30 ONLINE 26 B, Inclusion and Social Justice in ESE
MeetingID: 960 2594 1643 Code: p1iVuR
Education for sustainability is a consolidated area of research, including several theoretical and empirical studies. The role of young people’s participation in public decisions is seen as a crucial starting point for the development of a sustainable, just, equitable world (Riva, 2018; UN, 2018). In fact, “education can build lasting change, that is ‘sustainable change’, because it is owned and affected by participating stakeholders” (Sterling, 2016, p. 211).
Within this framework, the contribution presents the Youth Forum GenerAzioni (YF), an experience for young people that promotes education for participation in public-decision making processes, as a matter of/and around sustainability and social justice.
YF is a space developed and run by young people, aged between 15 and 35, within the Festival GenerAzioni, a public engagement action, promoted by the Education for Social Justice (E4SJ) research project. E4SJ is promoted by the “Riccardo Massa” Department of Human Sciences for Education, University of Milano-Bicocca. The YF was addressed in particular to young people coming from three different groups: a) the local secondary schools; b) community educational services; c) the University of Milano Bicocca. It draws on the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development with the aim of making social justice a topic to research and work on with the local community the University is part of.
Education considers sustainability at the intersection of several contemporary challenges - social justice and the fight against inequality, environmental justice and the promotion of rights - and focuses on the participation of all in public life, starting with the younger generations. Humans need to learn how to live in a way that conjugates the economic, ecological and social components of sustainability. “From this perspective, sustainability de facto exists when all the various societal actors have the opportunity to express themselves and to take their share of responsibility for their community’s environmental, social, and economic agenda; and when all generations can contribute to and support (etymologically to sustain) the “project” for the community. The active participation of all social actors in a community project is a basic condition for the transition of a social system towards sustainability” (Pippa, et Al. p.13). To this end, education can enhance the effectiveness of the means of implementation of the SDGs through developing informed engagement, agency , empowerment (Biggeri, et Al. 2011; Biggeri, Karkara, 2014), and so on.
Within this framework, the contribution reflects on the structure and objectives of the Youth Forum GenerAzioni based on the results of the evaluation focus groups realised at the end of the experience, in order to reflect on the meanings the involved young people gave to their participation in it.
YF’s work-plan was coordinated by the scientific committee Festival, ensuring ethical procedures, safeguarding the rights of the participants. The work was facilitated by researchers of the “Riccardo Massa” Department of Human Sciences for education”. Based on the respect of (children’s) human rights, which inform participatory research methods (O’Kane, 2008; Welty & Lundy, 2013; Christensen & James, 2017) and the principles of public engagement (Maile, S., & Griffiths,2014), YF promoted the possibility for each participant to learn how to have a say, speak up, experience oneself and be experienced as a person with the right to express oneself (Clark & Moss, 2001) and to have those expressions valued by others (Abma et al., 2019). YF’s workplan was made up of three phases: 1. “Let’s network” (April/May 2021) involved the three groups separately, sharing their meanings on the themes of education, sustainability, and social justice. The idea underpinning this phase is that for learning for participation to be meaningful it needs to be grounded in daily experiences (Percy-Smith & Thomas, 2010). 2. “Let’s build participation” (June/July 2021) was the first time the groups joined to discuss the various themes that emerged precedingly and started developing a proposal for the Festival. It’s based on the assumption that participation in decision-making processes is configured as a dialogical process where mutual recognition, interdependence, conflict and respect are key aspects (Percy-Smith & Thomas, 2010). 3. “Let’s take the floor” (September-October 2021) concluded and opened up YF by sharing ideas and proposals with the community, including the ombudsperson of the city of Milan. Sustainability has to do with taking care of the ‘social commune goods’ (Riva, 2018), therefore it needs to be a public process. At the end of YF the meanings given by the participants to their experience were explored through the focus group technique (Merriam, 2009). To facilitate participants' expression, photo-elicitation (Harper,2002) was chosen, specifically using illustrated playing cards. The use of images can facilitate the exploration of topics that would otherwise be too complex to explore (Rose, 2001; Pink, 2006), and elicits "deep and interesting discourse" (Harper, 2002: 23; Leavy, 2020:160). The participants chose the image that most closely represented their meaning of participation within the YF, assigned it a title and shared their reflections with the group. The data analysis process followed the phenomenological-hermeneutic direction, based on thematic analysis (Van Manen,1990; Mortari,2016).
Participation is a difficult concept to define (Percy-Smith, 2010; Montà,2021) but the participants used metaphors, such as ‘a path’, ‘stairs’, ‘fertile ground’, ‘roses’, ‘light’, to call forth the essential dimensions of the phenomenon. Amongst the recalled dimensions, we find the perceived idea of the objectives and ends of YF. Specifically, they include the elaboration of a shared idea of the meanings of social justice and sustainability, that can have concrete repercussions in terms of bettering one’s own living conditions. They see the goal of YF as opening up new possibilities, also in personal terms, considering it as a way to answer one’s own needs, such as socializing. Another element concerns the ‘space’ of participation. It has been described as positive, non-judging, trustworthy, nice, bright, interesting, "annoying," stimulating. This kind of space promotes the creation of a sense of group, thinking and sharing ideas, debating, clashing and meeting. These qualities and actions cannot but remind us that for participation to develop, space is a central dimension (Lundy, 2007), that needs to take the form of a public ‘agora’, may it be a physical or a symbolic one. Another central theme concerns the sense of group. Its heterogeneity is underlined a lot by referring to the different experiential fields they come from–ages, origins, areas in which they live. At the same time, the group is seen as a prerequisite to be listened to and to express oneself. It is in fact a place in which one can share and find support. Furthermore, the YF has been compared and contrasted to other groups the participants are part of, like school. In conclusion, the YF presents an effective model for the engagement of young people which can be implemented for training youth in taking active part in collective decision making processes.
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