Ministry ‘sea change’ heralds youth voice

Issue: Volume 98, Number 12

Posted: 19 July 2019
Reference #: 1H9w2o

Judge Andrew Becroft is the Children’s Commissioner and chair of the Guardians of the Education Conversation, a Ministerial advisory group. The group ensures that all the changes in education are informed by the voices of participants in the Education Conversation | Kōrero Mātauranga, including those of young people.

Sea change

Education Gazette caught up with Judge Becroft to talk about the changes that young people want in education, and why we need to start listening to, and involving them, in educational change. 

The conversation follows the recent release of The voices of young people, a report on the feedback from young people who participated in the online education survey run by the Ministry of Education in 2018.

“Hearing the voices of children and young people is crucial to improving and enriching decision-making, policy-making and practice. Children and young people want to participate, they want to contribute, and we ignore that at our own peril.”

Speaking about The voices of young people  report, Judge Andrew Becroft says young people bring a perspective and a wisdom that constantly challenges and often causes him to rethink where he’s heading.

“Generally, New Zealand as a country has not done well at prioritising and valuing the voices and views of young people. I’m not sure why, but in the past we have got it badly wrong, especially across government. I’d have to say that until recently the Ministry of Education didn’t do it well and didn’t value it. But now I see something of a sea change going on within the Ministry.

“I think that had to happen. Education, of all ministries, should be an exemplar. It should be leading the way, showing every other government department how useful and important that exercise is. Not as window dressing, or a passing fad, but something that ought to be foundational to all their operations.” 

Reports yield rich information 

Judge Andrew Becroft

Judge Andrew Becroft

Judge Becroft says that Education matters to me, a report put out by the Office of the Children’s Commissioner last year, was an example of what children and young people think about their education, and what they want changed.

“Both reports give some terrifically useful and rich information from children and young people so I’m a big believer in them. They show that children and young people have views, have thought them through, and genuinely want to be asked and listened to.”

He quotes a young person from Education matters to me who said, “I am a library, quiet but filled with knowledge. It’s dumb that I am not asked”.

In The voices of young people, students expressed a desire for teachers to know and understand them and to respond to their different ways of learning. For students, teacher attitudes matter as much as their skills. Inspiration, a passion for teaching and caring were frequently mentioned by young people as important traits that actively engage them. 

Inspiring teachers valued

The Voices report shows how much students value inspirational quality teachers. Young people also told the Ministry that, to succeed in education, they need the support of whānau and families.

“We all know what it’s like to have teachers who have opened doors in our own lives. Teachers can transform and I think we have lost a bit of a commitment to that vision. So I think we need to be valuing teachers as agents of transformation in young people’s lives. The students’ comments are also a good reminder that education in 2019 has to find ways to actively include and involve families and whānau and lift their support,” says Judge Becroft.

Valuing cultural identity

Most notable, he says, were young people’s perspectives on issues like more education in te reo Māori, and in Māori culture and history, in order to promote respect and an understanding of Māori in New Zealand. 

“It’s great that young people are saying that. While they also value and prioritise the importance of academic subjects like English, mathematics, reading and writing to develop as critical thinkers, they are suggesting valuing cultural identity.” 

Mental health and wellness issues figure high in the concerns of young people – a theme that Judge Becroft says is becoming increasingly obvious in his work as Children’s Commissioner. 

“People of my generation underestimate and don’t take seriously enough the very strong calls about excessive stress, anxiety, confidence in academic abilities. That’s a strong message that’s coming across particularly when I meet Year 11, 12 and 13 students. 

“It’s also interesting, looking at the Voices report, that children and young people understood the financial burdens on families from more disadvantaged backgrounds and identified the need to provide genuine equality and equity of opportunity.”

On reflection, Judge Becroft wishes there’d been a larger sample of young people in the online survey, and that it had been made a part of every school’s commitment to the Education Conversation| Kōrero Mātauranga. 

“But it’s a good start and it shows that children and young people can bring a real insight,” he says.

“I genuinely applaud the attempt to involve in the education reform process the voices of young people who aren’t often asked, who are marginalised and disadvantaged. It’s such a huge resource that we don’t tap into enough.” 

Youth presenting challenges

Children can ask the hard questions and they can challenge, he says, pointing to the recent student-led climate change protests. 

“I’ve been really surprised by the number of adults who say they should be at school learning. Well, if you ask them, they say climate change is one of the biggest issues they face, and they want it taken much more seriously, especially by adults. This isn’t some gimmick; they’re not being put up to it by adults. It’s something they believe in very strongly.”

But of all the things Judge Becroft has had the most pushback on and the most opposition to, is his suggestion of 16- and 17-year-olds being able to vote.

“Maybe they think there’s not the maturity there, but it would have to go hand in hand with teaching civics in schools – and I know there’s already an overloaded curriculum. But what we do badly in New Zealand is preparing students for understanding how our society works, how central and local government works and is founded, how the parliamentary and democratic system and process works. I think that’s important.

“And what we forget in all of this too, is the Convention on the Rights of the Child – the most signed United Nations convention in history – which makes it a right for children to express a view about matters that affect them. That doesn’t necessarily support the voting issue, but it certainly supports the importance of hearing from children and young people.”

Impressive creativity in schools

Judge Becroft is impressed by the creative things he sees going on in schools. 

“There are a significant number of boards of trustees who report to me that they now have two or three students on their boards, and they co-opt more students, as having only one can be a bit tokenistic. They talk about student panels interviewing prospective principals and deputy principals who then cede into the appointment process.”

The online survey, from which The voices of young people(external link) is taken, ran from March to October 2018. Over 1,900 young people contributed to the report. 

Find out more about the report(external link) and summary(external link)

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 10:15 AM, 19 July 2019

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