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From "student voice" to "youth–adult partnerships": lessons from working with young people as partners for educational change

Rachel Bolstad

This working paper describes a series of recent “student voice” projects undertaken by the New Zealand Council for Educational Research (NZCER). Although these projects varied in terms of their specific contexts and processes, each sought to elicit young people’s perspectives (about learning, education and/or other aspects of their lives), and support the young people to represent their perspectives and insights in forums that included adults, such as teachers, parents, policymakers or others who work with youth. The projects had multiple goals, the most profound of which was to create space for future-focused dialogue about doing education “differently” to better fit learning needs for the 21st century. Looking back across these projects, we ask ourselves two questions. First, how successful was each project as a learning opportunity for the young people? Second, how successful was each project in engaging adult audiences who might be potential collaborators with, and advocates for, involving young people in educational decision making? Based on our analysis, we argue that the way forward requires us to dispense with the clichéd notion of “student voice”, and instead reframe our past and future work in terms of “youth–adult partnerships”. Analyses of some of our other research projects suggest that youth–adult partnerships can and do already occur in some school contexts. However, we speculate that the concept of youth–adult partnerships may prove challenging for some schools, as it contradicts common “school ways” of thinking about the roles of adults and youth.

Families and communities engagement in education (FACE)
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Research report
New Zealand Council for Educational Research
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