“Listening” to youth

In the youth law in Finland it says in the 22nd paragraph, that youth shall be heard in all matters that concern them. And today FSS was invited to give a statement on the reform of vocational education and training.

This is one of the subjects I care a lot about, as I often am the single representative of VET-students. So also in the FSS board, and so today in the hearing. The colleagues giving statements with me were the secretary’s and experts from youth organisations and VET-unions. And the statements they gave were great, very very well prepared and read through, true professionals in their field. I was asked to take a picture of the statement professionals together, as I wasn’t quite as much a part of their professional statement-producing group.

Now I am not a professional, although I am an expert, and as are my fellow board members and the all the members of FSS. I swear that not a single person in that room today has ever attended vocational education. A vast majority has probably never visited a vocational school.

But by the time it was my turn to give our statement, the members of parliament had almost emptied the room. The questions asked were strictly related to the bureaucratic document of 345 pages that the law-package consists of, and not a single quesiton about the everyday life of VET-students. To which I didn’t get a chance to respond, as our time had already ran out.

Is that how we do the legally required hearing of young people?

If so, I wonder what we are achieving. I am not saying the statements of stakeholders were unnecessary, but I have a hard time imagining that any student would understand the content of them, or be that many would be interested enough to try. These important, yet bureaucratic terms on funding does not impact the reality of a student. In everyday school life, you know there either is or isn’t any money. But most students do have an opinion on what to do with that money.

This was actually one of the first times I saw so clearly what is wrong with the processes of “hearing youth”. I haven’t doubted there is a will to listen to young people before, but now I really do.

Right now, in Finland and all over Europe, youth are being heard through workshops and sessions where in small groups we prepare statements and opinions that someone else will take to the “top” and state to politicians in parliaments. And that’s when all goes well.

This is not democracy. This is not truly being heard. Leaving so little space in a meeting where young people are “heard”, that most MPs have to leave before it ends, is not hearing youth. Having one single person under the age of 30 give a statement on a reform that will mainly change the lives of young people, is not hearing young people. Having one single VET-student speak on a VET-reform, is not hearing the youth whose lives will be affected by the changes.

What needs to change? Well, hearing young people does not mean preparing questions for politicians. It would actually mean politicians preparing questions to ask young people. It would mean politicians (and apparently youth NGO employees) visiting a VET-college before making decisions that will change the future for so many young people. And it would mean encouraging, not undermining, ignoring or segregating the few young people that actually care enough to get up in front of a parliament committee and speaking their mind.

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