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Case studies

International Youth Day 2023: Educating youth for a sustainable future in Austria

austria youth

Young people participate in a Youth Parliament © Parliament of Austria

Learning about democracy and how to make it work are useful skills to teach young people to prepare for a more sustainable and equitable future. In the lead up to International Youth Day on 12 August and this year’s theme of teaching green skills, the IPU examines some interesting case studies from around the world, beginning with Austria.

Austria started its democratic education programme in 2007. The Youth & Parliament programme operates across four key areas:

The Demokratikum is the visitor centre of the Austrian parliament, offering visitors of all ages and educational levels a chance to walk the halls of the parliament building free of charge. Young people can explore the grand surroundings of the 150-year-old building and experience the environment in which laws are made and the country is governed.

The Demokratiewerkstatt programme was designed to equip young people with a strong sense of parliamentarism. The programme offers a broad range of online and in-person workshops for children aged 8 to 18, which teach young Austrians the basics of democracy, parliamentary life and the European Union. The workshops are tailored to different ages and Austrian MPs from both the sitting government and the opposition participate. Political differences are put aside so that MPs can work together to teach young people about how their national democracy works.

The Demokratiewebstatt is an online resource for young people and educators that provides information about the parliament’s functions and procedures. The portal offers free educational material and worksheets for teachers, as well as a suite of interactive elements, from quizzes to virtual tours and law generators. There are also regular chats with politicians, allowing students across Austria to express opinions and direct questions to MPs. The website’s reach extends beyond Austria, with visitors from Germany, Switzerland and Italy making use of the resources to teach their youth about parliaments.

Finally, the Youth Parliament gives young Austrians aged 15 to 16 the chance to learn about democratic processes by directly participating in a mock parliamentary setting. The Youth Parliament is held twice a year and, with first-hand support from Austrian MPs, young people join fictitious parliamentary groups and learn how to defend their positions, reach compromises, give speeches and vote on a bill.

Democratic education initiatives
Similar initiatives are taking root in other States. South Africa established a Schools Democracy Week in 2013, in which election officials meet with students, schools stage mock elections, and eligible students are registered to vote. In 2022, the programme reached 160,000 students across 2,000 schools, and added 30,000 eligible students to the voting register.

In Eastern Europe, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania collaborate closely to instil democratic skills in their youth. The Regional Baltic Summer Academy is a training programme that takes place in a different Baltic State each year, and gives students hands-on experience through debates, decision making and student councils.

These programmes are leading examples of how to engage young people with democratic processes and foster a strong sense of parliamentarism. From early in their education, students are equipped with democratic skills that will not only help them in their personal and professional lives; these skills will also be crucial as they become leaders.

Green skills for the future

The climate crisis is one of the most pressing challenges of our time, and the future of youth is most at risk. To tackle this challenge, we need to empower young people with the skills to make a difference. In this vein, International Youth Day 2023 focuses on the development of green skills for young people and the importance of fostering the “knowledge, abilities, values and attitudes needed to live in, develop and support a sustainable and resource-efficient society”. 

We strongly believe that young parliamentarians have a key role to play in this process. For more than a decade, the IPU has been empowering young MPs and equipping them with green skills through the annual Global Conference of Young Parliamentarians and recent online briefings of the Empowerment Series focused on climate action. At the heart of these efforts lies the IPU's I Say Yes to Youth in Parliament! campaign, which calls upon changemakers to take transformative action to enhance youth participation in parliament. By empowering the next generation of leaders, the IPU is paving the way for a sustainable, inclusive and equal future, ensuring that our planet thrives for generations to come.