Student voice takes flight under DOVES proposal

Neha Singh, part of the team selected to design the Minister’s student council, shares its proposal to Education Minister Sarah Mitchell.

22 March 2021
Inside NSW Parliament where three students are presenting a report.
Image: Being heard: Neha Singh, left, and team members present the steering committee report to Education Minister Sarah Mitchell, right, in the Legislative Council in NSW Parliament.

If change within our education system depended solely on policy makers and bureaucrats, a fair representation of authentic student voices is bound to be compromised. Real change in schools comes directly from students who genuinely care to create an impact for others and those who hold perspectives that challenge views. There is no denying that our current system fails to acknowledge diversity and support a broad scope of student needs. A range of students within the community are under-represented, and this is where the real concern lies.

As one of 13 diverse students selected for the Minister’s Student Council steering committee, we worked collaboratively over the past few months to co-design a system that will help shape future education and offer students the opportunity to liaise with bureaucrats when making education policy. We held firm to the belief that students are, and will always remain, the key stakeholders for education.

Initially, we explored possibilities for the NSW student council by reflecting on other committees and student organisations. Conducting a SLOW analysis allowed us to recognise strengths, limitations, opportunities and wonderings that we could implement into our own student council. Gradually, pieces fell into place and we began to consolidate our aim and establish a purpose to work towards.

DOVES (Department of Student Voices in Education and Schools) is the proposed name for the NSW state-wide council for student representatives. We chose the acronym DOVES because it holds positive connotations to hope and peace, which is highly reflective of the values, principles and notions we wish for the council to embody. It serves to affirm and encourage students all while reorienting supportive environments.

As part of the process we deconstructed the structure, function and operations of the council to ensure both practicality and the longevity of DOVES. This process was thorough and underpinned by our insistence that DOVES will not be tokenistic, rather DOVES will be a council for the students run by the students.

The structure for DOVES will be multilayered: Three representatives from each of the NSW educational directorates will serve a two-year term, with half the council “retiring” each year to ensure continuity and help mentor new members.

Whilst the membership structure, application process, specific responsibilities and funding within the council were all integral components of our proposal, the overarching idea of capturing the broad diversity within student voices was made apparent through our inclusion of local-level DOVES forum. These forums will give voice to students from a range of experiences and backgrounds and will be a focal point for DOVES meetings and further discussions with the Education Minister and Department of Education.

On February 10 we presented our final proposal to NSW Education Minister Sarah Mitchell. The Minister’s positive response to our council design gave us all a sense of empowerment that our views had been valued and heard.

After investing time, effort and energy into the process and the presentation to the Minister we’re holding on to the hope that the future of education will be representative of a more unified and collective student voice!

Neha Singh is a Year 12 student at Liverpool Girls High School. She was part of the 13-member student steering committee tasked with co-designing a student council for Education Minister Sarah Mitchell.

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