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EACEA National Policies Platform


9. Youth and the World

9.1 General context

Last update: 28 November 2023
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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.

The 16th Report on Children and Youth of the German Federal Government (16. Kinder- und Jugendbericht der Bundesregierung, PDF 6.8 MB) called ‘Supporting democracy education for children and young people’ (‘Förderung demokratischer Bildung im Kindes- und Jugendalter’) from 2020 calls for a clear political commitment to education for democracy and human rights in view of the growing challenges to democracy.

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 (ESD) teaches learners to think and act in a way that is fit for the future. It encourages people to tackle urgent global problems and to drive change. In addition to ecological and economic challenges, it also addresses social issues such as equal opportunities and quality of life. The 17 Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations (17 Nachhaltigkeitsziele der Vereinten Nationen) and UNESCO’s new programme ‘Education for Sustainable Development: Learn for our planet. Act for sustainability’ (Bildung für nachhaltige Entwicklung: Die globalen Nachhaltigkeitsziele verwirklichen’, BNE 2030, for short) provide the international framework. One of the programme‘s key fields of action is strengthening and mobilising young people. The National Action Plan ESD (Nationaler Aktionsplan, BNE) sees them as key players (or agents of change) for sustainable development.

In 2021, UNESCO published a roadmap on education for sustainable development (Roadmap zur Bildung für nachhaltige Entwicklung, PDF 5.4 MB). UNESCO is the United Nation’s lead agency for Education for Sustainable Development (ESD). The roadmap addresses the pressing challenges the planet is facing and it presents the next steps UNESCO will take in response to these challenges through education.

Intergenerational justice, quality of life, social cohesion and international responsibility are the guiding principles of Germany’s Sustainable Development Strategy (Weiterentwicklung der Deutschen Nachhaltigkeitsstrategie in 2021). Based on these guiding principles, the strategy defines indicators with medium- and long-term targets.

Global education (Globales Lernen)

Global education is an educational concept that has emerged from development policy education. It is seen as a pedagogical response to globalisation processes and is based on the premise that development is not the sole responsibility of the countries of the Global South. Lifestyles in the Global North must also change in order to be sustainable and fit for the future. Global education establishes connections between global interdependencies and individual lives. It provides answers to the question: ‘What does this have to do with me?’ and shows ways to actively work for a fairer world.

Global education is process-oriented and supports equal-level, peer-learning approaches. The methods of global education provide a holistic understanding of global interdependencies. Global education is therefore an important pillar of education for sustainable development.

Areas of global education are set, for example, using the Curriculum Framework: Education for Sustainable Development (Available in German):

  • 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).
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.

UNESCO’s ‘Learning to live together sustainably website presents trends and progress that has been made in achieving Sustainable Development Goal 4.7, which focuses on education for sustainable development and global citizenship education.

Transformative education (Transformative Bildung)

Transformative education is another concept that is being discussed in the context of global education and education for sustainable development. Education is considered to be ‘transformative’ when it not only expands knowledge or skills but fundamentally changes our perception of ourselves and of the world. It is about questioning acquired patterns of thinking, feeling and acting, common judgements and social principles by which we live. Transformative education examines our relationship to other people and to the world, our understanding of social power relations and global justice.

The term was partly coined in the expert review by the German Advisory Council on Global Change (WBGU) called “World in Transition. A Social Contract for Sustainability”.

Youth interest in global issues

Young people today are growing up in a globalised world, and global issues therefore play a key role in their lives. Top priorities are the environment and climate. The ‘Future? Ask the Youth! – 2021’ (Zukunft? Jugend fragen! – 2021) study, which was commissioned by the German Environment Agency (Umweltbundesamt, UBA) and the Federal Ministry for the Environment (Bundesumweltministerium, BMUV), found that 85% of the interviewed 14 to 22 year-olds consider environmental and climate protection to be very important – alongside education, health and global justice. 71% of young people consider the expected environmental conditions for future generations to be unjust, likewise the consequences of climate change for poorer people and the countries of the Global South. According to 81% of respondents, policy-makers should pay more attention to the demands of young people on climate issues.

Increased commitment to the climate is reflected in the large number of young people taking part in the Fridays for Future movement. The global climate movement is demanding compliance with the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement and urges policy-makers to implement concrete and effective climate protection measures.

According to the 2020 Sinus youth study ‘How do young people tick?’ (Sinus-Jugendstudie 2020 ‘Wie ticken Jugendliche’, PDF 12.2 MB), environmental protection is currently one of the biggest concerns for almost all young people. Fun and the fulfilment of consumer desires play a less significant role in the lives of the respondents today than they did just a few years ago. The study also shows that many young people find the debate about world events to be depressing. The war in Ukraine has contributed to this since 2022.

The 18th Shell Youth Study (18. Shell-Jugendstudie) from 2019 shows that many young people are increasingly concerned about the future of the planet, tend to be mindful of their own lifestyles and have a strong sense of justice and urge to take action. However, the affinity of some young people with populism should not be overlooked. One of the reasons for this is that young people feel they have not been sufficiently consulted or involved.

Greenpeace Germany‘s Sustainability Barometer 2021 (Nachhaltigkeitsbarometer) confirms this conclusion. It found that young people have little confidence in politics when it comes to a sustainable future. 70% of young people fear environmental destruction, species extinction and the climate crisis.

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 (2019 Freiwillige in internationalen Freiwilligendiensten). In 2019, 193 organisations took part in the survey. They placed a total of 7,209 volunteers abroad. These figures show a slight decrease in volunteers compared to the previous year's figure.The number of workcamp participants fell by 37.6% compared to the year before. 48.2% of all participants of regulated programmes went abroad via the 'weltwärts' volunteer programme. About 23% 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, India, Peru, Ecuador, Ghana, Bolivia and the USA. Female volunteers accounted for around 69% of volunteers in state-funded programmes, while in workcamps they represented about 60%.

The statistical reports of the Federal Statistics Office (Statistisches Bundesamt) contain data on the destination countries visited by German students. In 2019, outside of Europe the most popular countries included the United States, China, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Japan.