Students have a voice, too
THE EDITOR, Madam:
‘Student participation’ in decision-making refers to the work of student representative bodies – such as students’ councils, student parliaments and the prefectorial body. It is also a term used to encompass all aspects of school life and decision-making where students may contribute – informally through individual negotiation as well as formally through purposely created structures and mechanisms.
Over the last few years, there have been increased calls for increasing the extent of inclusion of students in decision-making, especially in the tertiary field, owing to the frequent occurrences of student unrests in the sector (Kamuhanda, 2003; Ogot, 2003; Buhere,¸2008; Kindiki, 2009).
Student participation in decision-making in schools is often viewed as problematic to school administrators. This is often because students are viewed as minors, immature and lacking in the expertise and technical knowledge that is needed in the running of a school. Thus, student participation in decision-making is often confined to issues concerned with student welfare and not in core governance issues.
Many youths feel a sense of disengagement with their schools, where they feel isolated and alienated. At the same time, society is quick to blame us for being the root of the problems that challenge our Jamaican schools. But Mitra, in her newly released book Student Voice in School Reform, offers an imaginative question: “What might happen if we view youth as part of the solution, rather than as part of the problem?”
The concept of increasing students’ voices in schools broadens the notion of distributed leadership to include considering young people themselves as capable and valuable members of a school community who can help initiate and implement educational change.
Student voice is more than just students ‘having a say’ and ‘being heard’. To be successful, schools must value the perspectives and opinions of students and act on them in a way that genuinely shapes learning and decision-making at the school.
Partnering with students to identify school problems and possible solutions remind teachers and administrators that students possess unique knowledge and perspectives about their schools that these so-called ‘experts’ cannot fully replicate. Students can raise tough issues that administrators and teachers might not highlight – including examining structural and cultural injustices within schools.
I urge the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information and school administrators to do more for our youths. Involve them more, listen more, collaborate more and understand that we, too, have a voice that must be heard!