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Youth and policy makers join forces in pandemic recovery efforts

55 young researchers from UNESCO’s signature “Youth As Researchers on COVID-19” initiative and close to 20 policy makers from various Member States debated on priorities for post-pandemic recovery with, for and by youth during a High-Level Policy Conference hosted on site and online by UNESCO on 25 March 2022.

Central to the debate were the insights of the young researchers on the impact of the pandemic on youth well-being, learning, action, rights and use of technology.
Group photo - Youth As Researchers on COVID-19 - High-Level Policy Conference 2022

The COVID-19 pandemic has been devastating for young people, leaving many of them worried about their future. As the “Youth As Researchers on COVID-19” initiative revealed, youth were faced with poor educational experiences and a massive increase of mental health problems. At work, youth often faced the dual risk of COVID-19 exposure and of losing their jobs due to the pandemic. Young women were challenged by increased childcare and household responsibilities. Young entrepreneurs, lacked financial support and digital literacy for online operations. As a silver lining, a number of young people were actively engaged to provide pandemic relief in their communities. Also, globally youth felt safe online and they were able to identify misinformation.

These insights point to concrete actions for post-pandemic recovery that the young researchers recommended, including to

  • Address the critical impact on youth mental health, particularly through remote and in person mental-health counselling;
  • Strengthen the right of participation of young people in all aspects of public life
  • Engage with young people to design, implement and monitor an equitable hybrid educational model;
  • Integrate gender-sensitive and rights-based education about sexual and reproductive health into school curricula;
  • establish legal and institutional frameworks to ensure safe and low-cost access to digital tools.

 

My impression is that these young people... were impressively committed. They were committed to work... on top of the challenges they were facing but they were super committed to get together, to learn together, to put forward this effort, to analyze the issues, to engage with us internationally. This was voluntary... and they really came and invested a lot of time. Therefore, these commitments by youth can only be retributed by commitments by policy makers and that's why UNESCO is bringing them... so they can listen to this very impressive group of young people.
Gabriela Ramos Assistant Director-General for Social and Human Sciences at UNESCO

National policy makers directly addressed major youth recommendations by committing to

  • develop public policies, action plans and indexes on youth mental health;
  • strengthen youth participation by reviewing existing legislation, lifting barriers to participation and opening up spaces for youth to engage in national, provincial and municipal decision making; and
  • establish institutional frameworks for easier access to digital tools.

They also committed to continue investing in quality education, particularly in policy measures that ensure the integration of gender-sensitive and right-based education on sexual and reproductive health, with a focus on out-of-school youth and on youth with disabilities.

As a result of the conference, the young participants will undertake to facilitate peer-to-peer knowledge-sharing and information campaigns about rights, based on evidence, fact-checking, and applying critical thinking to information sources. They stand ready to work with governments and educational institutions to develop and improve digital tools for a better virtual learning experience for both students and teachers. They will also continue to generate quality information to inform public policies and programmes, and to build intergenerational and inclusive partnerships in support of pandemic recovery efforts.

Youth as Researchers was truly remarkable in so many ways. But the biggest of all was it demonstrated that young people, if and when given the chance to lead and deliver policies of value for the present and the future, will do it with utmost sincerity and valor. All they need is a chance for their representatives to publicly trust and listen to them with a seat beside them at the table.
Ayesha Mohanty Young Researcher from India, Asia-Pacific Youth Well-being Team

UNESCO announced a global coalition of actors to support pandemic recovery with, for and by young people. The Coalition will be open to a variety of global actors, including governments, civil society, the private sector, academia, and youth organizations. It will integrate a Global Grant Scheme to fund youth-led research and grassroots solutions.

Policy makers, participating in the conference, endorsed the Coalition and Global Grant Scheme and announced additional measures to support youth civic action, such as the creation of youth resource centers and the development of national youth volunteering schemes.

We are committed to the development of a national Youth Volunteer Scheme which will be linked to the Global Grant Scheme. In this regard, we are committed to engaging 2Million young volunteers, interns and apprentices by 2026. This is ambitious, but working together with UNESCO, we will achieve this.
Elvis Nkandu Minister of Youth, Sport and Child Development, Zambia

The conference is the culmination of 18 months of youth-led research under UNESCO’s “Youth As Researchers on COVID-19” initiative, which has been dedicated to the impact of the pandemic on young people’s well-being, learning, rights, action and use of technology. Launched in 2020, it is the largest youth-led capacity building project in response to COVID-19 in the world. It has engaged 270 young people – from over 70 countries – as youth researchers, and 10,000 in efforts to support 34 global, regional and national research teams. The participants in the initiative believe that through research, youth can become change-makers.

Given the overwhelming support and interest in the initiative, UNESCO will establish an annual Youth As Researchers platform focusing on key issues identified by young women and men to ensure that their voice is heard in policy development and implementation.  

With youth civic space and participation shrinking in many countries, this is critical now more than ever! “It was the very first time for me that I felt my perspectives and ideas were taken into account (…). Knowing I had the space and power to lead was very empowering to me.” -- Moneera Yassien, Sudan, Youth Steering Committee

Contact
Maria Kypriotou, m.kypriotou@unesco.org