Vote for Citizenship!

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One of UFA’s key charitable objectives is to promote the citizenship education of young people. Citizenship education can be defined as educating children, from early childhood, to become clear-thinking and enlightened citizens who participate in decisions concerning society.” (Unesco). The shockingly low turnout of younger voters (estimated at 36% for 18-25s) is said to have swung the UK’s recent referendum result to the leave camp. Clearly whatever Citizenship Education that generation received did not do enough to inspire and empower them to take part in their democratic right and duty to vote on their future in the world.

EU ref

“64 per cent of young people did not bother to take themselves down to the polling station and cast their ballot. If you want to secure your own future, you know what would be a good idea? Actively leaving your house, heading to the polling station and exercising your democratic right to vote as a UK citizen. By not getting out and voting on Thursday, the young handed the EU referendum to the grey vote on a plate.” (Independent 27/6/16)

UFA agrees with The Citizenship Foundation’s definition of what we are trying to achieve through our programmes of engagement with children and young people: “Citizenship education is about enabling people to make their own decisions and to take responsibility for their own lives and communities. We want young people to leave education with a grasp of the political, legal and economic functions of adult society, and with the social and moral awareness to thrive in it. But we don’t just want schools and colleges to teach citizenship: we also want them to demonstrate citizenship through the way they operate.”

We seek to develop young people’s character and build the skills employers demand through providing genuine opportunities to lead and influence in their community. As the Citizenship Foundation says: “Democracies need active, informed and responsible citizens; citizens who are willing and able to take responsibility for themselves and their communities and contribute to the political process. These capacities do not develop unaided. They have to be learnt. In UFA we believe they can only be learnt through active practice alongside others who must include skilled adult facilitators who can draw out young people’s learning through guided reflection and effective feedback.

Fancy words hey? But in the UFA we take action:

  • over our 20 year history we’ve reached at least 750,000 young leaders with the chance to lead themselves and others from one to one Peer Tutoring to leading clubs for their peers, from taking charge of curriculum modules to transforming School Councils into a force for real change to name but a few; from advising cultural organisations on how to evaluate their provision to informing Birmingham Children’s Hospital in how to demonstrate compassionate care for young patients to name but a few;
  • we’ve trained over 6,000 adults in up to date methods to enable young people to step up and lead; to feed back effectively on the learning to be had from that experience and to guide young people’s reflection on what that means for them in their future learning, work and life as a 21st Century citizen;
  • we’ve worked in over 50 Local Authority areas to convince, influence and persuade schools and other organisations to examine how they can operate at higher levels of young people’s engagement so that the education they provide is truly done with rather than to those in their care;
  • witness the thousands of young people taking part in our NCS programmes this summer all of whom will design and deliver social action projects in their local communities to make a real difference through which they gain an understanding of the power of a dedicated team focused on a shared goal. Projects range from raising awareness on the dangers to self-esteem of body image to creating sensory gardens for older people in Care Homes, from clearing local parks of graffiti and litter to raising funds and awareness for local charities, from renovating local community rooms to running family fun days in deprived neighbourhoods.

Because at UFA we know that in SEEING the difference they make to others through their honest interventions based on their appraisal of what needs to be done differently, then young people feel that they matter; they feel that they are agents of change in their own and others’ lives; they see that not only do their opinions matter but that their actions can change things. Our young people need to be enfranchised:

“…..what is most disheartening is when people do not vote because they feel politicians do nothing for them. Often, the people who do not vote are right: politicians have done nothing for them. But, quite frankly, that is because under the current system, politicians won’t do anything for the people who do not vote. Politicians implement policies for the people who return them to power. Older people vote. Now see: triple-lock pensionsfree bus passes and TV licences, protection from cuts.” (Hannah Jane Parkinson, Guardian, 28/6/16)

We teach young people and the adults who support them how to evaluate the level of real participation they are working at to give them a vocabulary to convince others in their organisations of their right to operate at the highest table. We use Roger Hart’s Ladder of Participation to start the conversation and you should see the jaws drop as the adults realise their school have been using manipulation, decoration and tokenism in their “student voice” efforts. “Participation can be defined as children taking part in and influencing processes, decisions, and activities that affect them, in order to achieve greater respect for their rights” (Lansdown, 2002). Perhaps the current political situation reflects too many generational lack of engagement with politics: “young people need to be at the table or they will end up being on the menu yet again.” (Michael Sani, from the youth voter movement Bite the Ballot) 

I want young people WRITING some of the menu not just being force-fed its outputs. The UN convention of the rights of the child states that children have the right to be heard and taken seriously. So how do we teach them to articulate their voice and be heard in the right place at the right time in the right way? UFA seeks the top rungs of Hart’s ladder, training skilled facilitating adults to share their wisdom and experience with young people without taking over and training young people in the knowledge, skills and confidence they need to make wise decisions and take action accordingly. When young people own their actions, funnily enough they understand more about the complexities of real life and dig into their own learning more robustly as a result. Want responsible citizens who are able to weigh complex decisions such as whether to be part of an imperfect European Union or not? Want them to demand nuanced evidence based political debate? Want the future leaders of our country, our continent, our world to do a much better job than our current and past leaders? Train them early in the gritty demanding realities of leading authentic change in their own communities. Let’s get to it then – there’s no time to lose and much to gain!

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