Aug 6, 2020
Franklin D. Roosevelt once said “We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future.” In celebration of International Youth Day on the 12th August Meryl Batchelder considers what it means to ‘build our youth for the future’ and how teachers can empower young people to be change-makers.
The times they are a changing
Indisputably, we are in a period of unprecedented global change. In addition to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and growing demand for social justice though the Black Lives Matter campaign there are also the significant threats posed by climate change and ecological collapse which seriously threaten the status quo humans have enjoyed for the past millennium. The future looks reasonably challenging for the cohorts of Generation Z (born between 1997 to 2012) and Generation Alpha (born in early 2010s) but they will be instrumental in both mitigating, and adapting to, the issues ahead. Teachers are ideally placed, and even fundamental, to helping young people plan the path ahead and in aiding them to amplify their voices.
International Youth Day (IYD) on the 12th August gives an opportunity to celebrate and mainstream young peoples’ voices, actions and initiatives. Youth participation in political, economic and social aspects of life should never be underestimated or undervalued as they have the most to invest in the future. The theme of International Youth Day 2020, “Youth Engagement for Global Action” seeks to highlight the ways in which the engagement of young people at the local, national and global levels can enrich institutions and processes to help drive change towards a sustainable future.
Power to the (young) people
There are currently almost 2 billion young people between the ages of 10 and 24 which is the largest youth population ever. Four in 10 people – 42% of the global population – are aged under 25. Just imagine how their representation and engagement in formal institutional politics could significantly enhance decision and policy making. In addition to the impact of the school strike for climate movement there are a couple of other recent success stories relating to the power of youth to change the face of politics.
In the US youth voter turnout during the 2016 elections was just 46% of eligible voters aged 18 to 29, compared to 70% of the oldest voters, 70 and over. In the wake of Donald Trump’s election, youth movements began building campaigns and gaining visibility, with climate change as a key issue, driven in part by the burgeoning Sunrise Movement. Young activists were trained to canvass for candidates who were proponents of renewable energy. By the time the 2018 midterms came around, 20% more young Americans went out to vote and the Democrats won the House.
Closer to home, this year the Welsh Senedd announced that 16 and 17 year olds will be able to vote for the first time at the Senedd Elections in 2021 as part of the biggest changes to the democratic process in Wales in half a century; "Empowering young people to vote at 16 is a powerful statement from the Senedd that we value their views.”
According to the UN, enabling the engagement of youth in formal political mechanisms increases the fairness of political processes by reducing democratic deficits, contributes to better sustainable policies, and also has symbolic importance that can further contribute to restore trust in public institutions, especially among youth. Moreover, the vast majority of challenges humanity currently faces, such as the COVID-19 outbreak and climate change require concerted global action and the meaningful engagement and participation of young people to be addressed effectively.
Action starts in the classroom (or online learning environment)
In such changing times it is essential to engage pupils in subjects that are relevant to them. The World Economic Forum report issued in 2018 (www.weforum.org/agenda/2018/08/what-you-need-to-know-about-the-worlds-young-people-in-7-charts/) identified that young people really care about the world around them and believe climate change and the destruction of nature are the most critical issues. It is likely that a requirement for resilience in the face of global pandemics and increasing social justice can be now added to the list. None of these themes currently have a significant representation in the existing national curriculum of England.
Anyone with an interest in education has probably heard of the Lev Vygotsky quote “The teacher must adopt the role of facilitator not content provider.” As teachers, we can be the spark that lights the fuse and facilitate meaningful action. Pupils are becoming increasingly aware of global issues and, as a result, they become less interested in the mundane or topics that seem irrelevant. Form time or PSHE lessons can therefore be taken as an opportunity to discuss what is important to pupils and then strengthen their knowledge and understanding on issues that affect their futures. Teachers can then use their networks to connect pupils to organisations or individuals that can help them take positive action or amplify their voices so that they can be heard.
