Turkey serves Scottish students a useful lesson

Young children are exploring the connections between democracy and discipline in other countries. Henry Hepburn reports

The relationship between democracy and discipline is generally left to academics and governments to consider. But one Scottish primary school has taken it upon itself to explore the connections between the two by taking part in a project with schools in Eastern Europe.

St Matthew's Primary in Bishopbriggs is part of a scheme called Democracy and Discipline in European Context, run through the British Council's Comenius programme. It links the East Dunbartonshire school with schools in Latvia, Poland, Turkey and Romania. The aim is for the students to observe how discipline works in each school and how it relates to democracy, in the hope that lessons can be learned by all involved and a common approach to discipline can be formed.

St Matthew's has already been visited by 15 people from the other schools in the scheme and depute head Paul Manley says there were plenty of surprises. When the visitors observed an assembly, he says "they were amazed at the way the pupils could organise themselves in such an orderly manner with minimal teacher input".

Students and teachers from St Matthew's have also visited some of the other schools in the project. In February, a group travelled to Saldus, Latvia, and were stunned to see their young hosts wandering in and out of classes at will while using mobile phones, without teachers batting an eyelid. In April, another group visited Yalova, Turkey, and were equally surprised by teachers' acceptance of a full-blown game of football in a corridor.

St Matthew's staff, meanwhile, were taken aback by different attitudes to student-teacher relations, with students being friends with teachers on Facebook. Mr Manley adds that there was also a "really nice atmosphere - it was a relaxed unruliness, almost". He was struck by the confidence of children speaking to an audience, even in English, and is considering whether that is a result of the relaxed feel of the school.

Although he says the differences in discipline can be attributed in part to a backlash against the authoritarian rule that many of the families of the children had experienced, he stresses that the countries have enough similarities for lessons to be transferable. Based on his experience in the project, he says a similar rationale can apply wherever in the world you are teaching.

"If pupils set the rules, they're more likely to obey the rules - the more democracy we give them, the more disciplined they become," he says.

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