“One could say that dialogue is fruitless without action, but where else do we start? We need to begin by getting everyone – students, academics, and policy-makers – on board.” – Jaxson Khan, Canada

What do you do if you, as a student, feel under-represented, disengaged, and dis-empowered? Well, if you’re Jaxson Khan, you help start a movement. Khan co-founded The Student Voice Initiative, a national movement in Canada that aims to get students more involved in the educational decision-making process at a policy level. His initiative’s goal is to empower student representatives at every level of educational decision-making, in every province across Canada, so that policymakers will have to seek the input of students on matters that concern them.

Last month, I was honored to be a part of Student Voice Live, an event held in our Microsoft New York offices in conjunction with Dell and the Student Voice organization. Khan, a fellow keynote speaker, was instrumental in the event, and I was grateful to play a role in the day. The event was streamed live, so you can watch it here.

Khan’s activism and energy has impressed many people aside from me: he was named one of Canada’s Top 20 Under 20 young leaders and a global One Young World Ambassador. He was formerly a student trustee of the Peel District School Board, and he served as CEO of the Ontario Student Trustees’ Association, representing 2 million students across Ontario to the Ministry of Education.

It is my great pleasure to share today’s Daily Edventure with Jaxson Khan. Enjoy!

What drew you to the field of education? Why is it important to you?

Education is a fundamental pillar of our lives. As a student, what drew me to education was the idea that my education was mine – but only if I made it so.

For students across the world, school is something that everyone is required to undertake, regardless of whether they want to go to school or not, or to some extent (beyond home schooling and school choice) how they want that education to be delivered. I wanted to have a greater voice in my school, and in what education I received. I was brought to the field of education initially through involvement in student council. Yet, I also wanted to do more. And that is why I ran for student trustee when I was 16, for the Peel District School Board, in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada. I represented 150,000 students to a board of education, and was actually able to impact educational decisions made by the (adult) school trustees, involving the 1.5 billion dollar budget. I was also elected as an Executive of the Ontario Student Trustees’ Association for Grade 12, representing 2 million students, and then later appointed as CEO (overseeing the association during my first year of university). I was lucky to live in Ontario, where provincial legislation guarantees students the opportunity to share their voices. We are constantly working to improve, and to effectively represent our voices within the education system. I am thankful we had the benefit of policy-supported positions, to ensure that our voices are heard.

After my experience as a student trustee and provincial representative, I started a movement two years ago called Student Voice Initiative to work to spread the student trustee position to provinces and territories across Canada. I believe that the position of student trustee is more than a token. The student trustee is substantiated by regional student senates, which are comprised of student council presidents from every school, and thereby, from the students up, ensuring democratic representation at the board, and even provincial level. This is a “student voice framework.” I think that a student voice framework is critical to establish, because it improves educational decision-making, and simultaneously instills values for democracy and citizenship in young people.

Education is of the utmost importance to me because it represents knowledge that we transfer between generations. In order to continue to improve the quality of our education, and how that knowledge transfer is personalized, giving students a voice in that process is critical. It is finding my voice that brought me to education, and I believe that the same can happen for students around the world.

Can you tell us about a favorite teacher, or someone who made a difference in your education?

I have been lucky to have a few incredible teachers throughout my educational career. Most relevant to the work that I am doing now however, in student voice, and one of my most recent teachers, is a teacher from my high school (whom I remain in contact with, now in postsecondary). What made her different? She never hesitated to tell me “no,” or when I was wrong. I think a lot of teachers – in relation to rampant grade inflation in secondary schools – give higher marks and less feedback, because of parent/student blowback. This teacher gave me what I deserved on every assignment, was considerate of my own needs, and allowed me to personalize and self-direct my learning.

Please describe how your professional achievements have advanced innovation in education.  What has changed as a result of your work?

I started Student Voice Initiative with other students because we were dissatisfied with the national status quo. As students who had the opportunity to work within a powerful student voice framework in our own province, Ontario – whereby students are represented by student councils at schools, student senates and student trustees at school boards, and a student trustees’ association at the Ministry of Education – we wanted the same for our friends and peers across Canada. So, we set out to bring this model, the “student voice framework,” to every province and territory in Canada.

First: it is incredibly tough starting a national policy change movement. Nonetheless, I think one of our main successes has been making this a national – and even international – conversation. We have talked to students and policymakers from nearly every province. One could say that dialogue is fruitless without action, but where else do we start? We need to begin by getting everyone – students, academics, and policy-makers – on board. Further, the student voice movement is innately grassroots. Our ideal vision is a groundswell of movement from students across Canada, in their cities, schools, and communities, all in the name of simply having a voice in their education. For students, their education is their future and their present, and it shapes the core of their being – in what world does it make sense for them not to have a say in it? More than student support, we have some reputable names behind us, such as the Premier and several former Ministers of Education of Ontario, Canada’s National Research Education Chair, a Harvard professor, the former Vice-President of the Canadian School Boards’ Association, and even a researcher from Hirosaki University in Japan. We have spoken with the Council of Ministers’ of Education Secretariat, presented to student leaders at the Canadian Student Leadership Conference, as well as before student leaders, policymakers, and US Department of Education representatives at Student Voice Live!, presented by Dell, which took place in Microsoft’s offices in NYC. We also have an hour-long presentation scheduled with the Canadian School Boards’ Association at their annual Congress in Vancouver in July. Most recently, we worked with students and trustees from the Vancouver School Board to bring a vote before the British Columbia School Trustees’ Association on April 27th at their AGM to institute student trustees across the province. The motion unfortunately failed in a close vote, but that meant something: students from across a province and across Canada successfully lobbied hundreds of trustees from 60+ school boards (representing millions of taxpayers and students) to nearly support student voice across the province. We have more than a hundred adult champions in the form of policy-makers, educational administrators, and more, and their support, just as much as the countless students behind this cause in Canada, and around the world, is only the beginning of our success.

