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Investing in Youth: Why Civic Engagement Matters?

The decline in youth participation in politics points to a potential crisis for democracy. But can this crisis be avoided? Over the past two decades, attention has been focused on what many think is a crisis in youth civic and political engagement. This concern has been prompted by research evidence suggesting that younger voters participate less in national elections than older citizens. Additionally, there is the danger of declining voting rates among the young in one or another country over the years. Such developments are often taken as an early warning that the future health of democracy could be at risk. The concern is based on the proposition that political habits formed in youth condition lifelong patterns of political involvement; consequently, today’s disengaged youth would become tomorrow’s disengaged adults. Political and civic engagement manifest in varied forms other than electoral participation. Traditional modes of engagement include voting, working for political parties during elections, and urging others to vote.

On the other hand, there are non-traditional, dynamic modes of civic engagement: participating in demonstrations, protests, and marches; signing petitions, and contributing to political discussions using blogs and social media. In addition, civic actions such as community service, problem-solving programs, and fundraising for social causes provide another avenue of participation, which, though not political, is critical for community wellness and engagement. Diverse avenues provide young people various ways of contributing civically and politically as part of a broad spectrum of participation beyond the ballot box.

On the other hand, young people across various political systems often need more opportunities to actively engage and make an impact within the established political order. Not to mention possessing economic capital, a significant portion of young people worry about getting a job, while another significant portion is concerned about keeping their job. While grappling with these concerns, it isn’t easy to exist or turn towards mainstream politics. Even if they try to enter politics, the institutions and individuals dominant in mainstream politics need to “grant” young people space there so that they can exist in politics. We cannot enter mainstream politics and feel crushed under our country’s economic and political problems that affect our lives. Change is a mandatory way out for everyone, and I want to be one of the subjects of this change. This is where new methods and pathways begin to develop. These methods may emerge as reflections of difficulties, not requiring very robust and detailed planning. Through various youth formations and initiatives, young people practice organizing, advocacy, and demanding. These are individually very valuable internally, but at some point, we need to come together to be able to exert pressure. Coming together does not necessarily mean agreeing on everything. Just uniting on certain basic rights and freedoms is enough to create pressure. Building unity based on common basic desires is possible, and more than possible, it is necessary. The political value of youth as a voting potential has been “discovered.” Still, the real question is whether we should use this potential just for a slightly better status quo or ensure that changes break the power monopoly established political groups hold. What needs to happen is to fight for the necessary adjustments in the representation mechanism when change occurs. This will be a valuable gain for young people and all groups experiencing representation issues. We need to work to use the various practices we experience today to create pressure and force the system to change.

Also, the role of education in shaping young people’s civic engagement must be balanced. Schools that foster an environment where students can freely discuss ethical, social, civic, and political issues help cultivate a generation that is not only well-informed but also deeply engaged. Encouraging discussions around controversial topics and supporting students to express and listen to diverse opinions enriches their political interest, trust, and knowledge. Such educational practices increase the likelihood that students will participate in future elections.

Implementing democratic principles in schools, such as through student councils and representation in decision-making bodies, reinforces these lessons practically. This hands-on approach to democracy at a young age can significantly bolster student engagement.

Adopting a competence-based curriculum that emphasizes essential civic and political engagement skills is crucial in preparing students to be effective change-makers in society. Schools should concentrate on cultivating a deep understanding of politics, coupled with analytical and critical thinking skills, civic responsibility, and effective communication. These competencies are foundational for nurturing students into informed and autonomous participants in democracy.

Integrating innovative teaching methods such as cooperative learning, project-based learning, and service-learning can significantly enhance the acquisition of these vital competencies. These pedagogical strategies engage students actively and foster a practical understanding and application of their knowledge and skills in real-world settings. By embedding these competencies within the curriculum, educational institutions can empower students to actively engage in and positively impact their communities and the broader political landscape.

These competencies are crucial for local or national issues and equally vital for addressing global challenges like climate change, pollution, poverty, and human rights. In today’s interconnected world, fostering global-mindedness or a concern for humanity and the planet is essential. This global perspective is increasingly evident in young people’s civic actions, demonstrating their commitment to local communities and global well-being.

Contemporary research shows that young people with high levels of global-mindedness are more engaged in cultural exchanges, appreciate diversity, support global human rights, and participate in environmental conservation. Educational institutions are crucial in nurturing these traits by integrating global issues into their curricula, which helps students understand global challenges and the interdependence of communities.

In addition to traditional foreign language classes, schools should offer intercultural learning opportunities through student exchange programs, international video conferences, and collaborative online international learning projects. These experiences help students understand and respect cultural differences.

Schools must also encourage students to apply their global competencies in real-world contexts, such as service learning projects, internships with international organizations, or community projects with a global dimension. This helps students turn their academic knowledge into action and reinforces their roles as active global citizens.

In conclusion, the dynamic landscape of youth engagement presents many reasons for optimism. By effectively utilizing national education systems, we can bolster young people’s preparedness for active involvement in their local communities and on the global stage. This strategic enhancement of educational frameworks can nurture well-rounded global citizens ready to contribute positively to society.

BY BURAK BATUHAN KARAKUS