Erik Mikkus: State's youth policy is decaying

Erik Mikkus.
Erik Mikkus. Source: Estonian National Youth Council

The Minister of Education and Research has completely failed in topics relating to the youth - since taking up the position, the minister has only spoken about schools without even mentioning youth work, Erik Mikkus, the Estonian National Youth Council's public policy specialist, writes.

Let's be honest, the Estonian youth field has been decaying since before the heat wave this summer. Young people, who are claimed to be the future of our society with beautiful words only become the future in words, because there are no actions behind the words. We are used to praising the Estonian education system by looking at PISA testing results, but the equally good youth sector is considered trivial and it keeps being reflected in state developments.

The field has no goals or objectives because the government has still not approved the youth sector development plan. Yes, the document is drawn up and its contents are well known to people in the sector, but we are still wandering around in the dark because there is no confirmed basis or political willingness behind strategic goals. Where are we headed? What are we supposed to accomplish? These questions remain unanswered. The actions of both state and sector organizations are affected by what development plans see because at the end of the day, they are used to allocate funding and setting priorities.

Moreover, the Minister of Education and Research (Liina Kersna - ed) has completely failed when it comes to youth topics - instead of developments and clarity, the sector awaits cuts and systematic changes and the minister fails to understand what is actually happening. Since taking up the position, the minister has only spoken about schools without even mentioning youth work. Raise your hand if you have heard Liina Kersna say the words "youth work" or "youth organization"? Priorities are confirmed by cutting hobby education by half to increase teachers' wages. The mental health advocating ministers actions are cynical, especially when non-formal education is left without attention.

Dear minister, it is time to wake up, your area of governance is not only made up of general education! Liina Kersna acts as if her title was Minister of Basic and High Schools because the work of a Minister of Education and Research does not end when the young person steps out of the school door. There is much else in a young person's life: non-formal education, hobby activities, youth centers, youth organizations, but also well-being. This is only a small list of what is important to young people and what the minister unfortunately does not pay attention to.

The non-existent value of the youth sector is also emphasized by the fact that all ministry area heads are people with a background in education. The director general of the Education and Youth Board (Haridus- ja Noorteamet), who started at the position less than a year ago, announced in June that she will not continue as head of the authority during its second year of operation and that gave [the ministry] a solid chance to put people in charge who only look at school education. A chancellor with an educational background was quickly assigned as acting director. The actions of senior officials neglect the invaluable work done behind the scenes that is done by the youth sector and that is why it is so simple for the ministry to forget young people. That is the next step toward the extinction of the youth sector, because the ministry's board does not actually care about young people.

The ministry's current behavior is a clear knife blow to the sector's back. The formal education-swaying ministry has to set its priorities and understand that working with the youth - coordinating youth organizations, youth work, etc. - will never run out because there are more and more young people in the sector. Involving them in society's shaping and educating outside of schools is an ever lasting undertaking and not just another ticked box among tasks to do, as it seems to be right now.

There must be a person with a background in the youth sector involved on the board of the Ministry of Education and Research. Someone who is actually interested in the sector's development and is competent enough to lead it. In addition, it is incomprehensible how a chancellor with a background in general education is expected to lead youth topics - the sector cannot just jog behind education, it must be a priority for a separate deputy secretary general. And the minister must also acknowledge that the youth sector exists.

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Editor: Kristjan Kallaste

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