Teachers and governments who listen to students
Students should not only be heard when they are presenting a lesson or theorem in class. Many of them have excellent ideas, especially in areas that concern them. But how do we create the right environment to help them to express themselves?
Two years ago, Rareș Voicu, then a 16 year old student, was nervously walking a hallway inside the Victoria Palace, connecting the Prime Minister's Office to the Government Meeting Room. That day, the space was jammed with cameras, lined up to broadcast the first conference on Children's Participation in Decision-Making. Today, Rareș is used to the cameras, and the emotions that blocked him then now motivate him. He speaks often, with ease, often appearing on major TV stations. He is now advocating the development of student feedback mechanisms to improve teaching. He has also advocated to create a system of scholarships of equal value across the country to increase equity and facilitate social inclusion. He does all this from his position as President of the National Council of Students.
He reached this point through his involvement in a project developed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MAE), through the Minister-delegate for European Affairs, and UNICEF in Romania, where he was selected as Romania's Junior Ambassador to the EU and later as a member of the Romanian Children's Board. UNICEF also promotes the right of children to be heard and to have their views considered, as also laid down in the UN Convention on the Child’s Rights.
Rareș’ family has always supported his desire to express his views freely. His parents taught him to speak out whenever he felt something wasn't right. But still, Rareș found it difficult at first to speak out against authority figures. "I think we still have this fear of authority because we don't know how to respond to potential abuses of power. Knowing your rights is the best way to protect yourself from abuse," says Rareș.
At the Victoria Palace conference, Rareș feared exposure. Today, however, he sees that exposure helped him the most along the way. In school, we are afraid to sit in the front row, to be called by teachers, to express a need. It seems to scare us to think we could count. It's just that when you're aware of being seen, you become more thoughtful, you give more, you grow. Involvement ultimately means having the courage to let yourself be seen. Rareș is not, however, just looking to be seen or heard. Those who are seen or who deliver a message also have a responsibility. That's why he wants to give his best with every opportunity. "If we want change for the better, we must offer reasonable proposals to our discussion partners, based on reality and data."
It's true that it's more difficult for a child to get involved because adults tend to pick up on any mistakes. Rareș says he has constantly felt this pressure. "I realized, however, that in the end, everything works on the Trial-and-Error principle. None of us are 100% sure that our proposals are the best. The bumps are natural. Adults and children make mistakes. That's what we learn from and filter.”
A major event in Rareș's development was the drafting of the Bucharest EU Children’s Declaration. In this document - the first of its kind in the world - children asked European leaders to consult and involve them in decisions that impact their future, whether they are about the environment, the education, or the community in which they live. While drafting the paper, Rareș felt like he was being heard. Listening gave him wings. "Editing the document gave me confidence. It's amazing to know that you can raise your hand and get the same attention as any of the experts at the table. We didn't feel demeaned or excluded at all."
No wonder Rareș is now determined to stay vocal in society. "I believe in a future of engagement, and technology will play an important role in that. Today, even a kid from a small town can dream and contribute to meaningful change."