Over the past two years, I have had the chance to become a student leader and advocate for improvement in the education system. I have also had the opportunity, as a student trustee, to attend school board meetings and professional development opportunities for students.
These experiences have opened my eyes to the work that is being done in the Ontario education system to improve students’ education. I have learned that student voice can be heard on many different levels. Whether it be at a Ministry of Education consultation or a math class, each level is just as important as the others.
I remember in Grade 8, my teacher spoke about the value of getting involved in extra-curricular activities in high school. Grade 9 was a transition year for me. Like many others students, I was learning the ins and outs of high school and how to succeed. Because of this, I did not join many extra-curricular activities. In Grade 10, my journey into student voice began. A teacher who saw my potential invited me to take part in a school-level focus group about increasing student voice in my school board. I felt positively impacted by this opportunity because it made me feel that my voice was valued and that there is need for improvements.
In Grade 11, the same teacher (who had since moved on) came to my school and asked me to be a student representative at the planning level for student voice in my school board. This led to me being able to be a co-facilitator at a two-day student summit that brought together approximately 150 participants, ranging from students to the director of education, to discuss how to improve student voice in their schools. This event gave me insight into some of the issues that are experienced by students.
The two biggest issues that I saw were tokenism and lack of opportunity. By tokenism I mean, students who are lucky enough to be given an opportunity to share their input, often feel that they are simply listened to but no action is taken. I feel that this stems from the attitude we have developed in our society, that sees youth as disengaged, not willing to participate or not having valuable ideas. From my experiences, this is not the case. Youth are one of the groups that are being affected by problems in education; why not involve them in the process of identifying specific issues and coming up with a plan to solve them?
The second issue is connected to the first issue. Youth are often not given an opportunity to voice their opinion at higher levels of discussions. They are often left out from the meaningful conversations that occur at school boards, ministries of education, community stakeholder groups and many more. Because of this, the power of youth to influence change does not reach its full potential due to the lack of opportunities.
The opportunities that I have had in the last two years have greatly influenced my future career choices and the way that I view life. Being able to help facilitate growth in the education system has allowed me to realign my moral compass and realize that I have been blessed with a life of service to others in which I must find a way to improve others’ lives in the most positive way that I can. Expressing my views and others’ views has allowed me to see that there is good in this world and that youth are very powerful. All we must do is, empower possibility.
To conclude, to any educator reading this, come up with ways to meaningfully engage your students in the decision-making process. If you’re not sure how, reach out to others; there are many great people who are paving the way to improve the education system.
To any parent reading this: have a conversation with your child(ren) about what they can do to improve their voice. Help them find the power inside themselves to change the world.
And finally, to any youth reading this: your voice is powerful and can change the world in many ways. Help your friends find their voices and together, you will have even more impact in spreading your hard work for change.
Photo: courtesy Evan Rogers
First published in Education Canada, December 2018