Student agency – what does it mean?

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The term “student agency” is popular amongst educators but many parents are left somewhat confused about what it actually means and why it is so important. Mr Rami Madani, Head of School at The International School of Kuala Lumpur explains the concept and shares how ISKL’s student agency programme prepares its students to be future ready.

“Student agency describes how students learn through self-directed activities that are meaningful, and driven by their passions and interests. Agency helps students develop the drive and the capacity to take action, and enables them to have more voice and choice in how they learn. This, in turn, supports the development of important “future-ready” life skills, such as initiative, calculated risk taking, and belief in oneself.”

Mr Madani continues, “At ISKL we believe that developing student agency is a continuous long term process and not a single event. Students need to be given opportunities to explore their interests, experiment, receive feedback, reflect and try again. We nurture these learning opportunities from early childhood onwards in order to develop and practice the attitudes, skills and understanding students need in order to be prepared for the future”.

A dedicated programme supports agency

ISKL’s Middle School Agency initiative is a great example of the concept of agency in action.
The programme involves a multidisciplinary “deep dive” into an area in which individual students or groups of students have a personal interest.

Students are nurtured and guided to identify their passion and to work on a project that is meaningful to them. Students attend an IDEA Fair where they share their ideas for an agency project with their peers. They are free to abandon their own idea and join another group or alter their idea based on what they see at the fair. In the past, agency projects have encompassed everything from making, marketing and selling natural homeopathic cosmetics and creating apps from scratch, to fundraising to provide life-saving operations for our local refugee community.

Empowering students to take full responsibility for the project cycle requires them to think laterally about all aspects from idea initiation and execution through to lessons learned. Mr Madani explains, “It is one thing to say you want to help the less fortunate, or power a cell from the electricity generated from plants, but it is quite another to source equipment, contact local organisations for support, purchase materials, seek advice and take accountability for every facet of the project. Much of the learning comes from the process needed to engage in the project.”

According to Mr Madani, some groups take risks with bold ideas while others try out safe or smaller-scale projects but, regardless of the end outcome, the real learning is in the critical thinking, questioning and reasoning skills that students develop:

“Research shows students with agency seek learning opportunities driven by their interests and relevance to life experiences. We wanted to foster this as part of our Student Agency programme with students experiencing the process of blending their skills and motivation to meet a specific need in their life or the lives of others. The magic arises when a student finds the perfect symmetry between their passion and filling a real need in the community. Our aim is to encourage students to strive for this every day. Ultimately, by expecting students to become greater agents of their own learning they will leave school future-ready with the agency to affect change at a local and global level.”

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ISKL will be holding an Open Day on Thursday, February 27, 2020 for parents who would like to find out more on how ISKL’s approach will prepare their child for the future. It’s a great chance to tour the state-of-the-art Ampang Hilir campus, hear from the Head of School, Mr. Rami Madani, and meet with teachers and parents for a Q&A session. Student-led tours will be available in Japanese, Korean, and Mandarin (limited spaces) as well as English. Register here.

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