowledge, new friends, acknowledgement, identity, status etc. that they gain from participating. It’s up to you to create the conditions that bring the largest amount of engagement to the participants in order to be able to work for a better world. Communicate your achievements The participants are investing their time in your organisation, convinced that it will pay off in a better world. You must communicate your achievements to prove that they are not wasting their time.

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Give people credit Everyone needs to be encouraged in their work. The satisfaction of knowing that you’re contributing to the common work is one of the major driving forces that make us continue our struggle. It’s important that you have the habit of giving credit to each other for your achievements and initiatives. Activists doing a good job needs acknowledgement in order to continously feel motivated.


Enjoy your work Sometimes things go wrong. Maybe you won’t reach the expected results. To ensure that the work of the participants won’t be in vain you must have a good time, all the time. Celebrate when you’re successful, and even more important, celebrate when you’re not successful. That’s when the participants need it the most. Analyse your situation Reflect - How can people participate in our structures? To whom does the structure appeal? Which prerequisites

are needed for participating? Which group(s) do we have/want to represent? How can we attract this group/these groups. Inform - The school students need to know why it’s important to be active and how to get access to your organisation. Everybody who is participating or wants to do so has to be kept informed in an appropriate way. Qualify - Give the school students the tools to get professional. Make people independent from yourself. Project - Brainstorm on common goals, prioritize one, think as a group how to achieve it in a sustainable way (meaning that it doesn’t conflict with coming generations of students ability to participate). Take action - Make your plans reality, organize projects, change your school, make revolutions. Network - Find supporters, organize a transfer of knowledge Celebrate - Don’t forget to reward yourselves for your work. ... on the regional and national level... In some domains school students need to get active at regional or national level in order to reach results. Make the local actions more efficient and coordinated Set up courses and conferences to exchange experiences with other school students from other schools. In the schools there are a lot of ideas on how to treat bullying, arrange solidarity campaigns, get more influence over the education etc. etc. These experiences and

get active!

Document your projects Since people are school students only for a couple of years, much knowledge and experience is lost for every generation that graduates. Therefore it’s important to make covering documentation of your projects so other school students both in your school and other school can get a share of your experience. The national school student union should be able to help you distribute it in other schools. Influence the policy makers School students are the biggest group in the educational system. Even though we can’t vote there are many ways to influence the policy makers. What changes to implement is up to you. Here are some examples concerning active citizenship that a majority of the member organisations in OBESSU find important. If education is the key to active citizenship we must assure that the access to education is never compromised. It’s important that the students in the schools are reflecting the society. Xenophobia for instance is a product of lack

of knowledge and experience of other cultures. Therefore it’s of utmost importance that the schools are integrated and that the school students represent the rich diversity that makes up our society. Active citizenship must be implemented in the curricula (in those countries and regions where the curricula lacks this). Make sure that school students are represented in decision-making bodies in the schools and bodies working in the field of education. Write debate articles and open letters One way of expressing and building public opinion is by writing debate articles in newspapers. In many countries the government has to answer letters written to them. By sending an open letter both to the policy maker and the media you can force the policy maker to give an official response and at the same time get some attention from the public and the media on the issue. Set up manifestations Sometimes it takes more visual actions to get the attention of the media and the public. Street theatres, concerts, demonstrations, parties etc. can be arranged to focus on the issue. Team up with other stakeholders There are many groups that try to influence the policy makers in the field of education such as teachers, parents, head teachers etc. In some cases the interests of the school students coincide with the interests of one or many of these groups. It’s often very fruitful to identify the common interests and act together since this increases your possibilities of being successful.

obessu :: organising bureau of european school student unions

good practices should be spread and shared with other school students interested in getting active with other students in their school. This does not have to be a huge project. Start by inviting active school students from the schools in your city to a small conference where people present the best projects they have in their schools. If you’ve identified areas of which most school students are interested you can invite experts on the area to lecture. The national school student unions usually have a vast network of experts on different issues that school students might be interested in.


get up, stand up!

get up, stand up! It’s not hard to take action. There are plenty of supporting structures, specifically for this. Oftentimes it only takes a small step and a lot of people will follow you. If there is a school student structure in your country, the organisation will always be glad to help you with your project! If there isn’t a structure you can work with already, don’t hesitate to contact OBESSU! We have been working for more than 30 years in building school students structures across Europe. Below you find a list of all the member organisations in OBESSU as well as the observer and contact organisations OBESSU is working with.

