In a world where television and computer play a major role, young people become less and less interested in formal education, and thus they learn less from lessons than they should. Experience means much more to us than an underlined sentence in a schoolbook, and an international experience means an incredible learning reaction.
Peer-to-peer education is a form of informal education, but people take it for granted and do not pay much attention to it. In this fact precisely lies the success, since young people between the age of 12 and 19 are like sponges that absorb any kind of information from the environment, especially bad ones. This is why the young are characterized as naïve, which is being largely exploited by the world trade. The easiest way of selling someone a pig in a poke is if this pig has before already been bought by some of his peers. Globalization takes a big advantage of naivety, and only a few people make an exception and use this advantage for good intentions.
How many people do you know that started smoking after the age of 18? There may be some young people, but as we know there are always exceptions to the rule. It is very difficult to draw someone to smoking if they know about its risks. This theory can be confirmed with the statement of one of the leading managers of the tobacco industry, who claims that the tobacco industry reserves the right to smoke for the young, the black, the poor and the stupid. After the publishing of the fact how harmful smoking is, the majority of countries restricted or prohibited the advertising of tobacco products. The tobacco marketing has hence been directed to the young. The young, being the most naïve population, have thus also become the main target of many other industries; the whole advertising strategy started to focus on 11-, 12-, and 13-year olds, who are just stepping out of the childhood period into the world of adults. Huge lobbies for the removal of subjects from the syllabuses (i.e. health education) lead to ignorance of young people, and this is where trade comes into the game, by backing peer-to-peer education.
In the most sensitive period of our lives – the puberty – we rely on our peers, who mean basically everything to us. I will do what my friend does; everybody will do what the clique does. With young people world trade has found a market niche that cannot be blocked in a day. This requires a lot more time and patience. Somebody once said that our planet has come off the right track and started to destroy itself when concurrence emerged. Because of socially accustomed habits, concurrence will still exist for a long time, therefore it is useless to count on that. The young have to look for a generational change, such that will grow in us, in our children, grandchildren and grand grandchildren. Peer-to-peer education is an incredible opportunity to inform young people in a sustainable and cheap (if not free) way about burning global issues, since most of the information given to us by adults fly by without any considerable reaction.
By means of peer-to-peer education, young people can encourage their peers to initiate a structured dialogue on racism, health, global warming, youth participation, Europeanism etc. The best places to reach the highest number of young people up to the age of 19 at once are primary and secondary schools. Workshops in schools, where young people listen to something leisurely and without pressure, bring an enormous result. If the workshops are led by foreigners, the reaction of pupils and students is even better.
Workshops are often carried out by incompetent people with the best intentions, however with the motto “of course we are able to carry out a workshop for children”. It is precisely this lack of respect towards half-adults that causes a negative reaction. But let's leave negative reactions for another time.
One of the good practice examples is a 2007 edition of a traditional international youth exchange project, that was held on the Slovenian coast and gathered 75 young people from 15 European countries.
The main topics of the United Games of Nations are sustainable development, communication, tolerance and active citizenship. That year, the organizers raised awareness among the local community by means of the evening programme and the peer-to-peer workshops in all schools on the coast.
On Monday, 10 September 2007, 5 workshops started preparing the peer-to-peer workshops to be carried out on 12 and 13 September in 160 different classes of schools on the Slovenian coast. On Tuesday afternoon, 11 September, 5 peer-to-peer workshops had their rehearsal in front of all other participants of the exchange and received the last feedbacks on the contents of their workshops.
Five peer-to-peer workshops then divided into four subgroups; on Wednesday and Thursday each held 4 lessons at schools on the Slovenian coast. Considering that there are approximately 25 youngsters in every class, the participants of the youth exchange with 16 subgroups managed to reach in 2 days in 4 lessons per 25 youngsters altogether 3.200 youngsters.
If a problem is presented in a clear, comprehensive and interesting way, youngsters are very willing to listen to their peers. Because of the distrust of institutions and because of the difficult measurable results, peer-to-peer education will remain a silent rider for some more time. If we can improve the inter-peer dialogue and start passing over informal data in a structured way, this kind of education about global truths will become a long-term success. Even though young people know what is best for them, we will have to subject this form of informal education to the intergenerational dialogue. And only with the collaboration of elders, our knowledge will be enriched and on the long way we will defeat the industry's enourmous greed for more and more profits, while young people having less and less information about what are they buying from them.
Published in the magazine Mladje (Slovenian National Agency of the European Commission Programme – Youth in Action)