European Youth Capitals: empowering young citizens in the COVID-19 pandemic
Even though youth policy is a national competency, attention to youth is present in many EU policies and programmes. The EU aims at helping young people to get involved in decision making, bringing youth together accross the continent, and creating the conditions for young citizens to endorse their role of citizens. Additional support for youth employment and a reinforced youth guarantee are part of the recovery plan proposed by the European Commission.
The COVID-19 pandemic affects young people in the transition period from education to working life by reducing the possibility to attend training courses, exchange programmes and internships. Some events traditionally organised physically can take place on virtual plateformes. A careers fair in which pupils meet professionals can be organised virtually (example of Maribor), which enables interventions from professionals from all over Europe. Besides, local career orientation centers can continue supporting young citizens online. Some examples were given of activities taking place physically. A municipality can connect local employers, universities and youngsters thanks to centers for career development (example of Varna). Financial assistance to take the driving licence can be provided to young citizens in exchange for volunteering (example of Amiens), which facilitates their integratation in the professional world.
Digital learning tools
Digital skills vary due to social, economic and geographic disparities. Municipalities can create innovative digital services for children and adults (example of Thessaloniki) in cooperation with citizens to better adjust to their needs. The pandemic highlighted that a large proportion of primary school pupils lack the sufficient ICT skills (research conducted by the Institute of the Republic of Slovenia). As a consequence, a focus on general digital tools for communication and remote cooperation is needed. Municipalities can offer spaces for young people to meet, in which trainings can be organised for children from deprived backgrounds to catch up with digital skills and tools (example of Varna). Activities that have been previously organised physically can be organised virtually, such as tutoring (master students helping middle and high school pupils), as well as discussions between youngsters looking for advices and HR managers (examples of Amiens).
Health with a focus on mental health.
All over Europe, similar responses were put in place. Many municipalities prepared volunteering activities, with a high level of young participation (example of Braga). Municipalities organised free online or face-to-face consultations with psychologists (examples of Klaipeda, Amiens). Enabling psychology students to organise sessions with students can be a win-win solution by providing students with a professional training and offering support to other students (example of Maribor). Coaching programmes can allow young people, especially NEETS, building their professional project (example of Amiens). Informative materials for parents can be uploaded on websites (example of Maribor).
Take away message
Partnerships and cooperation across Europe should be continued even in lockdown situation as they have a positive impact on youth.
Some activities and events traditionally organised physically can take place on virtual plateformes to keep supporting the youngsters. Involving citizens, families and students allow devices set up by municipalities to be adapted to the needs of the inhabitants. Finally, young citizens are willing to help their cities to recover from the pandemic and are proposing relevant initiatives.
Matteo Luigi BIANCHI, Vice-Chair of the Commission for Social Policy, Education, Employment, Research and Culture (SEDEC), European Committee of the Regions:
« Young people are more sociabilised than other age categories. That’s why isolation has impacted their wellbeing more than others ».
Sophia ERIKSSON WATERSCHOOT, Director for Youth, Education and Erasmus+, Directorate-General for Education, Youth, Sport and Culture, European Commission :
“The EU youth strategy relies on three pillars : engage,connect and empower”.
Marie-Hélène BOUCHEZ, Deputy-Mayor of Amiens European Youth Capital 2020 in charge of youth :
“A Europe without youth is a Europe without a future. Therefore it is fundamental to make the youth a priority in our public policies”.