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The Colegio Cardenal de Cravocia is a school for children from grades 1 to 8 that is located at a focal point of high levels of poverty, unemployment and drug-related crime in Santiago. As its pupils constantly face challenges that exceed the normal scope of education, the school has declared itself an ‘independent republic’. Each class views itself as a federal state with its own departments and administration; the school has its own constitution, court, its own currency and a national bank. Each state has a number of ministries including a Ministry of Health, which promotes proper hygiene, a Ministry of Education, which ensures that all pupils have the materials they need, and a Leisure Department that makes sure that enough activities take place outside of the classroom.
The school even holds free elections. Any pupil between grades 3 and 8 can put themselves forward as presidential candidates, with the winner chosen through a wide-ranging electoral process. Free speech and freedom of the press are also guaranteed. The school’s constitution emerged out of intensive discussions with teachers, parents and pupils, and also constituted the founding of the ‘republic’. As the pupils are able to adopt political office they are no longer merely passive recipients of education, rather, they actively shape their own learning environment and that of their classmates. Consequently, and despite the adverse conditions, the pupils learn to make decisions that affect their own lives and to take responsibility for others – skills that prepare them for life outside of school.