It is difficult to pick a specific time when the history of student voice began, but here at SVI we like to point to an example in the early 1990s. Under the Premier at the time, Bob Rae, the Ontario provincial government appointed a Royal Commission on Learning to explore innovative ways of revitalizing the province’s education system. In its final report published in 1994, entitled “For the Love of Learning, the Commission recommended sweeping changes, among which was the implementation of student members on all school boards in the province. These recommendations eventually lead to Bill 160, The Education Quality Improvement Act, which called for the creation of a “Pupil Representative” on each school board, now referred to as a Student Trustee. This marked the first time in Canadian history that political representation by youth was legislatively assured. While this is by no means the official starting point for student voice in Canada, it provided a much-needed legal step to ensuring that students were heard and respected at a high level of government.
By the start of the 1998/1999 school year, every school board in Ontario had chosen a Student Trustee to represent the student population at their board table. As time went on, policies evolved in each board to best accommodate Student Trustees and provide opportunities to consult the student body. When the 2000/2001 school year began, the need for student representation at the board table was increasingly evident, which led several Student Trustees to recognize the need to create an association either with or without the guidance of the Ministry of Education. It was from this idea that the Ontario Student Trustees Association (OSTA) was created, which was the only education-focused group in the province that united individuals from the French, English, Catholic, and Public school boards. In 2011, three former Student Trustees from Ontario realized that there was an inherent gap in the policy-making process in provinces without a student representative sitting at the board table – thus, Student Voice Initiative (SVI) was born.
Since its inception, SVI has advocated both locally and provincially for increased emphasis on student voice and student engagement in school boards across Canada. Recognizing that the Student Trustee model is simply one example of many, we intend to work with school boards across the country to create the best student voice models suited for their district. In the past, we have successfully worked with both rural and urban school boards in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Quebec, and we hope to continue to work with many more across the country.