Current Context

Connecting the Dots: Many Routes to Student Empowerment

What youth empowerment means to me is young people making decisions, having agency and being able to change their lives and the lives of other people.

– High school student

As we wade more deeply into the changing landscape of the 21st century, an exciting shift is occurring in the field of education in Ontario, re-shaping adult perceptions of students, their roles and capacities.

Preparing students for the rapidly changing landscape of the 21st century is increasingly complex. What will young people need to survive and thrive in our communities and our labour force ten years hence? The pace of technological advances has rendered obsolete the simple acquisition of knowledge. Flourishing in our increasingly diverse communities and workplaces, situated in an increasingly interconnected and interdependent world, requires a particular set of guidelines based on shared values and beliefs.

Navigating such fast-paced change demands a range of skills and abilities such as critical thinking, the capacity to take initiative, and a clear moral framework for ethical decision-making. Interpersonal skills and pro-social attitudes such as respect for difference, responsibility, empathy and cooperation are essential for students in their future role as engaged citizens in a diverse, dynamic and democratic society.

The school—as a predominant sphere of influence in students’ lives—functions as a laboratory or a testing ground for learning and trying out the skills and attitudes that are the foundation of respectful, safe and caring human interactions and relationships.

In order to adequately prepare our students for the future, many teachers and school staff are more commonly engaging in vastly different pedagogical processes and linkages than we may have had access to ourselves, as students. Increasingly, the focus is not only on what students know, but also on who they are, what they want and think, and the many ways in which they learn.

While there is evidence that this approach leads to greater achievement and overall school performance and helps prepare students in developing skills and habits needed in the workplace, the impetus for this evolution is not solely pragmatic; it is founded on a vision of the student as a whole person and as a human being, too. Education, from this perspective, is therefore a process of engaging not only the minds of young people but also their hearts, and thus supports the development of character—of our many shared and essential positive human qualities and values.