Guest Blog: Student Voice Initiative

July 22nd, 2013 by CIVIX

Leah Bae is an eighteen-year old undergraduate student at the University of Toronto and a TD National Scholarship for Community Leadership recipient. 


What is student voice? Student voice is the “wish, choice, or opinion openly or formally expressed” by a “scholar or learner who attends a school” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary). Student voice is “giving students the ability to influence learning to include policies, programs, contexts, and principles” (Wikipedia). Student voice is “the individual and collective perspectives and actions of young people within the context of learning and education” (Sound Out).

According to a 2007 Statistics Canada report, youth under 19 comprise around 24 per cent of the Canadian population. Assuming a standard 9-month school year with 8:30 am to 3 pm days, students spend an average of 1,270 hours a year, or 16,510 hours from K to 12 in school.

Now, let’s take a look at how decisions that directly affect students are made in schools. Whether it is expanding math curriculum or shortening lunchtime breaks, these decisions are made by adult administrators. At the Board of Education level, many stakeholders are consulted – associations of teachers, parents, and administrators, to name a few. Students make up 99 per cent of the education system and are its main constituents, yet they are not consulted like the other stakeholders are.

Ontario found a solution to this problem in 1998 when the provincial government legislated student trustees to sit at all Board of Education tables in all school districts across the province. These trustees are senior students who are democratically elected for a 1-2 year term by their school district’s students and responsible for representing their voices at the Board tables. New Brunswick has also had student representatives sit at each Board of Education since 2009.

The Ontario Student Trustees’ Association / l’Association des élèves conseillers et conseillères de l’Ontario (OSTA-AECO) serves as the consultative group in education decisions in the province. Over the past twelve years, student trustees have been able to implement policies that eliminated bottled water in schools, made the collection of student activity fees more transparent, urged schools to act on cyber bullying, and more. Recognizing that student trustees are a platform for success in all aspects of education, positive influences from OSTA-AECO have spread across the country to ignite a student voice movement.

In British Columbia, the Vancouver School Board (VSB) works closely with its official student stakeholder group at the Vancouver District Students’ Council (VDSC). Under the VDSC’s recommendation in May 2012, the VSB will be allocating a seat for a student trustee at its Board table this fall. The Sunshine Coast School Board followed suit and will be adding both a student trustee and a district student council for the trustee to liaise with. In Alberta, the Edmonton Public School Board awaits its fall session to motion for student trustees to join them as well.

It is exciting to watch youth voice become noticeably more recognized in policy-making tables across the country. Cities are creating municipal youth advisory councils, organizations are adding youth representatives, and governments are looking for youth consultation in their decision-making processes. We are moving towards an era of inclusion for youth. The importance of student voice is being recognized throughout the world – but are the seemingly sought out students’ voices truly being heard?

Student Voice Initiative

At Student Voice Initiative (SVI), the goal is to ensure that student voice receives tangible representation in district school boards across the nation. Student trustees help implement effective student change because they have a direct presence in the very midst of policy-making processes. They act as transmitters and barriers for social change makers and youth apathy, respectively.

Behind each student trustee is a democratically elected district student council. Similar to how student trustees represent a district council, a council represents the students of each high school in the school district. A student trustee does not act in individual pursuits but as a spokesperson for their constituents. This student voice framework demonstrates the very best of active citizenship; every student has a role to play in this hands-on civic education.

Student voice is becoming a pillar of education. It is our job to ensure that this pillar is erected resiliently so it does not fall as a consequence of hasty construction.

You can follow Student Voice Initiative on Twitter at @StudentVoiceI. Join the movement at

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