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EACEA National Policies Platform: Youthwiki


9. Youth and the World

9.1 General context

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  1. Main concepts
  2. Youth interest in global issues

Main concepts

In 1992, Germany ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UN-Kinderrechtskonvention), which gives children and young people a right of participation. Participation is a cornerstone of youth policy in Germany. The youth check (Jugendcheck) developed in the 18th legislative period (2017) looks at proposed new laws and their effects on young people aged between 12 and 27.

In 2001, the federal government and the federal states adopted joint guidelines on international youth policy and youth work (Leitlinien der Internationalen Jugendpolitik und Jugendarbeit von Bund und Ländern). The guidelines explain the overall responsibility of the federal government, the states and the local communities for international youth exchange. Each level promotes youth exchange programmes within its power and at its discretion.

In a global education context, the following important terms and concepts are used in Germany:

Education for sustainable development (Bildung für nachhaltige Entwicklung)

Education for sustainable development aims to give school children the skills they need to make an active contribution to a green, economic and socially just environment taking global aspects, basic democratic principles and cultural diversity into account. It is a holistic, interdisciplinary concept. The goal is to understand complex interconnections and acquire what is called 'Gestaltungskompetenz' in German, which refers to the ability to apply knowledge to sustainable development and recognise the problems of non-sustainable development. It includes many different subsets of skills. The category called 'Interacting in heterogeneous groups' covers skills such as being able to plan and negotiate with others and being able to take part in decision-making processes. This includes the participation of young people.

Global education (Globales Lernen)

The term 'global education' covers many educational intentions and perspectives as well as topic areas to be taught (Bunk, B., 2017). Global education is about "teaching the skills to take action as an individual and collectively in the name of worldwide solidarity". It "promotes respect of other cultures, ways of living and world views. It highlights the prerequisites associated with one's own position and enables people to find sustainable solutions to shared problems. Global education is largely seen as part of education for sustainable development.

Areas of global education are set, for example, using the Curriculum Framework: Education for Sustainable Development (Orientierungsrahmen für den Lernbereich Globale Entwicklung):

  • Social affairs (demographic development, urban-rural relations, culture/lifeworld, religions, language/communication, mobility, socialisation/education, solidarity systems, health),
  • Economy (economic systems, economic sectors, informal structures, foreign trade, commodity markets/trade, financial markets, labour market, technology/energy, agriculture),
  • Politics (international structures, state structure, system of rule, legal system, lobbies/representation of interests, internal and external security),
  • Environment (natural space, lithosphere, soil, biosphere/fauna, flora, air/climate, water, system relation human being-nature).

Further information can also be found in the discussion paper 'Global education as transformative education for sustainable development' (Globales Lernen als transformative Bildung für eine zukunftsfähige Entwicklung), 2014. The paper was published by VENRO (Verband Entwicklungspolitik und Humanitäre Hilfe deutscher Nichtregierungsorganisationen), the umbrella organisation of development and humanitarian aid non-governmental organisations, at the end of the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development.

Transformative education (Transformative Bildung)

The term 'transformative education' (Transformative Bildung) was partly coined in the expert review by the German Advisory Council on Global Change (Wissenschaftlicher Beirat der Bundesregierung Globale Umweltveränderungen, WBGU) called 'World in Transition. A Social Contract for Sustainability' (Welt im Wandel: Gesellschaftsvertrag für eine Große Transformation). It is featuring more and more as a new concept in debates on global education and education for sustainable development. The corresponding UNESCO conference “ESDfor2030” to adopt the follow-up programme for the ESD global action programme (ESD = Education for Sustainable Development) has been rescheduled for 2021.

Global citizenship education

The term 'global citizenship education' (GCE) is increasingly finding its way into everyday use in connection with global education. GCE is often used as a cover-all term for various educational concepts, from development policy education, global education, peace education, human rights education, and political and intercultural education, to education for sustainable development.

Youth interest in global issues


Current studies show that young people are actively learning about global questions and issues. Young people are engaged in environmental issues, in peace work and development policy work.

The 2017 child and youth report (Kinder- und Jugendbericht 2017) published by the federal government says that young people are interested in global issues like conservation and energy policy, as well as world affairs. The 2016 child and youth report was commissioned in 2018 and is currently being written.

The 2020 Sinus Youth Study (Sinus-Jugendstudie) on 'What makes young people tick in Germany' (Wie ticken Jugendliche?) says that almost all young people see protection of the environment as one of the biggest challenges of today and tomorrow. Glamour, hedonism and consumption are less relevant to the young people surveyed than they were a few years ago.

