Young people contribute to education policy

Issue: Volume 98, Number 16

Posted: 12 September 2019
Reference #: 1H9ybA

A group of 12 young people from around New Zealand has provided valuable perspectives into the Child and Youth Wellbeing Strategy workstream ‘Children free from racism, discrimination and stigma’.

The members of the Youth Advisory Group at their recent quarterly meeting in Wellington; (back): Liam McLeavey, Nathan Farr, Watene Campbell, Hadassah Wharawhara, Okirano Tilaia; (front) Kate Morris, Adrienne Hunt, Geniqua Samupo, Moeka Koyama, Shaneel Lal; absent Brodie Cross.

The members of the Youth Advisory Group at their recent quarterly meeting in Wellington; (back): Liam McLeavey, Nathan Farr, Watene Campbell, Hadassah Wharawhara, Okirano Tilaia; (front) Kate Morris, Adrienne Hunt, Geniqua Samupo, Moeka Koyama, Shaneel Lal; absent Brodie Cross.

The Minister of Education’s Youth Advisory Group (YAG) is a diverse and articulate group that meets in Wellington four times a year to discuss how the education system affects children and young people.

The group was established in 2017 and, to date, the students have discussed a diverse range of topics including the NCEA review and the Child and Youth Wellbeing(external link) Strategy.

“Each meeting’s agenda is a combination of what they want to provide input to, and some of the priority areas for the Ministry,“ says facilitator Serena Curtis-Lemuelu. 

“We try to ensure that we are responding to what they have asked for and new initiatives the Ministry have which they can provide feedback to. They provide the Ministry with valuable insights from their own experiences and those of their peers and they are able to hear their voices reflected in policy content.” 

Young people register interest to join the Youth Advisory Group annually, and an independent panel assesses applications to ensure membership is demographically broad and represents a wide range of youth voices.

Brodie Cross

Brodie Cross (18) from Christchurch is in Year 13 at Te Kura o Te Aho Pounamu. He joined YAG in 2018 to help ensure that Aotearoa has an inclusive education system for all children and young people.

“A friend told me about the position and said ‘there’s a high chance there will be nobody in a wheelchair or with an impairment, so why don’t you give it a go?’ We all deal with the same issues, but it’s a little bit different because of our needs and differences. I want to make sure I represent everybody, but I will divert to the area of disability,” he says.

Brodie says it took him three years to get NCEA Level 1 and he believes this was partly due to his disabilities – he is visually impaired and in a wheelchair. 

Brodie is very grateful to have been selected for YAG and is keen to continue to work at a national level as an advocate and a voice for disabled people. 

“I’d like more transparency around how well the Ministry has heard the voices of people with impairments and how our insights are being used to strengthen and support a more inclusive education system.” 

Moeka Koyama

Moeka Koyama (15) from Motueka High School joined the group at the beginning of 2019. Her mother tongue is Japanese and although she was born in London, she struggled with English when her family arrived in Nelson when she was six. Moeka was home-schooled and went to a Rudolf Steiner school and says there wasn’t a lot of help for her at school.

“That was a massive barrier for me into learning. I picked English up quite fast but I lost some confidence. It was just a hectic three years at primary school,” she says. 

By the time Moeka got to Motueka High School, she decided she would throw herself into every opportunity that came her way, which included YAG. 

“I thought that I want to contribute to our education system. I didn’t think it was right that older people were making all the decisions for us. Now I have quite an overall knowledge of the education system I am part of and have got insights about the process. 

Moeka has an empathy for immigrants, international students and minority groups and says diversity ensures that decisions are made democratically. 

Watene Moana Campbell 

Watene Moana Campbell (17) is studying part time at Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Ngā Mokopuna and Victoria University and is passionate about being a voice for Māori. 

He enjoys sharing thoughts and opinions that matter to youth with such a likeminded group. 

“We are able to voice youth’s opinions on the policies and frameworks the Ministry is setting up. We have some presenters come back and can see how our voices and opinions have been put into the framework. 

“It gives us that extra confidence boost to keep sharing our views and providing a voice for the voiceless and a platform for minority groups; or people who don’t have the opportunity or knowledge to share their thoughts and opinions,” he says.

While he has always enjoyed public speaking and being in the spotlight, Watene says being involved with YAG has helped him develop skills such as being able to think on his feet and provide feedback and information to a range of people. He hopes to work in media one day and be a voice for Māori. 

“I want to do TV reporting for Māori Television to be able to hold the media accountable for the way they portray what Māori are going through. Colonisation is part of the reason Māori aren’t able to show their full potential in the media space,” he says.

Young people speaking out

Opal Soutar is the secretariat for the group and ensures that YAG members are well informed before each quarterly meeting. They receive a meeting pack with a summary of agenda items, questions that will be asked and background information. 

Members bring many voices to the table, not just a youth perspective, she says. 

“It’s hard for us to look at a piece of work from a young person’s perspective and know what they are thinking. The Youth Advisory Group are very passionate about education and they always have the wider community they come from at the forefront of their thinking.  

“It is very satisfying to hear first-hand what they say. The passion they have for the betterment of their whānau, community and the next generation is inspiring. 

“I always think back to when I was their age and think how incredible the YAG are for standing up for what they believe in and having the confidence to challenge people much older than them.” 

Group members (aged between 14 and 18) discuss how the education system affects children and young people and voice their own experiences and perspectives on education. 

Student voice reflected

The group members get to see how they have contributed. 

“It’s things like that which make them think ‘cool, I’m making a difference’, which is why I wanted to be on the group,” says Serena Curtis-Lemuelu.

She says that Ministry staff do an excellent job in ensuring that information prepared prior to the agenda is robust and has clear rationale in terms of why a youth voice is needed, so that it doesn’t come across as a tick-box exercise. 

“After each meeting, their discussion feedback is gathered into a draft report and sent to group members to check. This becomes part of a report for the Minister, which is also shared with Ministry of Education officials.  

“I am a huge advocate of genuine youth engagement and there have been some really practical examples of where their advice has been inputted into initiatives and products that show me that authenticity. It’s a new thing but there are signs of that input being used authentically,” she says.

For more information visit: The Ministerial Youth Advisory Group(external link).

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 11:22 AM, 12 September 2019

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