Tuesday, August 04, 2015

What do youth think?

Interview with Allan Päll Secretary General of the European Youth Forum

by Marilyn Achiron, Editor, Education and Skills Directorate

This is a tough time for young people, especially in Europe. Youth un- and underemployment is still at record highs in some countries; and as the OECD Skills Outlook 2015 reports, more than 35 million 16-29 year-olds in OECD countries are neither employed nor in education or training. More worrying still, around half of those young adults are out of school and not looking for work. What can be done to change these terrible statistics, to prevent more waste of human potential? We spoke with Allan Päll, Secretary General of the European Youth Forum, when he was in Paris to participate in the OECD Forum in June.

Marilyn Achiron: Older adults dictate to young people all the time. What do young people feel is missing from education that could make the transition from school to the labour market easier?

Allan Päll: Young people want to have options and choices that are real and that they can control themselves. A lot of young people despair because they’re not being encouraged, they’re not given the space, to participate in decision making. For example, in education, the way education is conducted is often prescribed by somebody else. In terms of access to the labour market, young people are often offered the kinds of jobs that do not really take into account the opinions of young people. So if you get an internship, it’s often for some mundane task, not really valuing your experience or your aspirations.

M.A: Are education systems not teaching the right skills from the earliest ages?

A.P: It’s more about school environment. It’s not only about content; it’s about how you do things in education. If the education system is very stratified – poor people to poor schools; rich people to private schools; or sorting young people based on their attainment or aspirations – that’s where we create a lot of problems. We create an artificial world in school, which is then replicated in society. We need to break down those barriers. If you learn in a multicultural environment and the learning itself is more participatory, where young people are given the responsibility to have a study project, to carry it through, to describe their own learning objectives, then we will empower them.

M.A: You said that you don’t think governments are doing enough to bring young people in to decision-making processes. Does that include education?

A.P. We’re seeing more positive developments in higher education. We see more collaboration between young people and teachers, and sometimes we see businesses coming in when it comes to curricula. But in traditional European universities, at the governance level, where money is being allocated, that’s where students are being kicked out in favour of a more corporatist system. I don’t think it’s harmful [to show] young people that there is a bridge [between business and education]. Employers and business are a value to our society; they provide jobs, services, products. It’s important for young people to understand how this works and maybe to study that. You need to have some sort of a connection. But the governance of education is a different question. Curricular development should be more left to teachers and students to decide.

M.A: What kind of education should young people be pursuing: general or specialised?

A.P: I think it’s a bit of a Catch-22. Sometimes, to get into the labour market, you need to have a specialised education, because in some professions, that’s where the jobs are available and access to them is restricted to professional education. But then again, in 10 years’ time, maybe those professions won’t exist anymore. So what is crucial is that everybody has a critical mindset, and everybody has a willingness to learn throughout their lives. Those are the two things we need to develop. I don’t agree with the people who say we don’t need to learn content or facts; if you don’t know about history you won’t be able to have a critical perspective.

M.A: What about learning those things through the Internet?

A.P: Well, the Internet doesn’t teach you things, does it? It’s full of information and is growing every day. I may have the capacity to search for what I want, but I need to know first if there is something I want out there. And for that, I need some basic knowledge about something to be able to question it. It’s about balance, not going to one or the other extreme.

M.A: If you had a child of your own now, what kind of school would you like him or her to attend?

A.P: I would want my children to go to an educational institution that is multicultural, non-discriminatory and where children are able to set their own objectives and then measure up to that, not measure up to everybody else’s objectives and standards. I think that kind of encouragement to set your own goals and learn accordingly also needs to be in the home and more widely in society.

Photo Credit: Businessman on the hot-air balloon looking for new business @Shutterstock

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