What is Democratic Education?
The University of Westminster is globally known for its diversity with 22,000 students, 8,400 of which are international students, representing 169 nationalities. Given the globalisation of education and the growing number of students, we have implemented various strategies to ensure that effective learning and teaching are in place to suit the students. The initial strategy was named International Community Project (ICP) launched by its founder Dr Farhang Morady and this later evolved into the Democratic Education Network (DEN) with the support of Dr Ricardo Blaug and Professor Dibyesh Anand in 2016.
The ICP and later DEN were both managed voluntarily, by both staff and students, initially with a limited budget. However, in 2016, the Quintin Hogg Trust (QHT) provided a substantial amount of funds for DEN to manage a growing number of projects.
Through different backgrounds of students in DEN, we started building links with various local community groups and international universities. Aside from engaging students, this gave them responsibility to create a new environment in which they could develop a relationship with their past, and put that at the heart of their education.
The network is now integrated with over 200 students and staff members. Its members meet once and sometimes twice a week to discuss major projects (see below), and to ensure that all objectives and impacts are openly discussed and identified amongst the students. In addition to the main strands of work, different projects have flourished at the heart of DEN, including Student Action for Refugees (STAR), OutReach, Local Community Projects, Words Heal the World, Conference and Silent Oppressions – a visual art exhibition. As part of the project, students and staff developed the DEN website, as well as an online magazine (Inside Westminster) and a social media profile through which they can promote their projects and communicate.
Every project has been a collaborative work led, managed and delivered by students. DEN has turned into a platform to engage students, to encourage them to freely move around different projects or zones and to express their interests and passion for being creative and imaginative.
The video below summarizes DEN’s history and main mission:
BEHIND THE SCENES:
Dr Farhang Morady is Principal Lecturer in International Relations and Development Studies in the Department of Politics and International Relations. Dr Morady is the founder of the International Community Project and later Democratic Education Network in the Department of Politics and International Relations. Farhang is the director and academic coordinator of DEN. He has 25 years of experience working in an inner-city college and different universities in the UK including London School Economics and the University of Westminster. He has developed a link between different communities in London namely Somalia, Bangladeshi, Iranian, Turkish and Kurdish as well as international universities in Turkey, Peru, Vietnam and Georgia. He has won numerous awards for his contribution to further and higher education. Students have nominated Farhang as an ‘Outstanding Teacher’ in 2013, 2014, 2016, 2017 and 2018 in the faculty of Social Science and Humanities. In 2016, he won an award for ‘Excellence in Student Experience’ in the university-wide Staff Achievement. Farhang is author of a number of articles including “A democratic strategy to engage with the marketisation of the higher education” in the End of the Global? London, ISBN: 978-1-912503-22-3. Farhang is also working on a book titled, The Political Economy of God’s Kingdom: Politics and Markets in Iran.
Professor Dibyesh Anand has been supportive of DEN from its inception. He has been the Head of Department of Politics and International Relations (2013-18) and now he is the Head of School of Social Sciences that hosts DEN. As the university’s website https://www.westminster.ac.uk/about-us/our-people/directory/anand-dibyesh indicates, Dibyesh sees himself as an educator who is politically engaged, student friendly, passionate about diversity, and committed to balancing research, teaching and public engagement. Dibyesh is the author of monographs “Geopolitical Exotica: Tibet in Western Imagination” and “Hindu Nationalism in India and the Politics of Fear” and has published on varied topics including Tibet, China-India border dispute, Hindu nationalism and Islamophobia in India, identity politics in Tanzania, colonial occupation in Kashmir, and nationalism. He is currently working on colonial practices of postcolonial states, with special focus on India in Kashmir and China in Tibet. He is also the Chairperson for Westminster BME Staff Network. He is an avid facebooker and available at www.facebook.com/dibyesh. Dibyesh identifies himself as political queer.