A global UNESCO study being coordinated by NUI Galway has been formally launched to identify the impact of Covid-19 on young people around the world.
More than 100 countries have signed up and 6,000 young people applied to be researchers on the international project being led by Professor Pat Dolan, UNESCO chair and director of the UNESCO Child and Family Research Centre at the university.
The Youth as Researchers global initiative on Covid-19 is the single biggest study of its kind. It is by young people and for young people, focusing on how the pandemic has affected wellbeing, education and learning, use of technology, human rights, and youth-led action and civic engagement.
Actor Cillian Murphy, patron of the UNESCO Child and Family Research Centre at NUI Galway, addressed the online launch and highlighted that despite 40 per cent of the world’s population being under 24 the voice of youth is not being heard in the pandemic.
“What is even more important is that this research is not about adults asking youth what they think or how they feel about Covid-19, but it is young people, trained as youth researchers, from all over the world asking other youth for their views - this makes the study truly authentic,” he said.
'On too many occasions, people in authority have been too quick to claim young people are irresponsible and lack consideration for society'
“Whether thinking about the impact of lockdown on youth mental health, education, relationships, or wellbeing, in order to support young people as part of our global family we need to hear from youth themselves - what helps them cope and what doesn’t.”
Quoting Seamus Heaney, the actor had a message for those taking part in the study: “Most of all thank you to all you youth participants in the study, I take hope from Seamus Heaney, the amazing Irish poet, who once said, ‘If you have the words, there's always a chance that you'll find the way’.”
NUI Galway president Ciarán Ó hÓgartaigh also sent a message of support to the project. “This is yet another fantastic initiative, firstly in the context of engaging with research that matters, research with impact and research which is important for its sense of empathy with others,” the president said.
Mr Ó hÓgartaigh said the project mirrored the lived values of NUI Galway – respect, excellence, openness, and sustainability. “The UNESCO project and the example of Youth as Researchers shows us the value of research which does not make an object of others, but that they are engaged with it and involved,” he said.
The UNESCO study is being conducted by researchers aged 18 to 35. A broad representative of youth will take part in questionnaires, surveys, workshops, and focus groups and other methods.
Videos, posters, reports, policy briefs, and other content will be produced to showcase the results and share them in the media and on social media as well as within the UN, across governments and UNESCO partners.
'People are affected differently, across classes and cultures. We need young people to help us understand that and help us with the solutions'
Two NUI Galway undergraduates, John Gaffey and Ella Anderson, are trained as Youth as Researchers, including on issues such as ethics in research, non-bias questionnaire design, and sampling methods. They moderated the live event and will work on the European end of the project.
UNESCO appointed Professor Dolan co-principal investigator along with Professor Mark Brennan, fellow UNESCO chair at Pennsylvania State University. They will lead a consortium of youth-led researchers through training, mentoring, and coordination.
Professor Dolan said: “We know some of the problems. We know people are affected differently, across classes and cultures. We need young people to help us understand that and help us with the solutions. By using the Youth as Researchers initiative we can do that and produce results that are usable, rather than research that no one reads, most of all young people.
“Over the course of the pandemic the worst assumptions have been made about young people in our society. On too many occasions, people in authority have been too quick to claim young people are irresponsible and lack consideration for society. The UNESCO Youth as Researchers programme aims to prove these assumptions wrong.”