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  • Writer's picturealicjapawluczuk

European perspective: Digital Youth Engagement Erasmus + Project

In October, I attended a Digital Youth Engagement Training in Warsaw, where I was able to share my expertise with youth workers ( & youth workers to-be) from all over Europe. It was definitely an eye-opening experience for me - both as a youth worker and a researcher.

Back in 2015, I was invited to join Polish Cultural Festival Association to support their European Youth research initiative. The aim of this project is to explore the cultural and development needs of young Poles living across three different European countries - Scotland, Hungary and Iceland. The project is sponsored by Erasmus+UK and School for Leaders for the Polish Community Abroad.

Over the course of two years, Polish Cultural Festival Association networked with young people in Scotland to seek their opinions and guidance with regards to the future plans of the organisation. Personally, I was involved in the practical aspects of youth engagement - running focus groups and workshops.

During the second stage of the project, in 2016, I was able to join the team on a trip to Warsaw to attend a youth engagement training. The aim of this course was to introduce youth engagement methods, which will be implemented by the organisations in the near future.

Foto by Kasia Jackowska

During Erasmus+ Youth Engagement training in Warsaw, I was able to learn about youth work practices in Poland. Additionally, I had a chance to share some of my own expertise, by leading one of the workshop focusing on digital technologies.

I think it is important to say, that I have been living in Scotland for 12 years now. I came to this beautiful country as a 19 year-old girl and turned into a-relatively-grown-adult here. The Scottish guidelines for youth development and the importance of informal education have been naturally at the centre of my work and beliefs. I had hardly had any previous knowledge of youth work originating from Poland. I came to Warsaw with an open mind.

In fact, I was really excited to learn about youth work ideas from my home country.

Youth Work in Poland

In order to have some understanding of youth work in Poland, I decided to do so some online research.I came across an interesting article outlining the history of this particular practice in Poland. Interestingly, it is claimed that youth engagement in the 20th and 21st century was mainly linked to the political movements ( such as Youth Solidarity Movement or Orange Alternative) or the Catholic Church. This article by Marcin Sińczuch provides a very helpful table outlining the most significant changes in Polish youth work in the 20th and 21st century.

According to Sińczuch, in 2008, Polish youth work was mainly related to sport activities. Overall, he claims that youth work needs to become more varied and dynamic for the young people to fully exercise their citizenship rights.

So, what about Polish youth work in 2016?

I was curious. Firstly I decided to google youth work + Poland to learn more about the Polish perspective in this area. I wasn't surprised to see mainly international and European agencies leading the way. From my quick online search, I could clearly see that Polish youth work is definitely becoming more diverse. The projects varied from coding to street art. It seems that the youth workers went a long way from 'Sińczuch's lack of diversity' in 2008 - to the colourful images I saw online.

Project This Way - Warsaw Praga

Image source

In terms of digital youth engagement, I was slightly disappointed with the methods presented during the course. Perhaps it's due to the fact that I am spoiled with the Scottish creativity and tech innovation, but some of the ideas presented seemed to be quite outdated. The workshop facilitator, who is undoubtedly an expert in this area, offered the use of QR codes or a Hashtag as effective ways to engage young people. I do admit that these are good methods to get young people started with the basic technologies, but in order to be truly creative we need to look further than this.

In my view, for the young people to fully benefit from the diverse and creative technologies, we should aim to experiment beyond the simple use of a hashtag. We ought to encourage them to explore, experiment and lead the way.

Getting to know Polish youth workers

I was super excited to meet some of the people who shape the future of informal youth education in my home country. Over the course of 4 days, I had a chance to learn about different methods currently used in Poland. Among them, were things such as improvisation, theatre, street work and graffiti art. I was particularly impressed with one of the youth workers, who contributed to the development of young people in one of the most deprived areas in Warsaw, Praga. The stories of engaging young people in bike reconstruction, parkour and film, were truly inspiring.

The youth worker did not seek to change the youth but to provide him with an alternative view of the world.

She told us stories about young people leaving their neighbourhood for the first time and the difficulties of gaining trust in the local community. Overall, I was very impressed with the work they do, their kindness and courage. I was a bit worried about the lack of formal guidance and regulations in this type of work. However, on the other hand, if these regulations were in place - this type of work might not be possible.

Below, I'm embedding a participatory film made by children and young people in Warsaw Praga in 2000. This films shows you some of the issues affecting the area at the time. I must highlight that things have improved since then ( it's been 12 years since this film was recorded!). Nonetheless, I think this is an interesting film experiment, which clearly outlines the need for more youth services in Poland.

My Digital Youth Engagement workshop

A big part of the training was dedicated to digital technologies and their use in youth engagement. I was invited to lead on of the sessions, where I happily shared some of my practical experience and digital expertise. During my session, I specifically focused on analysing youth's perspective on digital media and discussing the problem of adultism . My aim was to stimulate a collective reflection on our ( very often generalised) perception of young people as passive technology consumers.

As a trainer, I wanted to share the vision of young people as active agents of change and technology experts.

Although I wasn't able to cover my entire workshop due to lack of time, I think that I managed to cover most of the ideas. I received some really positive feedback with regards to my Social Media Timeline exercise (studying social media updates from influential Twitter accounts to identify examples of adultism ).

Additionally, I was able to learn from other project's participants about their experience of using digital media when working with young people.

Hearing about the differences in the state of digital media education and awareness across Hungary, Iceland and Poland, provided me with a fresh perspective of the challenges of my own research. I also hope to interview youth work experts in the 2nd year of my project.

Overall, it was a great experience to learn more about youth engagement methods presented during the workshop. I am definitely more aware of the challenges in these type of projects, such as - lack of digital resources in Polish, funding researchers or youth development strategy. I'm also extremely impressed with the positive energy of the youth workers, who despite the above challenges, are super keen to make a difference in youth's lives.

Thank you for having me :)

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