The highlight of the 13th European Youth Summit, was the result of a month long collaboration between AYUDH and UNESCO MGIEP. For the first time ever, AYUDH independently organised a Talking Across Generations on Education (iTAGe) event. Throughout the month preceding the summit, youth from around the world participated in discussions surrounding four questions about the role of education in fostering young people’s active citizenship. These discussions reached over 210,000 people, and had 8,000 interactions on social media platforms. Summit participants continued the dialogue during the week in their working groups which focused on Peaceful and Nonviolent Societies, Sustainability, and European and Global Citizenship.
The morning of July 22nd began with 250 youth from 26 countries excitedly preparing for their first ever iTAGe event, which was live-streamed on YouTube. To kickstart the event, Mr Claudius Siebel, Program Referent from National German Agency the EU ERASMUS+ program, spoke about the importance of non-formal education: “We strongly believe in the extraordinary power of non-formal education, and for us, it must be an integral part of the whole education system”. He highlighted the work of AYUDH Europe as an excellent example of such non-formal education. Next, Radhika Bhatnagar, Communications and Social Media Officer at MGIEP, spoke on behalf of UNESCO MGIEP: “We are very excited to collaborate with AYUDH. Over the past few days, I have interacted with some of the young people and panelists here, and I am very interested in their insightful comments and contributions they have to make.”
Representatives from the three working groups then presented the outcomes of their discussions. Participant Rosalie Neijzen expressed her concerns about European citizenship: “One of the main challenges we face in becoming European citizens is the often very difficult and limited interaction between young people and government”. In her workshop, participants came up with the idea to create a series of short videos with the aim of empowering youth to become politically engaged. Members of the Sustainability working group presented an interactive plan they envisaged to reduce waste, while those in the Peaceful and Nonviolent Societies forged ‘Project Spark’, an initiative to raise self-esteem and combat bullying amongst school children.
Just before the official iTAGe discussion began, Simone McLoughlin (Ireland) and Vivek Bhurtun (United Kingdom) presented the Youth Declaration. Written by Dorian Spaak (France), the declaration took into account the thoughts and opinions of the 250 summit participants and those who contributed to the online discourse. The senior policy makers and advisors present all promised to disseminate the declaration to their respective Ministries of Education, Health, Youth, and Sports. You can read the declaration here.
Finally, it was time for the official iTAGe discussion, chairing the dialogue was Veronika Soboleva, Founder at VS Consulting and Head of Business Development at Harbour Space University. She was joined onstage by the three senior decision makers; Judith Klein of RORG Org., Norway, Dr. Daniela Worek of European Network on Teacher Education Policies (ENTEP), and Veronica Fedorchenko of UNESCO, Sector for Social and Human Sciences, as well as the 9 youth representatives from diverse backgrounds such as medicine, law, fashion and commerce; Louise Arnesen (Norway), Darcie Anderson (Ireland), Aiknaath Jain (UK), Jyoti Daalmans (The Netherlands), Shabiha Rah (The Netherlands), Sara Keil (Germany), Tilmann Dietrich (Germany), Raphael Manoudian (France) and Linda du Roy (France).
When speaking about the role of education in supporting young people to practice their active citizenship and contribute to the implementation and monitoring of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Tilmann, a commerce student, noted that “In order to have citizenship and to tackle the SDGs, you must have respect for humanity, and you need to develop compassion”. Louise, a law student, commented that in the education she received growing up in Norway, a strong emphasis was put on kindness, empathy and respect from an early age. Veronica Fedorchenko spoke about the importance of youth inclusion in policy making: “For the implementation of the SDGs, the youth have to be equipped with the tools that will enable them to be part of the policy-making processes”.
When Aiknaath, a medical student, spoke about how education can inspire young people to cultivate empathy, mindfulness, self-reflection and self-transformation in order to contribute to a culture of peace and nonviolence, he remarked that “Schoolchildren often spend more time with teachers than parents or siblings, so they have to be a real point of inspiration. They are education us, and they are cultivating our mindsets”. Sara, a psychology student, added “the purpose of education should be to understand each other, so that there will be less fear of others, less hate against them, and less radical extremism”. Judith Klein remarked that although there are many challenges to including empathy in the classroom, the silver lining to the problem is that there is now a global agreement to its importance. Shabiha, also a psychology student, suggested that “emotional intelligence should be a module included in both EU and global curricula”.
Linda, a political science student, spoke about the lack of connection she experienced with nature whilst growing up in a city, and how education can encourage young people to experience, practice and promote sustainable lifestyles if it fosters an emotional bond between students and nature: “Sustainability should not just be a subject, but rather a value which informs all decisions”.
Jyoti, a fashion management student, added that schools need to “put an emphasis on critical thinking and responsible consumption” because although “most people want to do good, without realising it, in their everyday activities, they are contributing to the opposite”. In answering the final question, Raphael, a history student, reflected upon how the disconnection between theoretical and practical learning in education can impede young people to take ownership over their roles and responsibilities as European and global citizens.
Darcie, a high school student, added that “by educating young people about their government, voting, or how to become a policy maker, you empower them to participate in democracies, and to become change-makers in their societies”.
In the closing dialogue, Dr. Daniela Worek urged everyone present to view themselves as an agent of change, and stated “we should be open minded and cooperative at all the different levels of policy making”. In quoting Amma, one of the youth panelists concluded “’We are taught to read, we are taught to write, we are taught to do math, but we are not taught to think’ – I think this is crucial, and I think that critical thinking needs to be fostered in schools”.
After the event concluded, AYUDH prepared an online Statement on Education, compiled from all of the ideas presented through the duration of iTAGe, as well as a set of policy propositions. In her reflection note, Judith Klein graciously remarked the following:
“During the summit in general, and the iTAGe dialogue specifically, it became clear to me that it is us, the seniors and decision makers, that really have something to learn from these young leaders, who truly are change makers in their way of being, living, thinking, feeling, and acting sustainably. We, the seniors, need to learn to listen, unlearn and be re-educated, so that we can become part of this change that is already happening. By listening more carefully, and by opening up, we can become part of the change and the solutions, rather than sticking to our own world views and decisions for the old way of thinking.”