Rihards Irbe - The President of the Riga Pupil's Council and a passionate young man who sees that young people should participate in decision-making and create opportunities in Latvia. Or how young leaders see future education development in Riga.
Author: Anzelika Zuba
Please introduce yourself and tell us a bit more about what you are doing? What's your main occasion?

I am 18 years old, and I still study in high school. And in my daily life, I work a lot with different students and student councils. Make our life better and create schools a better place for our future. For example, make schools more inclusive.

You are our RPC president. Why have you decided to become such a person?

I think I should start with that. Six years ago, I joined for the first time during my school student councils meeting, and I don't remember anything from it, because it was such a long time ago. Two years after active participation in it, I became the president of my pupils' Council in my school. And I also went to all of these meetings that are conducted for the schools Council, which is a different organisation in the school. And there I felt the importance of just hearing students' voices when it comes to talking about student things. And I could see that schools about time, not really suitable for our mindset, and our life and changing. And I have a huge interest in changing that. From working with a lot of stakeholders to make that happen, and having a real impact on something, for example, our school system, I decided to join RSD. It was four years ago, and I wanted to go even further than my school student council and learn more about, like, how we can impact our lives. And what's our role in, in changing it. Because from one side, it's all politics, if you think about it.

And I think that's what our student council consists of. For example, we are as RSD, we work with the Department of Culture, Sports and education. So we have a voice in it. They're working on something, we can say, from our perspective that maybe we should do this or that. And yes, it can change the whole thing, a lot.

What is your message? You already mentioned that you want to change the system. Is it the only thing that motivates you? Is it the only message you want to bring to the country?

I think from a human perspective, just working with other youngsters and just making them feel safer and feel included. I think that's very important for me, just the human aspect of being friendly and helping each other.

What actually has this experience given you already? What you've learned, maybe some insights that you want to share?

I should probably start with the famous competencies for me, I think it's probably team- building and how to lead a team. Second would be analysing problems just seeing them. But I think we can see problems as people. But I think harder, it's just having a big problem and taking it to the ground and trying to build up the system that will solve it. I think that takes a lot of thinking. I don't know about the English, it's under disciplinary. Which comes from different disciplines and solve them. And I can feel that I have some kind of bigger spectre on what's happening in our schools, how should it be. I think that comes from also talking with a lot of teachers and just getting their experiences, a lot of different things and just learning about it. And I feel like if I learn more, and I still have the student aspect, it's even, it has even more value. So that's also one of my motivations. And yes, I said about the spectre of what's happening in our schools today, and maybe, how it should be. Or should it be happening then, but the students name for example, at the moment of working, it's a model that would help students and teachers more together. It would promote civic engagement and school students will have the possibility to work with the teachers and talk about things that they wouldn't be talking on daily basis, for example, what I as a student need to be more successful in our modern times, and also from teachers perspective. What do teachers promote, in students to create their lives more impactful and more suitable for our times, and the problem was that the students are not included in the schools life. So that's why they're creating this model. And then, in whom are we talking about what students need? I would say that it's a free environment, it's that possibility to express themselves and not be afraid of that. It's the cooperation of other students, with teachers with all the stakeholders, and also support and if they're looking at the school systems together, sometimes a little autonomy wouldn't hurt either. But this for starters, it is probably the free environment and support.

Can you mention some project or event or idea you are proud of? Is it the one you mentioned before?

I almost feel like the project should have a purpose. I don't like the activities and projects that are just there to feel, feel the checks and just make them but in RSD we have. We have brought together almost half of the schools, Student Council, presidents and vice presidents to just talk to solve problems, to think about them, to share experiences and talk about how we can make our schools a better place. I think that's really important that we have done it because it has a big impact. Because school presidents and vice presidents are the people that encourage and inspire other students to be active on just speak and to come to pupils councils and to what their I think it's important to work with the Presidents and Vice Presidents of schools to councils,but I was writing a research organised, the research in the past year about about motivates students to participate in student councils. I've worked with a lot of people on it.I think the conclusions that came out of it were really important because it first of all, it gave me a lot of new ideas, what is wrong with it, for example, that we are not really hearing the student voices in our schools, because nobody knows how to do it. Google Forms is not always the best idea to do it. There's a lot of other methods, so the student council becomes this little elite group that is actually not listening to other students. Yes, the research on student motivation is an important one for me and also I would like to think that it is important for our city and maybe for all the student councils.

