Listening to the Ones We Serve :  Activating Youth Voices for Education Change

Learning Ecosystems and Leadership June 23, 2019

The global education community is all striving towards bigger and better success measures — bigger classrooms, more resources, higher test scores, better learning environments, etc. However, what most education entities are failing to recognize is what Irish poet, William Butler Yeats, had shared decades ago: “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.”

And how do we light that fire in the hearts and minds of young people around the world?

For me, the first step is simple.

We ask them.

In 2018, the research team at my organization, HundrED, interviewed hundreds of students from around the world with an aim to identify their needs and desires from education and what would help them become “ready for life.” In our Every Child To Flourish report, we were staggered to see how passionate and often helpless children felt about their education. They highlighted specific problems within the system, held strong opinions on what they felt they should be learning, and were disheartened by the fact that they felt they had little to no voice to give their feedback or implement change.

Among the findings, we found that more than four in five (83%) K-12 students said they “want a greater focus on skills that prepare them for their future career.” They “described wanting more opportunities to understand potential career paths and how their current education should lead to ‘real-world’ success”.

61% of the students who completed the survey had a desire to improve their learning environments.

A strong majority (58%) also told us that they were interested in learning life skills such as empathy, communication, and collaboration.

We wondered how as an organization we could be of help and support for this global community of young people actively asking to be heard. The dream became a reality when a fire-cracker of a young person, Jordy Angel Coldwell, approached us with this message.

So on 25th January 2019 at the Learnit Conference in London, we launched the global HundrED Youth Ambassador program to provide students with a platform to share their opinions and advocate for the inclusion of students and student voice in all decisions made for their education.

With nearly 50 Youth Ambassadors from 20 countries, they make an active community of students from around the world who are passionate about education’s potential and want to be a part of its change together.

They do this by voicing their opinions on the current state of affairs, popularise what they want from education, while understanding and deeply empathizing with the varied education systems of the world. Their feedback and opinions on education are included in our community articles and research papers. They also help inform our research process in reviewing the 100 inspiring education innovations of each year.

As I experience the World Innovation Summit for Education’s Emerging Leaders program, to the best of my abilities, I am to serve this community and hope to truly engage today’s youth in education as a whole and in the improvement of education worldwide.

I believe that young people have valuable feedback we could all learn from and their voices should be given the platform they deserve. After all, they’re the ones presently experiencing education — who better to ask how to improve education than to go to the source themselves?