Engaging young people in politics for a more peaceful Europe
Political cynicism and alienation, as well as moves towards violent extremism, threaten the values that underpin democracy. EU-funded research reveals how we can engage young people in peaceful civic and political processes.
Mistrustful of politicians and voting, young people are turning to street demonstrations, charity events, consumer activism and social media to express their political and civic views. The EU-funded Processes Influencing Democratic Ownership and Participation (PIDOP) project tried to uncover why young people feel this way.
The issue is complex, says the PIDOP project coordinator Professor Martyn Barrett. “For this reason, the research explored how psychological drivers interact with social, demographic and institutional factors to determine people’s civic and political behaviour,” explains Barrett. The project focused on gathering data from 16- to 26-year-old men and women from ethnic majority and minority groups in nine European countries.
Even though it is difficult to identify patterns that drive behaviour across diverse groups of people, the research identified three key factors affecting civic and political participation:
Encouraging democratic citizenship in young people
“When governments are more accountable, democratic and uphold the rule of law, their citizens are more engaged,” says Barrett. These political institutions must also take effective action against discrimination and be embedded in a culture of democracy. If people feel that they are discriminated against or they have little opportunity to get the attention of government, they will feel more dissatisfied and disengaged.
The PIDOP project revealed that young people feel that politicians aren’t willing to listen to their concerns, and this is the primary reason they aren’t interested in voting. However, young people are passionate about other issues — problems affecting people in other countries, racism, recycling and global warming. They actively sign e-petitions, volunteer and raise money for charity.
“The challenge for politicians is to listen to and understand young people’s concerns, make them feel that they can make a difference, and engage them in politics,” emphasises Barrett.
Civic education and active membership of organisations, such as Amnesty International and youth clubs, can also make a difference. “Teaching children about the history of democracy doesn’t help them become engaged citizens,” says Barrett. Children must have concrete experiences. “If children have the opportunity to discuss a local issue and then write to their parliamentarian, and receive a response, they are more likely to believe that participating will make a difference,” adds Barrett.
Using the PIDOP findings to improve curricula in schools
The PIDOP findings have led to the creation of the Competencies for Democratic Culture (CDC) project. Launched by the Education Department of the Council of Europe, the initiative is designing a new education framework. Countries can tailor the framework to their unique requirements to help educators develop children’s democratic attitudes and values, encourage autonomous learning, and foster analytical and critical thinking skills. The Council’s 47 member states can use the framework to rewrite their national curricula to further promote civic and political participation.
PIDOP has provided the insights that politicians, educators and citizens need to promote democratic citizenship among young people in Europe.