Canadian students enjoy a high-quality, publicly-funded education, but many do not have the opportunity to speak for themselves. Education should fundamentally be a collaborative process. There should be a feedback loop.
For many Canadian students, however, today’s system is antagonistic, resulting in disengagement and apathy. My generation is faced with extraordinarily dire circumstances – for us, apathy is not just undesirable, it is a democratic crisis.
Combatting institutional apathy starts in the classroom, and continues into the boardroom. Students do have important input into their own education. They are the education system’s constituents, the ones who spend, on average, seven hours, five days a week in a classroom, for 12 years, through primary and secondary school. During the formative years of young Canadians, education is not a vocation – it is a defining experience of their lives.
In Ontario, policymakers have realized the power of student voice in education policy. Legislation in the province’s Education Act guarantees that students have input in the educational decision-making process through the “student trustee” position. The student trustee sits alongside adult trustees at their board of education. I ran for this position on the Peel District School Board and was able to ensure that student councils were present at every school in my district, and that students were present on committees regarding technology and even food and beverage policies.
Students across the country are advocating for greater student involvement in the education policy-making process. Provincially, the Ontario Student Trustees’ Association, which advises the Ministry of Education at the partnership table, has been working on this agenda since 2000. On a national level, Student Voice Initiative is an organization working to spread a student voice framework – of student trustees, senates, and councils – to all provinces.
Now, we are starting to see signs of progress across Canada. On Saturday, the British Columbia School Trustees’ Association is tabling a motion to establish student trustees in the province. The focus for all the elements of this movement is currently on the secondary-school level, in the belief that high-school students are at a balance of both maturity and influence in their education – their actions and engagement will ripple to their young peers, siblings, and the community.
We can give students opportunities to advocate for themselves, especially and most particularly in the times when they do not have an adult to back them up. The most important aspect of education might not be “success outcomes,” but rather the value of cooperation and the collaborative learning process between everyone involved. In order to speak for themselves in the future, students would be well-served in their education by having the chance to start using their voice.
Jaxson Khan is the Executive Director of Student Voice Initiative and the former CEO of the Ontario Student Trustees’ Association. He is one of Canada’s Top 20 Under 20.