On Nov. 28 the Estonian Youth Assembly together with members of the Riigikogu introduced the assembly's manifesto. One hundred years after the first of the Estonian parliamentary assemblies declared itself the supreme power and de jure shook off Imperial Russian rule, 106 youngsters discuss in their manifesto what their generation's most important topics will have to be.
106 students aged 15 to 19 worked on the manifesto, elected in schools around the country. The students include Estonian as well as Russian speakers and represent a broad selection of youngsters out of every corner of Estonia.
They discussed four main topics that the manifesto now covers as well: education, involvement of young people in social life, integration, and Estonia's nature and living environment. In the manifesto, the authors defined these four as their generation's great topics.
Education: Less pressure, more cooperation, more relevance
Though they recognized that the Estonian education system was one of the world's best, the authors wrote, results alone couldn't be measured. They pointed out that to achieve the top position in e.g. the PISA study, students were put under pressure.
"Imagine, dear members of the Riigikogu, having to pass a test every year that ranks you and compares your problem solving skills to those of other countries' parliaments. And all the results would be public, free for everyone to see and comment. How would you feel? We could use the time we spend on these tests to tutor others, for example, to arrange extracurricular activities, and participate in them. Or spend the time with our families," the authors wrote.
Problems of the education system in Estonia included a lack of materials and resources, the need to drill facts instead of concentrating on processes, and the resulting workload, the lack of relevance of what is taught for later life, and that no attention is paid to students' mental wellbeing, the manifesto brought out.
According to the manifesto, the lack of resources is absurd enough to have teachers ask students about to head over to parliament to ask the officials there when they can expect a certain batch of textbooks to arrive.
Complaints of the youngsters concerning students' mental health include what they describe as a conflict between the teachers and the students. The relationship was defined by conflict, a lack of trust, inequality, and a low appreciation of one another. This kept students under pressure as they needed to worry about what they could say openly, and what they needed to keep to themselves.
The manifesto pleads for a new understanding of the student-teacher relationship as one of cooperation partners, rather than the classic roles.
Bullying and mobbing experienced in school remains and is carried over to the workplace in later life, negatively affecting quality of life. Because of this effect, the role of the school psychologists needs to be more important: it can't be acceptable that youngsters feel embarrassed if they need help, the authors of the manifesto write.
Social involvement: Need to recognize youngers' efforts
Youngsters' involvement in society often goes unnoticed and is generally undervalued, the manifesto states. Schools don't take an active role in promoting students' involvement on social events and subjects, and there was a lack of organizations that provided the material resources necessary for students to carry out projects of their own.
Their activity should be more actively supported, the manifesto states, for example with an annual event to recognize those of Estonia's young people who have done or achieved a lot during the year. The activity of the young as well as the lack thereof is an important indicator of the state of a society, the authors write.
Integration: Work against mistrust
The manifesto calls on the media not to deal with matters of integration by exclusively negative reporting. It states the signatories' belief that their generation is more open and welcoming towards people different from themselves, and sees the lack of language skills as one of the main reasons for a lack of trust that then leads to intolerance and hatred.
The organizations addressing these issues aren't getting the attention they deserve, the authors think. On top of allowing them to play a bigger role, there was a need for more explanations in difficult situations, which could be done by means of social campaigns.
To improve the situation, young people need to be taught the necessary analytical skills to be able to handle the onslaught of the media today.
Nature: Take stock of natural resources, protect them, switch to sustainable energy
Estonia, famously, is a country of forests, lakes, rivers, and clean air, the manifesto states, adding that the understanding Estonians have of themselves is that of a people closely connected to their land. Nevertheless, there is a need to address the way the Estonian people treated their natural environment.
The belief in this among the young was waning, which is why the change to sustainable energy sources is needed, the authors write. This should be done by 2035, or the time the signatories' own children would be about to enter middle school. Currently the state has no overview of its natural resources, and also the damage that is done to them: this needed to be addressed, and measures taken to maintain the natural variety of environment.
The necessity of this can't be put into question, and steps need to be taken even if they may cost a lot.
In their conclusion, the youngsters point out that great change usually begins with small things. In this manifesto they talked about the way they see Estonia and the country's future, and offered ideas what every individual can do to contribute to a better future.
Editor: Dario Cavegn