How have you applied technology in innovative ways to support your work?

I work to coordinate a decentralized team across Canada, and also interact with peers across the globe, particularly Student Voice, based in the US. Social media is critical. It is a platform to take our conversations online, and to make them visible, apparent, and accessible.  We have used online media such as Twitter to have conversations and Facebook to connect. Hashtags online such as #StuVoice have also been key to finding other students. I actually met another student working on a student voice movement simply through social media at an international conference, which ended up connecting us towards running an international conference in NYC in April – Student Voice Live!

In your view, what is the most exciting innovation happening in education today?

The most exciting innovation in education today is students’ voices being included in the educational decision-making process. I think that having a student voice actively input on decisions creates a platform for the further development of all the other aspects and innovations in education around assessment, technology, and curriculum. Students are the constituents of the education system, and have valuable input towards improving it. Creating a feedback loop within education, inclusive of all stakeholders – including students, teachers, and parents – is absolutely critical.

Is there a 21st century skill (critical thinking and problem solving, communication, collaboration, or creativity and innovation) that you are most passionate about? Why?

Critical thinking as it relates to citizenship is very important. The fastest growing level of production in this world is information production. According to Kevin Kelly and UC Berkeley economists, the total production of new information in 2000 reached 1.5 exabytes. (For reference, an exabyte is 1073741824 gigabytes, or 67,108,864 full 16GB iPhones, and 1.5 exabytes is about 37,000 times the information in the entire holdings of the Library of Congress.) Our amount of information production has exponentially increased since then – the most recent statistic being 161 exabytes in 2007, with an assumed Internet output of a zettabyte – or 1000 exabytes – by 2015.

We are drowning in information, but nonetheless, must remain informed. If we are to learn for the 21st century, we have to learn how to critically analyze information efficiently, and continue to apply it as citizens to our society.

If you could give one educational tool to every child in the world, what would it be? Why?

Student trustees at district school boards and other educational decision-making bodies. I think the concept of having a dedicated student representative or student representatives sitting alongside trustees and/or superintendents at the board table in order to make educational decisions is important. More importantly, I believe that having the student voice institutionalized within education will ensure that it maintains a central role and foundation in future decision-making.

What is your country doing well currently to support education?

Student trustees have a strong precedent and indeed, a historical root – at the secondary school level – in my home province of Ontario. Under Section 55 in the Education Act, for more than a decade, the student voice has had a legislation-supported position within the primary and secondary education system on district school boards. The student trustee is not just a token, but rather provides the fulcrum for a greater student voice framework. I think that we do student voice really well, and that contributes to better education everywhere else, including in civics and careers education (where students have successfully inputted on curriculum and program reform), as well as other aspects of school environments, such as mental health and gay rights.

How must education change in your country to ensure that students are equipped to thrive in the 21st century?

I think that Canada, and every province and territory in it, needs to see the development of a student voice framework in every province. I also would advocate on specific policies that have seen, in Ontario, excellent reception from students such as: a BYOD or bring your own device policy (such as in the Peel District School Board) which progressively recommends students employ their own devices in school (and multiplies Internet bandwidth by ten-fold), a student leadership policy mandating student councils at every middle and high school, a mental health policy, and the allowing of gay-straight alliances in schools.

What is the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome to ensure students are receiving a quality education?

Tokenism on the part of institutions and lip service from adults. I think that we need to look at positive, useful ways to include students in the process. Further, students should be heard and not have their ideas merely consulted on and shelved.

How can teachers or school leaders facing similar challenges implement what you’ve learned through your work?

Check out http://studentvoicei.org, allow students to implement student governments, trustees, senates, etc.

About Jaxson Khan
Twitter handle: @jaxson

  • Birthplace: New Westminster, British Columbia, Canada
  • Current residence: Toronto, Canada
  • Education: University of Western Ontario, Huron University College
  • Website I check every day: Facebook, Twitter, BBC, Al Jazeera, Der Spiegel, NYTimes, Globe and Mail
  • Person who inspires me most: Elon Musk
  • Favorite childhood memory: The time I caved to peer pressure and jumped off a 65-foot cliff (a rite of passage for becoming a camp counsellor). It was called “The Ultimate”.
  • Next travel destination (work or pleasure): London, UK. I’ll be representing Canada at the G8 Youth Summit (Y8) in June as our Minister of Foreign Affairs. We will interact with other delegations, build consensus, negotiate, and deliver a final communiqué to all of the actual heads of state of the G8 & G20 countries.
  • When was the last time you laughed? Why? My brother was telling a story at the dinner table. His name is James D. Khan. Normally a fairly introspective fellow, he just started saying “I’M JIMMY D!” repeatedly. I couldn’t breathe for five minutes.
  • Favorite book: It by Stephen King
  • Favorite music: Indie/Electronic/House/Alternative. If I had to pick an artist: City and Colour
  • What is the best advice you have ever received? Don’t be obsessed with form. As in… if you want to make an impact in the world, it does not matter what form you take to get there, or what form your impact takes – just make it happen.
  • Your favorite quote or motto: “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” — Mark Twain


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