Participatory school budgeting allows primary and secondary school students to participate in deciding part of their school’s budget. The popularity of participatory budgeting is growing, not only in this country but also abroad. What are the differences in the functioning of school PB within the Visegrad Four countries? We asked local experts.
By involving students in school budgets, they have the opportunity to participate in shaping the school environment according to their needs. It is also a good preparation for adult life. The whole process involves designing, developing and campaigning for a project, which is then followed by a whole-school vote on which project to implement. Through this process, students gain many practical skills such as communication, presentation, budgeting, active citizenship, and technical skills.
In order to explain the functioning of school participatory budgeting, we contacted Helga Hrabincová, the manager of the school participation project at Participace 21 to tell us about the situation in the Czech Republic. As part of their school budget project, they have developed an app that guides schools through the whole process, provides instructions and documents, helps to organize voting and automatically calculates the results. Experiences directly from the schools were shared with us by the participation coordinator from Humpolec Primary School Iva Svobodová, the director of Bílá Primary School Martin Molčík, the deputy mayor of Kutná Hora Vít Šnajdr and a student from Kutná Hora Karolína Vilímová. In order to look into the current situation in the Slovak Republic, we contacted Dominika Bellová, who is responsible for the budgets of high schools within the Office of the Plenipotentiary for Civil Society of the Ministry of the Interior. To discuss Poland we talked to Paweł Zalewski, a senior project manager at the Field of Dialogue Foundation, an organization that implements school participatory budgeting, and we talked to a coordinator Ágnes Molnár from Alternatív Közösségek Egyesülete alelnök who described her first experience with a school participatory budgeting In Hungary.
Interviews with coordinators from each of the V4 countries show that although the process and reach of PB may vary, the benefits are quite the same. Students across the countries enjoy engaging in school PB and would like to see it implemented continuously. Often individuals who are not normally very active also get involved. In the process students perceive that their voice is meaningful and see that they can make a difference. Due to that they become more active, for example, by joining school parliaments.
As for the project themselves, most often students come up with ideas for relaxation zones, upgrading of sports facilities, or adding the mirrors in their bathrooms. They also focus a lot on environmental issues, requesting, for example, bins for recycling waste, outdoor classrooms, sustainable water management systems, or even beehives.
In the Czech Republic, the introduction of participatory budgeting is an individual decision of the head teacher or the school principal. The PB itself then can be dealt with participation during some lessons, such as art, civic, or health education. The popularity of PB is growing not only here but also in Slovakia, where contrary to the Czech Republic the introduction of PB is decided directly by the regions. The Bratislava, Košice, Trnava, and Trenčín regions are now involved and they want to further expand the number of schools.
The use of school participatory budgeting is also very popular in Poland. Here, PB is used by every major city, and there is a centralized system in place that uses school PB as one of its most popular tools. The least widespread use of school participatory budgeting is in Hungary. There they have only one experience with school PB and it is not yet implemented in a systematic way. The head teacher of the school where PB took place was enthusiastic about the process and open to the ideas, but the lack of funding was a major problem. Furthermore, in the case of Hungary, the interconnectivity with the school schedule did not work very well as the coordinators could not intervene in the lessons to introduce the process, but could only engage students during breaks in between lessons.
However, we can see that in the future, it can be expected that more and more schools will use the school participatory budgeting regularly, not only in the Czech Republic but also in our neighboring countries.
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