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Youth Civic Education is Crucial to a Country’s Democratic Health”

NewsLetter Recent large-scale youth survey findings suggest that today’s youth – the largest young generation ever – are less engaged in political processes than previous generations and are beginning to ‘opt-out’ of democratic systems. During its 30-year history, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) has found that a culture of democracy flourishes only when citizens are informed about democratic principles, and translate that knowledge into action by: engaging with institutions and other public structures; performing community service; and, exercising leadership.
Measures for Effective Youth Engagement
Formal School-based Civic Education:
In countries where democracy is at its nascent stage there is lack of infrastructural and knowledge capabilities to create awareness and construct educational campaigns regarding elections. To address this need, IFES developed a fully-accredited university-level civics course titled ‘Democracy and Citizenship’.
Non-formal Civic Education:
Outside of the classroom, young people often have the opportunity to engage in creative or experiential learning which is an instructional method that emphasizes learning from experience, and can include internships, volunteerism, field studies, or simulations.
Applying Theoretical Knowledge to Public Life:
The development of practical skills associated with active civic engagement is best achieved when students apply theoretical concepts explored inside the classroom to daily life outside of school. An outgrowth of the ‘Democracy and Citizenship’ course is a micro-grant program where youth- led organizations compete for funding in order to conduct projects of their own design.
Youth and Peaceful Societies:
IFES believes that including youth as active participants in their societies decreases the likelihood that they become involved in violent conflict and civic unrest because it provides them with greater awareness of the rights of others and the various legitimate means of resolving grievances peacefully. In particular, this can help to stabilize high intensity pre- and post-election periods. By engaging youth in the aftermath of violent revolution and ethnic conflict, IFES has found these efforts ultimately contribute to peaceful elections.
In support of youth’s role in peaceful elections IFES helped students in Burundi address electoral violence and conflict in their communities by supporting the drafting of a Code of Conduct that was disseminated throughout the country; additionally, in consultation with the electoral commission, IFES organized a series of workshops that brought together nearly 23,000 young people to discuss elections and promote non-violence. These workshops helped participants understand what is at stake during elections and equip them with tools to mitigate potential election- related conflicts.
In Syria, IFES organized the ‘Musharaka Youth Forum’, which is focused on providing a safe space for displaced Syrian youth living in Turkey to share their experiences, engage with others in their communities and begin taking steps toward creating the stable and secure community environment that is a necessary foundation for meaningful civic participation.

William Sweeney-President,
President/CEO, International Foundation for Electoral Systems