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Waag's roadmap through Europe #3: youth as gamechanger?

On 6 June, Dutch citizins can go to the polls again for the European Parliament elections. But what is it really all about? Which parties tackle the issues you care about? The European Parliament is often associated with topics like migration, agriculture and defence, but there is so much more your vote can influence. Waag Futurelab dived into the election programmes for the European elections and listed them for you. In this third part, we look at Europe's youngsters. How do parties see this group's future? What skills do they definitely need to develop, and what does Europe want to focus on with young European citizens?  

Perhaps the most unheard group at the time of Covid19, and currently the loudest group when it comes to protesting the war in Gaza: young people. Or as the VVD calls them: ‘the youth’. Do party programmes even consider young people? And how is youth written about, do they get a voice themselves?  

First impression: is it mentioned? 

Keywords used in election programmes: youngsters, youth, children, social media, citizenship education, STEAM skills, maker education. 

D66 talks remarkably often about young people and wants to lower the right to vote to 16. And there is also urgency in the Volt and GL-PvdA party programmes when it comes to involving young people in the EU. A common wish among these parties is to make the opportunity for young people to do a European exchange more accessible.

In a number of other parties, young people are not mentioned once, for example in JA21, PVV and NSC. Young people are predominantly often associated with fragile mental health and the role screen time plays in this. Characteristically, many parties, such as the CU, PvdD and CDA, emphasise combating negative effects of social media on young people's mental health. 

And, what do the parties say about it?

In the VVD's ‘Decisive Europe!’, the party stresses that ‘[...] early efforts should be made to improve digital skills among youth’, to increase digital resilience. The BBB sees danger in ‘[...] unbridled encouragement of screen time and is therefore sympathetic to proposals to limit the use of algorithms, [...] especially to protect vulnerable young minds’. 
Young people are mentioned in the same breath in many election programmes with words like ‘protect’ and ‘safe environment’, with an emphasis on the dangers of social media on mental health. Or as the Christian Union dryly points out: ‘Social media bring young people many wonderful things, but also many nasty things.’ 

ChristenUnie: ‘Social media bring young people a lot of beauty, but also a lot of nastiness.’

GL-PvdA calls for youth participation in far-reaching legislative proposals at the European level, and wants to establish a so-called generation test. The generation test is an instrument that aims to make visible the expected effects of government policies on future generations, in order to prevent problems from being passed on.

D66 calls young people ‘crucial’ and it therefore calls for 16-year-olds to have the right to vote in EU elections. In addition, the party wants to establish a youth council with advisory rights. And like the CDA and Volt, D66 also thinks the Erasmus+ programme (youth exchange programme) should be made more accessible to secondary school students, regardless of their education. D66 would like every young person in the EU to have experienced a European exchange before the age of 20. 

VVD: ‘Early efforts are needed to improve digital skills among young people’

Volt wants to equip young people for modern life by ‘[...] creating interdisciplinary curricula focusing on key skills including English language skills, “Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics” (STEAM) skills supported by digital tools, citizenship education and participatory skills such as inclusiveness, sustainability, gender equality, mental health, media literacy and critical thinking.’ In addition, Volt proposes the creation of European secondary schools that focus on craftsmanship and industry expertise, with the aim of increasing European productivity through technical education. 

What does Waag think of the plans?

Eva Vesseur leads the Maker Education Lab at Waag. She sees that many teachers and youth workers Waag works with are deeply concerned about young people. Election programmes have a lot of room for protecting young people, Eva notes. But for a strong and resilient generation, it is better to give young people themselves responsibility and work on action perspectives. The (STEAM) skills and focus on citizenship education that Volt appointed are crucial to have in house if you want to participate in democracy, according to Eva.

As far as Eva is concerned, the generation test is a great way to bring young people to the table. However, it is important that their voice has real status when a decision is made, and that it is not just used symbolically. ‘It is extremely important that young people have a voice that is actually heard. Especially in Europe, where decisions are made for the longer term.’

‘D66’s idea of setting up a youth council is not new,' says Eva. ‘Hopefully they will pursue this idea and give the youth council status. In this, though, it is important that the voice of young people actually has value and the outcome is binding.’ 

Eva Vesseur: ‘D66’s idea of setting up a youth council is not new’.

Eva agrees with Volt on the need for Europe to cooperate on education at European level. ‘But I would be wary of trying to solve all kinds of social issues in education. Education in the Netherlands is already taking important steps in terms of digital citizenship, but we can learn a lot from other European countries in this. That way, we don't all have to reinvent the wheel.’ At Waag, there is plenty of cooperation with other European countries and this knowledge sharing between them is invaluable, says Eva. ‘Enabling more exchange through Erasmus+ programmes, for example, would be fantastic.’

It is significant that a number of parties barely mention young people, Eva thinks. ‘This shows that they are concerned with attracting voters, and not with our future.’ ‘Let 16-year-olds vote,’ says Eva, ‘and let children practice voting from the age of 10. The voters of the future can hold up a fine mirror to us!’

Okay, where can I read more on this topic?  

One of Waag's core beliefs is that technology is not something that happens to us, but something we make ourselves. This means that we should not exclusively consume technology, but also (co)design it. Besides creativity and imagination, this requires new skills in the digital age. Waag is betting on those skills, awareness and critical analysis, by getting hands-on with technology together with young people.

Together with European partners, Waag launched the Critical ChangeLabs research project in early 2023, with the aim of investigating how active citizenship can be encouraged among young people aged 11 to 18. The focus is on developing a sense of ownership (or in English ‘agency’) in young people and the ability to be both reflective and critical.

To become future-proof in the field of new technologies, Waag is working with schoolchildren, HBO students and tech-minded ‘citizens’ within the Quantum Inspire project to give more users access to the technology. It focuses on the implications of quantum computing for society.

In the Technological Citizenship research project, where Waag worked with partners and young people together to explore how to navigate the complex digital world, the use of creative practices proved instrumental in making social issues visible and discussable. The focus was on gaining insights into the design processes that precede technological applications. Read the article ‘Are young people in charge of their own socials?’ and find out more about the main conclusions of this research.




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This project has been funded by the European Commission HORIZON.2.2 - Culture, creativity and inclusive society and HORIZON.2.2.1 - Democracy and Governance.