Learners now have a voice in education

Martin Whittaker discovers an initiative that puts the students at the core of education

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The Independent Online

If you want to radically rethink education, who better to do the thinking than students themselves? That’s the fundamental principle behind the WISE Learners’ Voice Programme. This initiative brings together some of the most creative and capable young people from around the world and puts them to work on innovative projects to reshape the education environment.

When students help create their own learning environments, they become active participants in their education. In return, they receive world-class training in skills such as entrepreneurship, leadership and communication.

Ahsan Malik (pictured), 23, is a fine example of this programme in action. He graduated from the University of Warwick with a law degree last year and is now returning to take a Masters. He sees a great contrast between the UK, where he says school is taken for granted, and the way it is valued in developing countries.

As a teenager in Slough he witnessed some of his peers go off the rails educationally. “I grew up in a tough neighbourhood,” he says. “I had friends dealing drugs while they were sitting their GCSEs. When you’re that age, younger children see that and think ‘this is the life’.”

Ahsan took another route, choosing a different school to his friends to take A-levels. He became the first in his family to go to university.

While studying at Warwick he also established his own business selling argan oil, which generated a six-figure turnover while supporting a women’s social co-operative in Morocco, where the oil is made.

Last year, he gained a place on the Learners’ Voice Programme, which puts students from around the world into groups and helps them develop their own education initiatives.

Ahsan’s group has founded the Orenda Project (orendaproject.org), which aims to build a school in the slums of Islamabad using local labour and resources, and to devise a curriculum tailored to local issues, such as teaching basic hygiene and entrepreneurship.

The Learners’ Voice Programme has helped the group develop their ideas, taking them to conferences and intensive training workshops in Qatar and Madrid.

“The training is such high quality. My mentor is a former Harvard professor and they brought in people from some of the top American business schools. I’ve had training from Yale University.”

“It’s an amazing scheme and has been a wonderful experience,” concludes Malik. “I have met people from as far afield as the US, Guatemala, South Africa and the Netherlands, and have built some lifelong friendships.”

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