Interview with Ajani Lebourne, President of the St. Lucia National Students’ Council
Ajani is 19 years old and hails from the country of St. Lucia. He is the current President of the National Students’ Council (NSC) in St. Lucia, serving a term that spans from 2015 to 2016. Before being President, Ajani volunteered with the National Youth Council and Ministry of Youth and Sports, then served as the General Secretary from 2013-2015 has been immersed in the student movement in St. Lucia. He has been focussing on empowering students to take up leadership roles in their school and their communities.
Ajani, along with the other members of the National Students’ Council of St. Lucia, has been advocating for affordable and quality education as well as students’ rights. He is a stern believer that all students must have access to quality and affordable education, and that quality education cannot be achieved without the consideration of students’ rights and safety.
Here’s what Ajani had to say about the work he, along with the NSC has been doing through education:
Q: Why have you chosen to work with the National Student’s Council and focus on work in education?
A: In the context of St. Lucia, it is viewed by many that the older folks were seen as the ones to address the affairs of the country. However, I believe that the ones who hold the keys to the future of St. Lucia are the young people, and more specifically the students. I think that the school environment is a much more controlled space where young people can be empowered and reached. Therefore, it is important that the schools and curriculum are as best as they can be, and as a young leader I felt that I should work to help ensure that this was the case.
Q: What is the scope of the National Student’s Council in ST. Lucia?
A: The National Students’ Council has a total of 3 tertiary institutions, 25 secondary schools and 2 primary schools being represented. However, there is currently a push for more primary schools to come on board, because children who are students need to be represented as well. Overall, the NSC represents the concerns and interests of 15 – 20 thousand students.
Q: Why is affordable and quality education something the NSC advocates for?
A: We advocate for affordable and quality education because we see it as being a key component in the development of youth into leaders. If the education is of a poor quality it means that St. Lucia would have leaders of a poor quality. If the education is too expensive, then potential leaders would not be able to access it and their growth as leaders would be stunted.
The NSC of St. Lucia believes that students must be able to afford their text books, and their parents should not have to break their budgets to get those books or tell their children that the necessary books can’t be obtained because they are too expensive and there is a lack of money. Similarly, we believe that when students are able to obtain an education, it must be an education that is grounded in a curriculum that is revised to ensure that topics are relevant.
When education isn’t affordable, makes students feel disadvantaged and students should never have to feel that way. Rather, they should be empowered. Also, while students are held accountable to the administration of their schools, their schools should also be held accountable to them as well.
So if we want to have a St. Lucia with good leaders, we have to ensure that they receive affordable and quality education while they are still students. Therefore, the NSC advocates for students who may feel disadvantaged, we empower them and we work to ensure that there is a middle grown in terms of affordability and quality of their education.
Q: What are some of the major projects that the NSC has undertaken?
- Student Leader Summer Camp in collaboration with the National Youth Council
Well the NSC hosts a summer camp in collaboration with the National Youth Council. This summer camp focuses on the training of student leaders. They are t various topics relating to their personal and leadership development that helps them to effectively advocate for quality education in their schools.
I am a product of that summer camp and it helped to build my confidence and my leadership skills. So the idea is to continue empowering and training student leaders in the same way I was empowered and trained. It is hoped that ultimately, the student leaders would be able to use the empowerment and training that they gain to better represent the students’ in their schools and advocate for them to have quality education that is also affordable.
- National Students’ Forum
The National Students’ Forum is a place where they could get their voices heard. It is a platform where they could voice their concerns directly to the leaders of the country including the Minister of Education and the Minister of Youth. The forum is also a place where the students could also get direct feedback from these leaders. It is a good platform where students get to hold their leaders accountable but also come together and come up with their own solutions to their own problems.
- Campaign #GivingStudentsTheDriveToThrive
This campaign was done on social media and it culminated with 2 symposiums that were held across the island. The purpose of the campaign was to campaign help empower students to be leaders and to bring awareness to how they can become leaders and advocates. It was cantered around the need for students to be strengthened. Overall more than 80% of the schools across St. Lucia were represented.
- Advocacy for better security, infrastructure and teaching materials in schools
We, at the NSC, felt that the some schools in St. Lucia could have had safer and more secure environments. Therefore we have been advocating with the Ministry of Education and the schools to increase the security in schools. Safe and more secure schools would allow students to feel more relaxed in the school environment and they would be able to student without having to worry about their well being. So we want to feel safe and we do not want any student to feel threatened by anything. Added to that, we believe that the teaching material for each student should be of the highest quality and should always be updated so that students can learn the best that they possibly can. We also believe that quality education also includes the quality of the infrastructure of schools. Therefore, in our advocacy for quality education, we have been voicing our concerns to our leaders so that they could ensure that certain improvements and repairs can be made to schools that need them.
Q: have there been any challenges that you and your team have faced while advocating for quality and affordable education?
A: Yes. There have been several challenges. One of our main challenges has been financing. We have always had a lot of plans to address student concerns and to help students become better leaders. However, there is never enough money to do everything. We have to be selective in terms of what we do and try our best to ensure that we work with the resources we have to obtain the best possible result that can be achieved.
Succession is also a problem at times and it stems from the issue that the NSC has been tackling through some of our campaigns, camps and symposiums: some students do not feel as if they are good enough or equipped to lead while some, although they are interested in being involved in the work of the NSC, shy away from the positions of leadership. Motivation is key, and we have to invest a lot sometimes to motivate students to convert their interest in the NSC into them wanting to take up the mantle of leadership.
Q: If you were to leave a word of encouragement to young people, what would that be?
A: As a young Caribbean leader, I want all of you young people to be confident in yourselves and not just see yourself as an element of change but instead as the origin of change. Be comfortable in who you are and in your own identity. Go on your own path of self discovery especially since knowing who you are is a key to you being able to help others to change and become better. Be persistent, always persevere and keep on fighting despite the challenges. Work together to make a better commonwealth through collaboration and team work!