What Young People Are Saying About…
EDUCATION, RELIGION AND PARTICIPATION
On 6 November 2002, young people from Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Eritrea, Lebanon,
Occupied Palestinian Territory, Oman, Sudan and Zambia came together to take part in a 90 minute
preparatory chat hosted by Voices of Youth and the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts.
This chat preceded a two-hour chat on 27 November, wherein young people will explore child and youth
rights and the responsibilities that come with those rights; with a specific focus on girls’ education and
learning, and the right to express oneself freely and be heard.
The purpose of a preparatory chat was two fold:
1. Introduce participants to the chat software, and
2. Clarify questions about issues to be explored in the actual chat.
As the majority of participants appeared comfortable with the software, and were anxious to begin
addressing the issues, the prep chat evolved into an impromptu chat focusing on:
? barriers to education
? religion, and
? participation, with an emphasis on voting
Following is a summary of the chat.
Participants repeatedly expressed the importance of an education for all. Education was characterized as
an opportunity, a privilege and a deserved right.
During the chat, young people demonstrated a clear and complete understanding of the many barriers to
education, exploring barriers such as low teachers’ salaries, cultural norms, religion, conflict, early
marriage, poverty and discrimination.
Participants took advantage of the wide range of countries participating to learn how the situation and
norms in countries were both the same and different. Low teachers’ salaries and discrimination against
women in the work place emerged as the most prominent similarities. While the conflicts in Palestine and
Eritrea, and the impact of Islam on education and freedom of religion, dominated discussions of how 1countries differed.
Solutions to the barriers were also explored. However, much of the responsibility for change was placed
on governments. During their brief discussion of participation, young people cited negative images of
young people, adults’ reluctance to listen, and a lack of unification among young people as reasons why
youth are not able to be effective change makers.
1 Unfortunately, due to Ramadan, the participants in Palestine had to leave within the first 45 minutes of the chat and
could not continue the discussion.
Participants did suggest promoting and supporting young leaders and role models, joining committees,
writing to government officials, and getting the media involved as ways for young people to make
themselves heard and to make a difference.
BARRIERS TO EDUCATION
Young people recognized the strong link between cultural norms and access to an education. A distinction
was made between “traditions” (family practices, local norms and stereotypes) and “economics” and
“laws”. Mostly participants from Eritrea, Palestine, Sudan, and Zambia responded to questions from
Canadian participants about the “traditions” in their countries.
Gender discrimination in the home
Palestine, Sudan and Zambia all mentioned that families in their “…but when you grow up believing countries tend to prioritize the education of boys over that of girls. that girls should be mothers and They attributed this tendency to local perceptions of girls as “born wives only and boys should go to to serve their husbands and houses and raise their children” (Sudan). work its hard to change it it needs They also felt that girls “might relax in education because they time.” know that they will get married.” (Zambia) participant from Sudan
Rural vs Urban
Participants explored how discrimination against girls differed between rural and urban areas. A young
participant from Zambia stated that “in rural areas girls are told to stay home and do the household while
boys go to school” and that this was also the case in urban areas. A Sudanese participant, however, felt
that in urban areas the concerns were mostly economic: “in the cities its more about if they could afford
sending their children to school or not.”
Religion, and specifically Islam, was a prominent topic of discussion.
“Unfortunately, the person does Freedom of religion: Participants from Oman, Palestine and not choose his religion or beliefs in Sudan all reflected on the lack of freedom of religion in their
the middle east.” countries. Participants from Palestine and the Czech Republic
participant from Palestine agreed that changing your religion is difficult because “it is hard
to be accepted in your community again” and “traditions are
“but we should try to” much more difficult to break.”
participant from Oman
Education & media: Participants also explored the impact of Islam “unfortunately, whoever gets on education. Canadian youth asked if Islam placed young people at their info from the news only a “disadvantage educationally”. While some participants agreed, sees and hears the worst. I have others identified this statement as a testament to global many Islamic friends and they misperceptions about Islam. Participants from both Islamic and love their beliefs.” non-Islamic countries agreed that the media is partly to blame for participant from Canada this misperception.