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If we want a society where the citizens are active and aware of issues concerning them, school is the place to start. Only through the educational system we can reach all citizens and build the society of tomorrow. This is why OBESSU and its member organisations will never stop fighting for a better and more inclusive education.


Educational policy is getting more and more a European topic; decisions, influencing your education are made on an international level. This is only one reason why it is important to get organised at the European level. OBESSU is promoting school student interests towards international stakeholders and officialy representing school students in Europe. An other challenge is to increase one‘s own horizon, to build up connections with other organisations, to cooperate while crossing boarders, to learn from each other‘s experiences and to improve the school students‘ work on national level. Last but not least, we will have a stronger voice if we are working together in a united school student movement. We hope you enjoyed the reading! Yours,


annex If you want to get active in your national school student union, or want to contact them to get support in your local work, you’re more than welcome. Denmark Landssammenslutningen af Handelskoleelever Tel. +45 70 23 55 22 email web

member organisations

Estonia Eesti Õpilasomavalitsuste Liit Tel. +372 - 6014928 email web

Austria Aktion kritische SchuelerInnen Tel. +43 1 52 31 243 email web

Finland Suomen Lukiolaisten Liitto Tel. +3589 584 21 500 email web

Österreichische Schuelerunion Tel. +43 1 40 12 6621 email web

Finlands Svenska Skolungdomsförbund Tel. +358 (0) 9 644 881 email web

Belgium Vlaamse Scholierenkoepel Tel. +32 2 21 53 229 email web

France Union Nationale Lycéenne Tel. +33 1 40 82 94 00 email web

Denmark Danske Gymnasieelevers Sammenslutning Tel. +45 7 02 04 017 email web

Ireland Union of Secondary Students email web

Erhvervsskolernes Elev-organisation Tel. +45 7 02 34 033 email web

Italy Unione degli Studenti Tel. +3906 44292297 email web

obessu :: organising bureau of european school student unions

OBESSU Secretariat Organising Bureau of European School Student Unions Rue de la Sablonniere 20 B-1000 Brussels Belgium Tel. +32 2 647 2390 Fax. +32 2 647 2394 email web



Lithuania Lietuvos Moksleiviu Sajunga Tel. +370 6 0101109 email web

Sweden Elevorganisationen i Sverige Tel. +46(0)8-644 45 00 email web

Macedonia Unija na Srednokolci na Makedonija email

Switzerland Union der Schülerorganisationen Tel. +41 31 39 81 878 email web

Netherlands Landelijk Aktie Komitee Scholieren Tel. +31 20-638 17 92 email web

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Norway Elevorganisasjonen i Norge Tel. +47 22 99 37 00 email web


Slovakia Študentská únia Slovenska Tel. +421 2-524 50 231 email web Slovenia Dijaska organizacija Slovenije Tel. +386(0)1 4380 260 email web Spain Confederaciòn Estatal de Estudiantes St. Tel. +34 91.521.09.94 email web

observer organisations England English Secondary Students Association Tel. +44 207 022 1911 email web Serbia and Montenegro Srednjoskolci Tel. +381 11/3248 577 email web contact organisations Czech Republic Asociace stredoškých klubu Tel. +420 542 210 030 email web Germany Bundesschuelervertretung email web Romania Makosz Tel. +40(0)788/357.153 email web

obessu :: organising bureau of european school student unions

the end

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Active Citizenship: showing action in school  

On the initiative of the Council of Europe, 2005 was named the "European year of active citizenship through education". The Organising Burea...

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