Why we need student advocacy

by Viktor Grønne – student, activist, and Danish UNESCO Youth Representative

22776380045_a0e6faa32e_kAs we launch the 2017/8 youth version of the Global Education Monitoring (GEM) Report on how youth can help hold governments to account for education, the discussion naturally centred on youth, as a key constituency, and strategies on how youth can be mobilized to take actions. However, to me, there is an equally important discussion on why we want to mobilize youth. Far too often the answer is that “youth are the future” or that we “need to empower the future leaders”. Both statements fail to recognize the agency young individuals, and – not least – movements, possess and the inalienable impact agency has on quality learning. Beyond the moral necessity to engage youth better, a point often overlooked is that engaged youth can also lead to improved quality in learning.

After all, in the words of the Delors Report, “quality education enables people to develop all of their attributes and skills to achieve their potential as human beings and members of society.” It is a recognition that learning is about more than merely numeracy and literacy. Learning needs to take a empower the learner, whether a child, young person, or adult, to engage in our societies. If we are serious about not only getting every child into school, but also actually ensuring quality education that caters to the ambition of the SDG agenda, the first step we need to take is to engage students.

In Denmark, already from the first year in school (age 6), pupils get to elect their representatives for a school council. Naturally, the responsibility of the council develops from organising the annual costume party into more substantial discussions of school life in senior years. My own story of student activism began in 2006, when I ran for the school council on a platform of buying new football goals, and was elected by my peers. I ended up as president of the school council, and presented the idea to my rector. He agreed to pay, as long I would find someone to produce and deliver the goals. Later in the school year, I ended up on a board with parents and school management that had to decide on renovating part of the school, and even though there were things I did not understand completely, I was still being listened to and encouraged to speak up. I was 14 years old and had never felt as empowered before.

sign upEleven years later, I have organised demonstrations against education cuts, lobbied national politicians to improve conditions for student representation, partnered with student representatives in Zimbabwe to engage ideas and experience, represented 15 million students in Europe when key student rights were being violated in our member countries, and travelled the world to represent students during the education post-2015 negotiations.

Despite almost 20 years in an education system that by all means embodies quality, student activism is without a doubt what has prepared me the best to participate in society as an active citizen and work towards sustainable development. School politics is a microcosm of the broader society, and so, in working together with my peers, discussing with teachers, parents, and leaders, and speaking up for the change that we as students want to see, I have come to learn the dynamics of how a sustainable society with human rights, dialogue, and respect for each other at its core works.

Remember, it all started with the micro-action of my rector entrusting me to buy new football goals and the sense of feeling listened to as a 14-year old. My own experience speaks magnitudes to the importance of empowering youth by actively involving them in their education. Feeling empowered to lead change in our everyday lives is one of the simplest tools we can implement towards achieving quality education for all.

That is why we need student advocacy. Because it not only improves accountability, but because it is also one of the strongest catalysts of quality education.

1Over the coming weeks the World Education Blog will feature the voices of the GEM Report’s Youth Ambassadors for its Right to Education Campaign. The series will highlight the essential role that students and youth have and can play in holding governments to account for providing inclusive, equitable and quality education for all and share excerpts from the GEM Report’s Right to Education Campaign.




  1. nicxe article and very knowledgable information for all students to student, activist, and Danish UNESCO Youth Representative.. so thanks for sharing this

  2. It seems so obvious – ask the customer what she or he wants in order to drive improvement but in the education sector we have barely got to the stage where we gingerly ask the client (the parent) through school management committees or councils or some such what is or is not working. We have not started to ask the beneficiary (the student) what we have done right, what could be done better and how. So what examples do we have that: (i) use students to assist with the assessment of learning, particularly non-cognitive learning acquisition; or (ii) that compare learning acquisition in a controlled trial in a system where students are empowered versus in the traditional ‘top-down structures? Going forward though, as cognitive learning is acquired and/or accessed differently and technical skills acquisition requires constant re-tooling…then non cognitive acquisition will come more to the fore and this can only be assessed in partnership with the learner. At the end of the day if I am not happy then I am not motivated and if I am not motivated then I don’t learn and retain learning…and you can only assess this if you ask me!

  3. I think student advocacy is good at all ages. Elementary school, high school and college. It can help them feel empowered, teach responsibility, and definitely improve accountability. Great read! Thank you!

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