Eritrean and Palestinian participants repeatedly discussed how the
conflicts in their countries impacted their lives and a young person’s “here many children have right to education. Eritrean youth focused on the recently ended war, lost their parents because of Conflict and Palestinian youth on the current occupation. war, or their parents are poor, or they have to travel Other participants were very curious about the situations in Eritrea and to fetch water. They have Palestine, and asked what would happen to girls if they “went against many problems.” the occupation to attend school” (Canada), and what other dangers participant from Eritrea youth in their countries faced.
All participants agreed that a strong connection exists between
teachers’ salaries and quality of education. Young people stated “the levels of education are that teachers lose interest in teaching, transfer to private schools, low because teachers are not go on strike, or are forced out of the profession because their paid well so they loose the salaries are so low. interest of teaching.” participant from Zambia What can young people do? When asked what could be done, young people felt that students were powerless, but that governments “should take the teachers to better colleges for training and they should also pay them higher wages.” (Zambia)
Education & employment
Discussions about girls’ education led to women in the work place. Young people talked about job
opportunities for women, stating that in many countries women receive lower salaries, or are only hired
because of their physical appearance. Participants from Sudan, however, discussed how women have
access to a lot of high ranking jobs in their country.
What young people can do?
Participants felt that governments were primarily responsible for improving the educational opportunities
of young people. However young people did put forth some action points for themselves:
? “I think that we should help other who would like to learn for improving their life even if we support
them which words it can help them” participant from Oman
? “one thing that we as students can do though is to start small...find a solution and work from there so
that a change will develop and things can be different so youth can get their rights” participant from
The discussion about participation focused mostly on why young people do not have a voice and what can
be done to encourage adults to listen. Young people felt they could contribute significantly and be
effective change makers if given the opportunity to participate.
Why adults don’t listen
Variable reasons were given for why adults do not listen to young people, “we have to educate the including: adults to make them ? People still think youth are not mature enough (Sudan) realise that we have so ? Young people are not unified (Canada) much more to say than ? Adults do not recognize young people’s potential (Canada, Czech they think” republic) participant from Canada ? Cultural norms prevent intergenerational dialogue (Czech republic) ? Youth and children are stereotyped as unable to understand (Canada)
Canadian participants engaged in a lively debate about voting,
including a discussion of its benefits, why young people are prevented “I think it would definitely from voting, and who should be allowed to vote. be a good thing if younger Voting people could vote. It would Participants felt that young people are barred from voting because they be a clearer way of getting a are thought of as “ignorant to politics” and unable to make good point across. We have no choices. One participant stated that she “…would argue that some guarantee that our letters adults who do vote are also uniformed.” (Canada) and petitions are read. A vote is something which must Participants also debated who should be allowed to vote, questioning be counted.” whether or not people who do not exercise their right should still have participant from Canada the privilege. Or whether or not public offenders should be allowed to vote.
The media was characterized both as a powerful tool and as an “the media coverage we got obstacle to youth participation. Participants recognized that getting [at the peaceful protest] the media involved was an effective way to make their voices heard. made us look like we had no However, participants also felt that the media often negatively idea what we were doing.” represented young people, Participant from Canada What young people can do
Young people focused on three ways in which they could make a difference:
? Youth leaders: “I think we have to find leaders in our communities (i.e. girl guides) and they need to
start by helping out with younger kids, teaching them and helping them, because in the end its our
youth that can be changed, not our parents or grandparents.”
? Committees: “By my own experience, I have seen my voice into action through comities. I have
insisted that at least one youth sit on every committee in the community. It has a little bit of impact,
better than nothing.”
? Write to governments: “Well, the options they taught us in elementary school was to write to your
representative in the government or tell your parents about the different politicians running so they
can make a more informed voting choice.”
Suggestions for 27 November chat
? How to improve the barriers to education and participation (Canada)
? Religion (Sudan)
? Why girls’ education is considered more important than boy’s education (Eritrea)
? What sort of youth participation does actually make some difference? (Czech Republic)
? What do you think about what your country is doing for education?
? How can young people make a difference?