The 2014 German Survey on Volunteering (Deutscher Freiwilligensurvey) shows that 14- to 29-year-olds have the highest participation rate when it comes to joint public activities (74.7%). This age group has one of the highest rates of volunteers. More school pupils and people with good school-leaving qualifications work as volunteers than people with average and poor educations. Owing to the Coronavirus pandemic, the publication deadline for the 2019 Survey has been pushed back. A summary report is scheduled for publication in early 2021, with the publication of the main report anticipated for summer 2021.

According to the 18th Shell Youth Study (Shell-Jugendstudie, 2019) young people are increasingly voicing their opinions, sharing their interests and concerns not just among their peers, but also with policymakers, employees and the wider public. The majority of young people are fairly optimistic about the future. They are increasingly satisfied with democracy and their opinion of the EU is largely positive. Most young people are tolerant and maintain a liberal outlook. Their biggest fear is environmental destruction.

Greenpeace Germany's 2015 sustainability barometer (Nachhaltigkeitsbarometer) shows that young people care about climate protection and the paradigm shift in energy production towards renewable energy sources (Energiewende). They are committed to a socially just and resource-friendly lifestyle in many different ways.

Another representative survey by Greenpeace (Mode: Jugend denkt grün, kauft aber konventionell, 2015) highlighted fashion consumption behaviour among young people. It showed that young people are aware of social and ecological ills in the textile industry and would like to have more practical information and purchasing guides. However, despite this knowledge they still make snap purchases in shops and online without considering the sustainability aspect.

The 2018 Environmental Consciousness Study (Umweltbewusstsein in Deutschland) has been complemented by an interim survey conducted in early summer 2019. In 2019, 81% of 14- to 22-year-olds indicated they felt very strongly about environmental and climate protection, with 67% of those aged 23 and above stating the same. Adolescents stated that environmental and climate protection was their top concern. A similar picture emerges when asking about their priorities in relation to the energy transition. In 2018, 77% of 14- to 19-year-olds said that a rapid reduction in greenhouse gas emissions was their top priority. Over the entire sample, this was the case for 50% of respondents. The 2020 study is in preparation.

Future? Ask young people! (Zukunft? Jugend fragen!) This study is published jointly by the Federal Ministry for the Environment (Bundesumweltministerium) and the German Environment Agency (Umweltbundesamt). The authors interviewed a representative sample to explore what role environmental and climate concerns play in the lives of young people aged 14 to 22 in Germany. What is driving this generation to spend their Fridays demonstrating in the streets? Has this movement captured an entire generation or is it being carried by individuals? The publication answers there and other questions, followed by the demands that the youth project advisory group is aiming at environment policymakers. These demands, which build on the results of the study, were drawn up in a participatory process involving a large number of young people.

The 2014 study Environmental Consciousness in Germany (Umweltbewusstsein in Deutschland) shows that young people are actually becoming less willing to consider the environment in their actions. However, they are very interested both in concepts on sharing that aim to protect the environment, and approaches to conscientious consumption. 

Another study by the German Environment Agency (Umweltbundesamt) in 2011 gives an insight into youth culture and how young people can be introduced to the topic of sustainability. The study shows that there is an awareness of the environment and the need for sustainability. Interest in more in-depth and, above all, active involvement with the issue is still lacking and young people need targeted incentives and motivation.

The results of the study 'Youth, sustainability and sustainable consumption' (Jugend, Nachhaltigkeit und nachhaltiger Konsum) by the Hans Böckler Foundation from 2012 also show that sustainable thinking is widespread among young people.

At a federal state level, in 2016 the state of Hesse published a youth study called Quality of life – happy in Hesse (Lebensqualität – Glücklich in Hessen). The study showed that young people are highly aware of current challenges, including environmental and climate protection.

There are various ways for young people in Germany to get involved internationally. For more information, see:

Statistical records

The Learning and Helping Overseas Association (AKLHÜ e.V. - Fachstelle und Netzwerk für internationale personelle Zusammenarbeit) keeps annual records of volunteer numbers across both regulated (funded by the state) and unregulated (private) international volunteer programmes, and of workcamp participation levels (2016 Freiwillige in internationalen Freiwilligendiensten). In 2018, 187 organisations took part in the survey. They placed a total of 8,685 volunteers abroad. 92% of volunteers were placed via regulated, 8% via unregulated, programmes. The number of workcamp participants fell by 12.6% compared to the year before. 45.9% of all participants of regulated programmes went abroad via the 'weltwärts' volunteer programme. About 25% of all returning volunteers are actively involved in initiatives run by their sending organisation in Germany. The most popular destination countries outside of Europe were the UK, South Africa, France, India and Peru. Female volunteers accounted for around 71% of volunteers across all programmes, while in workcamps they represented over 68%.

The 2016 statistical reports (Deutsche Studierende im Ausland. Ergebnisse des Berichtsjahres 2016) of the Federal Statistics Office (Statistisches Bundesamt) contain data on the destination countries visited by students. In 2017, outside of Europe the most popular countries included the United States, China, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Japan.