Keelan Heesterman, 17, has been chosen as the winner of the inaugural Student Voices Writing Competition after his earnest depiction of 2020 won over judges.



A seventeen-year-old student from Karuma High School in New Zealand has been named the winner of the inaugural Student Voices Writing Competition.

The competition, the brainchild of technology platform Education Perfect and The Big Smoke’s TBS Next Gen, was launched to encourage young writers to express their views on the future of education, the role of technology in education, and the impact COVID-19 has had on their lives during 2020.

Keelan Heesterman, 17, from Karuma High School in New Zealand has won the competition with his essay, ‘The Free Trial No-one Asked For’

Keelan’s essay was among scores of entries from all over Australia and New Zealand, and was judged the best by both a panel of experts and by a popular vote of The Big Smoke’s readers. 

The essay was related to the lockdowns associated with COVID-19 and was a reflection on the hard situations he and his fellow students were suddenly faced with during New Zealand’s lockdown and school closures, and the unique perspectives and coping mechanisms they needed to employ. 

Heesterman was grateful that his love of writing has provided an opportunity to have his voice heard by so many people and is looking forward to the editorial mentorship that he has won from The Big Smoke.

“I’m incredibly grateful to all the people who voted for my article and supported me in this competition. 

“It is a privilege to have this opportunity to grow as a writer and receive mentorship from professional journalists. 

“To say I’m excited would be an understatement,” said Heesterman.


Student Voices Competition Winner, Keelan Heesterman.


EP’s CEO, Alex Burke, congratulated Keelan and the other finalists and participants, saying that the competition showed the true depth of talent among the youth across Australia and New Zealand.

“Providing a student voice is so important in education, and I encourage everyone to read all the shortlisted entries, as it emphasises how important students’ insights are in creating a future for education,” said Burke. 


The essay was related a reflection on the hard situations he and his fellow students were suddenly faced with during lockdown and school closures, and the unique perspectives and coping mechanisms they needed to employ.


“Keelan is a very deserving winner with his fantastically cynical, wise and honest entry displaying mature prose.

“His human-first approach is central to any school community, and it also aligns with EP’s mission—humanising technology for lifelong learners,” he continued.

On the calibre of entries, TBS Editor-in-Chief and judge, Mathew Mackie, was very impressed.

“We’ve been astonished by the quality of the pieces submitted, and selecting five finalists was extremely difficult,” he said.

“I highly recommend that readers take a look at all the finalists’ works, both from a literary perspective and understanding how young people view important topics of our time,” he continued.


Other finalist works

In her piece titled ‘The reality of education during a fatal pandemic,’ for example, finalist Charlotte Wells captured vividly the relatable monotony of lockdown: “Catch up on work. Feel stressed but do nothing about it. Return to bed. Contemplate life. Stress about our future. Out of bed. Eat something. Keep eating. Stressing. Thinking.”

New Zealander Madison Taylor reflected in her essay that ‘despite numerous lockdowns, school at a distance hasn’t been so bad,” going on to say that online learning and video conferencing enabled her to overcome some anxieties she’d felt previously around actively participating in lessons.

“Like many of my peers, I’m pretty self-conscious,” she explained, “I’m nervous asking questions in class, especially with all my classmates watching. But lockdown did wonders for my confidence.”

Another finalist, Ricky Sarup, bravely called for a “reality check” to the education system, claiming outdated curricula does little to help teenagers discover their callings, or prepare them for life or university beyond high school.

“The education department needs to add a style of teaching where students are able to experience how a real job in a field would actually be, instead of the best-case scenario,” he believes.

12-year old Soneera Sunder received a notable mention from the judges for her essay entitled ‘The Role of Technology in Education’, in which she described the powerful impact of technology on learning, and even the environment, concluding that “as technology is improving, we must change accordingly to have it sustained and to implement it into our lifestyles as well as changing the technology itself to suit our needs.”

“In a time of disruption and rapid change to teaching and learning, it’s so inspiring to hear strong student voices that can help to shape the future of education” added James Santure, Head of Product and Content at EP.



You can read the winner and finalists’ articles here

Keelan’s work, as well as the work of all the Student Voices finalists, are also available on The Big Smoke.





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