According to the Weforum report 50% of young people around the world use the internet. This is good news, because in the future work will depend heavily on technology. It is predicted almost two thirds (65%) of children entering primary schools today will end up in a job that doesn’t yet exist. Technology will be at the heart of most of tomorrow’s jobs, and computing and advanced technological skills, such as knowledge of artificial intelligence, will be highly sought after. Far from being fearful of an uncertain future, the majority of young people are optimistic about the impact of technology and innovation.
In the UK, August 12th, seems an unusual date for the International Youth Day as our pupils are on holiday and the day is more commonly related to the Glorious Twelfth which is the start of the shooting season for red grouse. A web search on IYD events in the UK for 2020 turned up zero results and it seems likely that the day will pass across Britain with little fanfare. So, who is responsible for raising the voices of young people? How do they become ready for global action? There are obviously some parents who support their children’s activism but if we are looking at getting cohorts of young people involved in driving change then we need to look to their teachers or other adult role models to become facilitators.
Young people will form a key element in an inclusive recovery and the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) during the UN ‘Decade of Action’ leading up to 2030. For this to be realised we need them to become change-makers.
Change-making is about spotting a social or environmental problem, and having the skills and determination to do something about it. This year’s IYD seeks to put the spotlight on youth engagement through the following three interconnected streams:
- Engagement at the local/community level
- Engagement at the national level (formulation of laws, policies, and their implementation)
- Engagement at the global level.
In the vein of ‘think global, act local’ it is easiest to start with a project around school. It can be something simple such as starting a petition to insist on removing single use plastics from their own school, starting a bee-friendly flower patch or writing to their MP to demand action on a local matter. Let the pupils decide on the route they wish to take as ultimately they will only take action if they are passionate about the issue – make sure it is SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time constrained) so they can appreciate the results of their actions. If you are looking for inspiration Transform Our World (www.transform-our-world.org) are hosting a Youth Climate Summit in November with a wide range of different themes.
Once you have started on a project then embrace technology – get pupils to produce a blog, promote their actions online and share their achievements loud and wide (#BeTheChange). Many of the 2 billion other young people in the world are already taking positive action or might be inspired by your school’s story. All teachers already appreciate that the vocation is much, much more than simply preparing young people for the next exam. So, once we get back into school, in addition to all of our other roles and responsibilities, we are in the perfect position to ‘build our youth for the future’ to paraphrase the words of Franklin D. Roosevelt or, as Boris would say, ‘build back better’.
#YouthLead (which will trigger a new Youth emoji)
The commemoration of IYD 2020 will take the form of a podcast-style discussion led by youth for youth: https://www.un.org/en/observances/youth-day
- UN Youth2030 Youth Strategy: www.un.org/youthenvoy/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/18-00080_UN-Youth-Strategy_Web.pdf
- Education for the Sustainable Development Goals: https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000247444/PDF/247444eng.pdf.multi
https://www.teachthefuture.uk/ Teach the Future is a youth-led campaign to urgently repurpose the entire education system around the climate emergency and ecological crisis.
https://www.transform-our-world.org/youth-climate-summit-2020 Youth Climate Summit 2020, 9th – 13th November. Schools from around the UK are coming together online for the Youth Climate Summit during what would have been the week of COP26 to take action to create a more just, sustainable world and make commitments and pledges for the planet. The Summit will be a week-long virtual festival of days of themed discussions and activities based around Climate, Social & Racial Justice Education Skills & Careers Health & Wellbeing.
Day themes of the Youth Climate Summit:
- Nature & Oceans (biodiversity, habitats, conservation, water, oceans, SDG 6 14 & 15)
- Pollution, Waste & Travel (clean transport, clean energy, plastic pollution, air pollution, eco-tourism, circular economy SDG 7 & 11)
- Food, Farming & Forests (meat industry, food waste, palm oil, deforestation, rainforests, agriculture, adaptation SDG 3 & 15)
- Fashion & Consumption (fashion, electronic, big business, sustainable business, SDG 12)
- A Sustainable Future – renewable energy, zero carbon, teaching the future, production & supply chains, green careers, social, racial & environmental justice, adaptation & resilience building (all the SDGs!)