Should the youth refuse university education

Youth and Corona: An interview with educational scientist Johanna Wilmes

No open spaces, no say: The educational scientist Johanna Wilmes has examined how young people experience the corona pandemic. An important result of the online survey: a greater understanding of the situation of young people in the pandemic is required.

UniReport: In an article in the FAZ, the Frankfurt philosopher Marcus Willaschek asked the (pointed) question why society doesn't applaud the younger generation, who have benefited the least from the lockdown but suffered the most from it. Would you agree with him?

Johanna Wilmes: Young people do not feel that they have been seen, their coping achievements are not recognized. Journalist Anna Mayr asked a question similar to that of Mr. Willaschek in ZEIT. Our data show that the younger generation has suffered from lockdown, contact restrictions, the frequent loss of organized leisure activities and the repeated changes in the education system. Just like older people, many young people have lost their sources of income in the catering, cultural and retail sectors. It shouldn't be about a competition as to which generation has suffered the most. Nonetheless, it is clear that the current power structures mean that young people depend on adults to stand up for them, to give them a voice and opportunities to participate. For this, an appreciative dialogue between the generations is essential, after which, of course, we can also applaud.

One could surmise that the complaints of young people about not being heard also have something to do with a classic generation conflict. Some are old (older) and are afraid of Corona (and want to protect themselves and others), others are young and carefree and demand more freedom again. Surely this comparison does not go far enough?

Our study shows that young people are by no means careless. They often worry about infecting their elderly relatives. The feeling of not being heard is more likely to be associated with not being taken seriously, and often just because of age. We have often been able to learn from young people in our work; they open up a completely different view of youth and childhood. Because what exactly defines this age, which topics are current, what it takes to grow up "well", changes over time. In view of this, too, it is necessary to listen to young people and include their thoughts and wishes in decision-making processes. You have many good and realistic ideas on how youth policy issues can be approached or how schools and universities can be designed.

The pandemic has probably made a fundamental part of the everyday life of young people. One result is that the »open spaces« are missing, even more so than the hobbies, is particularly stressful. Is this aspect missing in urban planning? Could the (necessary) push towards digitization ensure that the lack of “real” rooms is overlooked? Are those young people particularly affected who live at home in spatially and socially cramped conditions?

This is followed by the question “Who does the city belong to?” And that is above all a question of power and the appropriation of space. What opportunities are given to young people to be outside in public places and to use them for themselves? The ideas of adults and young people often diverge here. A good example of this is often provided by park benches as inviting places for young people to “chill” there, which, however, are not intended for this in urban planning. That can lead to conflict. In Frankfurt there were recurring discussions about e.g. B. Friedberger Platz, Opernplatz or, finally, the Hafenpark. But open spaces are extremely important for young people. “Chilling” is a way of escaping from everyday life, relieving stress and exchanging experiences with people of the same age. Basically, this applies equally to most young people. However, during the lockdown period, it became a special issue for those in cramped living quarters. Because it is difficult to stay in a cramped apartment with your family all the time. A colleague of the department, Yagmur Mengilli, deals intensively with the topic and points out that "chilling out" is also an important part of youth culture.

According to the study, young people have no room to help shape crisis management. How could you give them that, does our democracy even offer opportunities for this, are there any ideas?

In an earlier survey, Children’s Worlds +, children, adolescents and young adults made us aware of how little attention and respect they are shown by adults in negotiation processes. A team of youth experts accompanying our research therefore called for a change in attitude. In addition, several studies make it clear that there are no well-established structures and participation procedures. As a result, this could be the starting point and, together with young people, forms of participation could be developed and procedures tested and established.

Since the accusation is also made that surveys sometimes do not reflect the real needs of young people, ways were sought within the framework of Juco to involve them in the research process in a participatory manner. How do you have to imagine that?

The questionnaire of the first JuCo study is based on questions that we used in another research project. Even then, we worked with young people, discussed our questionnaire and the findings and their interpretation together. After we had created a first version of a questionnaire for the JuCo study, we asked young people for feedback: Does the wording fit? Have we forgotten something important? Are our questions understandable? And so on. We also discussed the results of JuCo I in various workshops with young people. The discussions often went far beyond the questionnaire. In the second questionnaire, we took up the topics that were part of the shared experience of the workshop participants. The JuCo II questionnaire, for example, focuses on worries and psychosocial feelings as well as on the topic of spending free time - these are topics that come from young people themselves.

You conducted the online surveys in April and November 2020. Last autumn, many still hoped that we would be spared a longer lockdown. Unfortunately, that did not come true; do you think that the statements would have been different or even more negative against the background of the past months (and thus the development from Juco I to Juco II would have continued)?

For an attentive observer of the present, the impression arises that most people are tired, insecure and are struggling to remain confident. This probably also applies to many teenagers and young adults. In our study, we read the comment several times that the months of the pandemic were characterized by an unproductive feeling of waiting or remaining on a siding. We would probably read such assessments today.

But there are also "positive" aspects of the pandemic from the youth perspective, e. B. more free time management and self-organization. How could and should society address these issues?

Yes, positive aspects are mentioned and they have to do with newly experienced freedoms, such as being able to start the day more self-determinedly. Also, not all young people refuse to take alternating courses and can, if they work well, gain a lot from the formats. In this respect, from the point of view of the respondents, it should also be checked here how their experiences and assessments can be incorporated into the design of schools, universities and training in the future.

Your study received a lot of media coverage. Do you see that politicians, which are currently receiving a lot of criticism for their crisis management anyway, can, in view of these problems, take the needs of young people into greater consideration, at least in the medium term?

This is a question of the half full or half empty glass. In the first few months, adolescents and young adults and the consequences of the infection control measures on their everyday lives were little in sight. That has changed somewhat - for example, there was a youth hearing with the Federal Youth Minister in March. The only question is which aspects of youth life are consciously more politically responsible. At the moment one has the impression that it is all about catching up on learning material. However, many of the pent-up problems of young people cannot be overcome with this alone.

Questions: Dirk Frank

Research network "Childhood - Youth - Family in the Corona Era"

The two youth surveys »Youth and Corona« (JuCo I and II) were carried out by a research association of the Goethe University Frankfurt and the University of Hildesheim. 5520 young people took part in JuCo I (April 15 to May 3, 2020), and more than 7,000 young people took part in JuCo II (November 9 to 22, 2020). The knowledge gathered for the JuCo studies is based on years of academic work by childhood and youth researchers on the realities of life among young people in Germany.
The results of the studies were discussed and reflected on with young people in several online workshops from September 2020 to January 2021. The young people recorded their experiences and demands in the brochure “Ask us 2.0 - Corona Edition”.
The team of the research network "Childhood - Youth - Family in the Corona Era" includes Prof. Dr. Sabine Andresen and Johanna Wilmes from the Institute for Social Pedagogy and Family Research at the Goethe University and Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Schröer, Dr. Tanja Rusack, Dr. Severine Thomas, Anna Lips and Lea Heyer from the Institute for Social and Organizational Education at the University of Hildesheim.

To the publications

This article was published in issue 2/2021 (PDF) of UniReport.