Participation in teaching

Youth in contemporary society

About the programme

The Youth in contemporary society lifelong learning programme is a youth studies pilot project. On many universities within the European Union and beyond, the field of youth studies is considered a part of social sciences so the education of youth work professionals is performed at undergraduate, graduate and postgraduate levels (university and specialist study programmes). The dynamics and complexity of contemporary society demand a methodical and coherent approach to the identification, analysis, and evaluation of the broad social context in which different social groups exist with the goal of developing responsive, adequate and quality public policies aimed at efficiently solving their problems. The youth, as a separate social group, are no exception from that and their distinctiveness has been recognized in many normative and other acts on national, international and global levels as well as the importance of quality education of professionals which will work for the youth and with the youth.

The proposed programme Youth in contemporary society consists of three modules covering the most important issues in the youth field – (I) youth research, (II) youth work, and (III) youth and community development.

The importance of starting a youth studies programme has two dimensions – the social dimension and the policy dimension.

The social dimension

The Youth in contemporary society lifelong learning programme represents a response to society’s clearly articulated need for an educational programme based on scientific research of youth as a specific social group, enabling students to achieve expertise in the youth studies field. The youth studies field is very complex because it requires insight into both general social and specific generational trends, as well as continuous ongoing research due to the dynamism of the youth population. Because of this, youth research requires an interdisciplinary approach and theoretical and methodological pluralism.

It’s worth noting that, even though the youth (in a national context) are primarily defined as a segment of the 15 – 29-year-old population, their overall social characteristics exceed by far the reductionism of age distribution. Current scientific knowledge resulting from numerous international and national studies clearly indicates that the youth are not a socially homogenous group, with their internal differentiation reflecting the social stratification of their broader society. Further internal separation occurs as a result of unequal maturation levels of distinct age cohorts (from adolescents to the so-called young adults), which generates the problem of identity construction and the extent of their preparedness for social integration. This results in youth being recognized as an especially vulnerable social group: on the one hand, they are faced with all the problems present in a certain society and time period, and on the other, they are plagued by generation specific problems. All these things complicate youth transition from the relatively protected period of childhood and early adolescence to the adult world where they’re expected to assume permanent social roles. As if that’s not enough, they’re also faced with contradictory social expectations according to which they’re expected to continue existing development trends and at the same time bear completely new socially advantageous tendencies, which is especially difficult in a time characterized by ever growing rate of global changes requiring optimal adaptation on both the individual and social levels. However, for different reasons, contemporary societies often fail to fully utilize the innovative and creative potential of the youth. So, precisely with the purpose of realising the welfare of both the youth and the society as a whole, various social actors have a great responsibility to create and support the conditions for the development of existing youth potential.

To effectively work with the youth it is necessary to have a coherent set of tools relevant for studying and understanding the youth as an important social resource, but also as a heterogeneous social group within which exist distinct youth subgroups with particular problems and needs. Taking all this into account, the Youth in contemporary society educational programme offers a spectrum of skills and knowledge from multiple social disciplines which are needed to understand the social context (especially emphasising Croatian society) in which the youth play a major role or are a group of particular concern.

The programme is unique in Croatia, but it is comparable to some of the most prestigious similar programmes all over the European Union, and as such it represents an inevitable component of contemporary social sciences. An added social need for the Youth in contemporary society programme rises from the democratic deficit of the youth, warningly illustrated by recent socio-political studies of national authors (Ilišin i sur., 2015; Kovačić i Horvat, 2016). Civic competence developed through civic education is one of eight fundamental dimensions stipulated by the Council of Europe. Although the Croatian educational system nominally includes a civic education module, it’s (inter-subject) implementation is severely lacking. Recent research (Baketa i Ćulum, 2016) warns of this and points to the unpreparedness of the teachers as the main cause; it was indicated that the teacher courses students do not receive enough content in their higher education to be able to cover the civic education field. This is why the Youth in contemporary society programme offers (future) teachers and youth workers the necessary educational scope for developing the civic competence of youth in the best way possible.

The policy dimension

Youth work is one of the foundations of the European public youth policy. The concept, which incorporates enriching leisure time by methods of informal learning, processuality, and values such as inclusivity, democracy, need-based approach, and co-creating content by youth, is becoming an increasingly important segment of public policies in Croatia. Namely, the European Qualifications Framework recognizes youth workers as one of the regulated professions, and Croatia has made a commitment to implement the same into the Croatian Qualification Framework. This is precisely the reason why in 2015 the Ministry of Demography, Families, Youth and Social Politics founded a National Task Force for analysing and structuring Youth work, and the Ministry of Labour and Pension System begun developing the qualification and employment standard. In that context, one of the imperatives is a formal education of youth workers which will be a key element of professionalising that work. Since Croatia currently has no educational programme for youth workers, by implementing this programme, Rijeka University is pioneering this educational field in Croatia. The inclusion of the Institute for Social Research in Zagreb in the joint conceptualization and execution of this educational programme contributes to it being founded on verified scientific knowledge on younger generations which is the result of research studies in the past several decades. For the past 20 years, the Institute has been contributing scientific foundations for conceptualizing public policies for youth in Croatia, on national as well as regional levels.

Such practice in Croatia is in accordance with the Council of Europe and European Commission views on the necessity of adopting policies based on evidence, especially youth policies. Through numerous documents (for example The White Paper on Youth, EU Youth Strategy, The 2nd European Youth Work Declaration, The European Charter on the Participation of Young People in Local and Regional Life) these bodies direct and propose to member states that in creating public youth policies they should consider scientific insights into youth issues with the purpose of adopting the highest quality and appropriate decisions which will enable dealing with problems in the most effective way possible. This life long learning programme is also in accordance with Council of Europe and European Union views that there is a need for a commitment to strengthening and furthering development of youth work (and youth work education and training) on a European level, as is stated in the European Youth Work Agenda.

The importance of cooperation between the scientific and non-academic public is also promoted in the Rijeka University Strategy which recognizes the necessity of improving communication and interpretation of scientific research results to the non-academic public with the purpose of their use. A great example is the dimension of Youth research, envisioned in this educational programme, which has a goal to connect these two groups and raise the utilization of research results in the general population.

Local self-administration units are obliged to have an official coordinating the work of the youth advisory board and this study programme offers necessary competence to such individuals. Besides, the Croatian Employment Service is offering programmes (Youth guarantee education, unemployed youth clubs) which managed to approach the target population (youth) and created the need to implement a coherent and methodical set of communication skills for youth work. Further, due to the lack of formal education programmes for educating youth workers, professionals working in educational services (schools, student housing) lack a complete competence set needed to organise leisure time, encourage a healthy lifestyle and create a stimulative environment to develop youth civic competence.