Student Voice

Seems like an age since I blogged – and it has been. Truth is I was struck down by a pretty vicious virus that had me on my back for almost a fortnight, and since then I’ve bee struggling to catch up!

Prior to the virus episode, I had the opportunity to attend the Education Leaders’ Forum (ELF) at Terrace Downs

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One of the speakers there was Nicola Meek who leads the secretariat supporting the Guardians of Secondary Futures speaking about the work of this project in creating a vision for secondary education in NZ in twenty year’s time. This project is advancing steadily, with two strategic papers released already, Students First and Inspiring Teachers, with a third one on Impact on Society to be released shortly. A feature of this work is the extent to which teachers have been engaged and involved in the discussions leading to the development of these papers.

Prior to her presentation we had a presentation from an inspiring group of students from Unlimited Paenga Tawhiti, a co-educational state school with a special character designation located in the centre of Christchurch. These young people inspired the group with their explanations of what school means for them, how they are given the opportunity to negotiate their own curriculum and learning pathways etc. They explained how they operated in a very personalised and very online world, making innovative use of a range of social networking and web2.0 applications – several were running their own business combining an interest in computer graphics, music and dance!

Inevitably there was mention made about the need to somehow include student voice in all of the deliberations around the future of secondary education (and of education in general). While I fully endorse this notion, there are two underpinning assumptions that seem to surface in these discussions that I find myself questionning. The first is that students aren’t currently expressing their ideas and opinions, and secondly, that the forums they ought to be doing this in are the ones set up by the adults (ex-20th century learners!)

Now while a presentation like the one we heard from the Unlimited students at the ELF has undoubted value and significance, I think we may be missing something. You see, it seems to me that now, more than ever before, students do have a voice, and are finding all sorts of ways of expressing their thoughts, ideas and opinions on a range of topics and issues – and in a range of forums and media (including YouTube, Facebook, MySpace, blogs, wikis and a variety of other social networking software). The problem as I see it is that we (the 20th century learners) just aren’t connecting with it, and are not sure how to engage with or interact with it when we do ‘stumble’ across it. Now granted, not everything you find in these environments is constructive or useful even, but if you take a moment to check out an international project like TakingITGlobal you’ll soon find thousands of young people giving expression to their thoughts and ideas in very practical ways. TIG is an online community that connects youth to find inspiration, access information, get involved, and take action in their local and global communities. It’s the world’s most popular online community for young people interested in making a difference, with hundreds of thousands of unique visitors each month. It was started by Michael Furdyk who we’ve had out here to NZ on a few occasions now to speak at our ULearn and Learning@School conferences.

The way I see it is that the future of education lies in hearing the voices of a wide range of stakeholders, including students, parents, community leaders, teachers and potential employers etc. The challenge is finding forums and venues for these ideas, concerns and opinions to be expressed openly and without judgement. In this regard I feel we need to be looking to our 21st Century Learners to provide the lead!

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