Ignored and silenced: The story of young people in education policy

In the latest edition of the #MakeEducationWork series, the By Us, For Us study reveals young people’s frustration at being patronised, left out of decision making and even silenced in the making of education policy.

Nothing for us, without us. That’s the simple request of young people when it comes to shaping education policy. But with two-thirds of young people feeling they are not listened to by adults, we have a long way to go.

The By Us, For Us report is full of findings that paint a picture of young people feeling shut out of decision making that directly affects their lives. Over half (53%) of young people feel only somewhat represented in governance, while this figure gets worse for women and girls as well as minority communities from different regions. Rural voices were heard more than urban voices locally but shut out of higher-level policy conversations.

The marginalisation of young people in policy discussion is not down to a lack of interest. Nearly a third (31%) of young people say they are most motivated to take action on issues they have personal connections with and education is clearly one of them.

Young people find great purpose in contributing to decisions that impact them but are too often sidelined, describing their participation as tokenistic at best – invited to speak at conferences for show but ignored when it comes to influencing decisions.

At worst, young people are being silenced. As one young Zambian woman explained, the police arrive at protests to “shut them up” and this is an experience that is common across the world from the Middle East to North and Sub-saharan Africa as well as Latin America and South Asia. This stops young people from speaking out in the first place, as they fear the consequences of doing so.

On top of decision-makers ignoring and silencing tactics, young people also have to navigate the usual barriers that prevent them from participating. From financial constraints to lack of opportunity to organise and move through a complex system designed to slow them down – even where young people can participate in theory, they often can’t in practice.

For instance, where young people are allowed to run for their national parliaments it is often only the wealthy and well-networked who are able to do so and it’s thought that ‘playing dirty’ is the only way to be successful in the system. Once again, these barriers are higher for women who are still overburdened with responsibilities at home.

While it may not be surprising that young people perceive the highest level of participation as being full of ‘elites’, it is concerning those young people typically viewed most youth leaders and activists as ‘others’. Young people often did not recognise themselves as having these labels, feeling under pressure to achieve a work-life-study-leisure balance and assessing that dedication in an area like activism, where their voices ultimately will not matter, is not worth the effort.

Young people blame the education system, in part, for failing to teach them how to effectively express their views and support new ideas and the media for failing to represent them. But there remains hope. A third of survey respondents see volunteering in their local community as a good place to start and social media activism is perceived as an effective space for creating positive change.

That’s why campaigns like #MakeEducationWork are an important platform for young people, offering up the space they need to collaborate and improve their campaigning locally.


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Ignored and silenced: The story of young people in education policy

by #MakeEducationWork Reading time: 2 min