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Commonwealth students, the 'hope of our world'

23 February 2018

Students across the Commonwealth are being empowered to form fit-for-purpose national associations in their home country, so they can influence education policy. It follows the launch of a Commonwealth publication which outlines pragmatic ways to form national unions of students called Building our Future – A Toolkit for Student Representation.

Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland launched the toolkit during the Commonwealth Students’ Association (CSA) meeting at the 20th Conference of Commonwealth Education Ministers (CCEM) in Nadi, Fiji.

“It’s offering a new way for students to talk to their leaders,” said the head of the Commonwealth Secretariat’s social policy section, Layne Robinson. “We have students who are very antagonistic towards their government, and that often makes it more difficult for them to meet to discuss an important educational issue.

“What this toolkit suggests is the use of the Commonwealth approach of dialogue and discourse, sitting down at the table together and building a consensus. This is important because students are the main stakeholders in education and if they don’t engage with leaders in a constructive way, changing the nature of the power dynamics, we will miss out their contribution to decision making. We miss out on their innovative ideas and solutions."

The toolkit was produced after an extensive study commissioned at the 18th CCEM in Mauritius by the CSA and the Secretariat. Among other things, the research found that over half of the member states (51 per cent) did not have national student organisations.

The toolkit was produced after an extensive study commissioned at the 18th CCEM in Mauritius by the CSA and the Secretariat. Among other things, the research found that over half of the member states (51 per cent) did not have national student organisations.

Speaking at the launch, the CSA coordinator and former chair, Stanley Njoroge said, “The toolkit together with the report is a do-it-yourself kit. It will help students all over the Commonwealth develop a national student body that is fit for purpose for their own dynamics.

“It has aspects that deals with governance, finance, advocacy and is based on Commonwealth values. Through this toolkit we seek to change the way student organisations are governed. The toolkit is such is that it can help any other youth organisation, not just student organisations to function and was tested in Kenya last year.”

The Secretary-General also launched the CSA’s new website and oversaw the ceremony which inaugurated a team of new student leaders, officiating their oaths of office.

“This is a historic and very important moment because we’ve just sworn in your new leadership team. The Commonwealth is a wonderful opportunity to build peace, humanity and support each other,” said Secretary-General Scotland. “What each of the young leaders you have chosen is demonstrating is that they are not only courageous enough to speak on your behalf, but also to speak truth to power.

“In representing the voice of your student association, they’re also the voice of the 60 per cent of the population of the Commonwealth who are below 30. You will know many of those have little or no voice themselves.

“We have to make sure that the Commonwealth voice, in this troubled and troubling times, is heard and that we stand for something good. I’m not putting pressure on you, when I say, you are the hope of our world.”

Giving the vote of thanks, the new chair of the CSA, Dr Maisha Reza from Singapore said, “We aim to unite student organisations, build capacities and produce opportunities for student leaders to explore and address issues with in the fields of global development as well as education. I’d like to thank each and every one of you for taking part in robust discussions which have translated into recommendations we have presented to the ministers.

“We would like to affirm our commitment, our dedication, and passion in amplifying your voices to government and have you at the decision-making table. We are all immensely talented and immensely passionate people. We’re all like little flames ourselves and when we come together, aligned towards a common vision, we become that fire of change that we want to see.”

The Commonwealth has 31 small states and the Secretary-General told the students that the smallest island could produce the biggest diamond. She urged them ‘to help your brothers and sisters and don’t be afraid of your brilliance’.

Building our Future – A Toolkit for Student Representation

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