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Let pupils help design our school systems, says Unesco envoy

Call for pupils to be given say in the curriculum, education spending and 'entire' development of school systems

princess laurentien of the netherlands, yidan prize, hong kong, children, children councils, editorial

Children should be at the “very heart” of how school systems are designed, a Unesco education envoy has said.

Princess Laurentien of the Netherlands today said adults have to “get off a high horse” and open themselves up to the learner.

The royal, who was appointed Unesco Special Envoy on Literacy for Development in 2009, founded the Missing Chapter Foundation, a non-governmental organisation that “facilitates inter-generational dialogue between children and decision-makers in the public and private sectors” through “kids’ councils”.

She told today’s Yidan Prize Summit in Hong Kong: “I have countless examples of where children’s thinking is so different you will be absolutely amazed and in awe about the power of children to take us by the hand, to come up with new thinking.

“The next step, of course, is to apply this much more broadly in education.”

Princess Laurentien told the summit: “We have to take children seriously, to the very heart of education, and actually start co-designing not just curricula with children, but the entire way we develop our learning and school ecosystems from start to finish.

“I bet you children have an amazing ability to actually say 'How are we spending our money best?’, and yet we are separating the content and the budgetary approaches in our school systems. They can develop the rules of engagement together in a school.

“Now how do we do that? It’s the educators who need to be trained.

“We need to be stripping ourselves of the assumptions. We need to strip ourselves of the top-down approach. And we need to understand how to speak, and ask the right questions, and engage with children and listen to what they have to say.”

She said her approach did not mean that “children are completely ruling the world”, adding: “I also believe in structure. Children want structure. But within that let them be more free.”

Asked how her recommendations can be put into practice, Princess Laurentien said adults have to “listen to the learner". "Just go away and open yourselves and say ‘I don’t know, so tell me’.”

She added: “Get off a high horse, if one is on a high horse, and put yourself in the learning position”.

The summit, on the theme of ‘Educating for the future: how?’, was held by the Yidan Foundation.

Founded in 2016 by Chinese technology billionaire Charles Chen Yidan, it awards the Yidan Prize, worth almost $4 million, to two laureates every year.

Yesterday, the 2018 award for education research was presented to Larry Hedges, who developed the use of meta-analysis in education research.

Anant Agarwal, the founder and CEO of the non-profit online learning platform edX, received the award for education development.

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