18 Aug 2022

5 Ways to Empower Young People for System Change

This article was originally published on Jorina Sendel’s LinkedIn profile.

I completed preschool, primary, and secondary education, and I’m about to complete my undergrad program in psychology. This summer I will start the master’s program “Changing Education” at the University of Helsinki. I’m on the board of an education NGO, that’s supported by the German ministry of Education.

My experience qualifies me to hold opinions on education and learning. But when I tell people one more thing about me, none of this seems to matter anymore.

I’m 21.

And this is the moment when many conversation partners look surprised  and change their attitude towards me. My age suddenly becomes the key attribute I’m judged upon and the key indicator for my competency. Belonging to the youth often leads to the assumption that I shouldn’t be taken too seriously, as if I’m lacking life experience. 

But what if this “lack of life experience” is actually an advantage? Young people are not yet formed by the existing paradigms and systems. Young people hold brilliant opinions and ideas, often driven by a desire to rethink and change what doesn’t work. 

And there’s a lot that doesn’t work. 

Education Systems worldwide are under pressure. The COVID-crisis has catalyzed the ongoing problems and showed us that education needs to transform. Young people are the primary stakeholders in the education systems because they are the one’s education is made for, and they are also the ones who will lead our tomorrow’s world.

This article will explain why involving young people in transformation processes is the key to successful change and give you five actionable ideas to involve young people in your work, starting today. 

  1. Invite young people

Invite young people to your decision-making processes – to meetings and conferences. When a decision is made, everyone concerning the decision must be represented. Make participation as easy as possible, young people are not used to attending conferences (e.g. booking flights and taxis).

Invite them to actively participate in the processes. Let them design thinking sessions and draft idea papers. Every stakeholder offers a different approach towards the process, enjoy that young people takeover and get inspired. 

Don’t let the different approach scare you! 

What  can you do right now? 

Look in your calendar, are there meetings in the next two weeks you can invite young people to? Send out invitations if possible!

  1. Ask for Youth Opinion

The answer to a question is always in the room. Don’t waste hours thinking about what young people want. Reach out and simply ask them. Keeping it simple is the key. See the Youth as a part of your community of education transformers, not as a subgroup. 

What can you do right now? 

Take 30 min and collect your ongoing work which will influence young people’s life. Take your ideas and let young people discuss them.

  1. Have trust in Youth 

Bust the age hierachy myth and take young people seriously. Respect their opinions as you would respect other stakeholders’ opinions. Young persons don’t have as much life experience as you do, but this is one of the reasons why young people are also holding unique perspectives on the world. Therefore, they bring diversity and a new angle to the table. 

What can you do right now?

There are a dozen examples of young, inspirational leaders out there. Read about them and their success stories, this will show you that life experiences are not always necessary for transformation.

  1. Reflect on Yourself 

To transform education, we first have to transform ourselves. A system will always represent parts of the people who created it. Are you hesitating to involve young people in your work? Confront yourself with your thoughts!

Where does it come from? Are you thinking about yourself in the young days and about how inexperienced you were? Do you feel like young people’s methods are not working for you anymore?

Work on your beliefs. If you’re thinking you can find the key to transformation without listening to every stakeholder, past ideas are replicated for something new.

What can you do right now?

Commit to yourself that you will take some time in the next week to reflect on your attitude towards youth involvement. If you see the necessity of it, commit to the involvement.

  1. Let a young person mentor you 

Ever thought of finding yourself a mentor. Someone who gives you a different view on your current task and the way you’re creating your career. Find a young person to mentor you. In this way, the Youth voice is represented in your choices, and you’re having a source of new ideas. Reverse mentorship is your key to deeply connecting with the younger generation. 

What can you do right now? 

Reach out to a young, inspiring person and ask for their mentorship. 

Different people, including the UN, acknowledge young people’s importance in system change. And yet, the acknowledgement often leads to mere involvement. Their opinions are heard, but not acted upon. 

True involvement is not just inviting and listening to young people, but equipping them with the tools and processes needed, to truly participate in decision-making.  

These ideas are just the start. Use them as a stepping stone to uncover how you can meaningfully empower young people. 

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