You are an active young person who already does a lot on the local level in Riga. Do you want to broaden your experience and influence more since you have your own vision? Do you want to become a politician?

I always like politics.

To be a politician… As they are, with a lot of political knowledge, but they also feel like psychologists could be politicians, and normal people should be politicians. Because in Latvia, I think we lack a lot of social innovations. If there's a possibility to change something I would like to get involved in politics in the process of making our environment and the world a better place. I certainly think it was a follow up question about being afraid of it. But I certainly can say I'm not afraid of and I don't see a reason why should other people be afraid of it because it just like it's how we create our life a better place and I feel like in our times it's something that people are scared of it, because they feel like there are these big people that have I don't know a lot of degrees and just very mean and not not humans are could say that I feel like bowling takes should be the most human thing. Of course you need to look at economic aspect and 100 more aspects but also the just the human part in it. Like for example I would like to get involved in politics. At some point I feel like If I could leave an impact on something, then just not worry about too much of the political things, but just how it is and how can we make this place a better place.

Yeah, I would say that young people are afraid of politics. For them, it seems really complicated. It influences every level: economical, political and social. More power, more responsibilities. People are usually afraid to take this responsibility and not everyone is ready to take it. Take the initiative and say "I will be the leader" just as you did with RSD. That's why I see that not everyone is ready for this kind of responsibility. That's why they are actually afraid of it.

Good point. I can mention that in my research about motivation. In student councils, one of the things that came out with it was students don't want to take the responsibility. So that's why they don't join the student council. It's interesting that you mentioned that. Yes, but I think that's where we are going in the future. To create societies and people that can take the lead.How can we create schools that promote this distinction? These possibilities make students active in social, political, economical life.

This year is the European year of Youth. How do you see it? What do you want to address the youth this year, maybe, as a RSD president or just yourself?

First of all, happy European Year of Youth! I think this is the best time to have something like this. And my message would be that I think it's finally time to stop talking about how important is civic and social participation, but actually creating practical systems and modules that include if I could say, these competencies in our, in our students daily life, that's why I'm trying to create these models to be that is the and for the other stakeholders in Riga, because it's not that hard. You just have to talk about all the stakeholders. As I said, you can come to a compromise that would just quickly change the lives and maybe purpose even of schools, because I believe that schools in the future could be different from how they are now. But about questions that I like address as I said, this practical work is still in a lot of big meetings with a lot of big people, the educational people, it's still there just talking about how it it's important to address and note civic engagement and it's it's been included in a lot of art in For example, our newly formed school in Latvia, but I don't feel like it's enough. And I think it's important because if it's the European Year of Youth, somehow you have to get to the youth and make them feel like they have a role in it. That comes civic and social participation, but engagement.

Do you have any advice for young people? To your friends, to our Latvian friends, to young people in Latvia, or all over the world? How to find themselves if they are looking?

I think in our times, it's hard to see ourselves because already from birth, we have been told a lot of things. By family, by reference, by our friends and we shouldn't be that. and then after that, it's even harder, a lot of time to hear ourselves. Because if we're looking for ourselves, we have to hear what comes out of our heart. And I think there are a lot of methods to do that, for example, it's important to just clear out our minds and not get impacted by the environment surrounding us, which is hard, because we're still going to get impacted, we can really avoid that. But the question is, how are we going to still stand for and follow our uniqueness and call and express our unique being and not be afraid and ashamed to express it. We still have to work. But the impact that comes from our environment, we can say we avoided it but it is still here, our heart says because I'm not going to get in it. But just like before our conversation, we have a lot of motivational factors, the power with which includes money status, and all that is hard. Intelligence and just society. But I think we have to kind of get to the part. It's the heart that thinks about real love and what makes us happy. And just feels like it's the right thing to do. Maybe this is just for our conversation, but it was important for us to just follow your heart and don't give up because yes, I think that's the most important part.
Autor: Anzelika Zuba