Engaged youth at Utøya

What engages you and what current issues are most important for you, Norway and the world? Norwegian 9th and 10th graders make their voices heard at Learning Democracy at Utøya.


“Climate change! I don’t want the earth to be destroyed”. 

“Bullying. It is happening all over the world”

“Access to education. Many places people don’t go to school because they can’t afford it or are not allowed to”.

The European Wergeland Centre

24 Norwegian students are gathered at Utøya, where 69 young people lost their lives and many more were wounded by a terrorist attack July 22, 2011. This makes Utøya a special place for young people to reflect on what democracy means to them, what challenges our democracies face and how young people can promote democratic values and practice.

This fall, EWC has organized two seminars for Norwegian youth at the island. We joined the second group and their discussions on what issues engages and what topics are most important for our societies.

“Equality and feminism. In all countries women are treated unfairly. 1 out of 5 girls are raped. If we talk about these things, I think things will get better”, Josefine writes on a yellow note she later places on the wall in Hegnhuset, the new learning centre at the island. All the participants write similar notes about issues that concern them, leaving them behind on the island for other visitors to reflect upon.

The roof of the learning centre, is held up by 69 columns, symbolizing the total number of victims who lost their lives. It is a place to discuss the values the terrorist attacked five years ago. While the students discuss, their teachers are gathered in another room. There they are given new methods on how to teach controversial issues in the class room, based on Council of Europe manuals like “Living with Controversy – Teaching Controversial Issues through Education for Democratic Citizenship and Human Rights” and “Boomarks – A manual for combating hate speech online through human rights education”.….

The European Wergeland Centre

“The workshop is created around tools to open up the classroom and creating safe spaces for youth to reflect and discuss democratic issues. Teachers are presented with tools on how to facilitate discussions on controversial issues, hate speech and extremism. Using different exercises from the manuals, teachers reflect on their role in creating a safe environment and as facilitators of dialogue or debate. Some questions explored: Should I make my own views known or not? Should I challenge student’s views by arguing the opposite of them? There are pros and cons to all these positions and the main objective is to build confidence in handling discussions about difficult topics, Ingrid Aspelund, EWC project manager, says.”

The training at Utøya lasts three days, but the experience does not finish when they leave the island. Once back at the schools, the students carry out workshops with their classmates and other fellow students.

“The main objective for youth participating is for them to be confident and inspired to engage their peers in democratic issues. The last day on Utøya students present their plans. Usually they plan to first tell their fellow students what happened 22 July 2011, and also about their own experiences from participating in “Learning Democracy on Utøya”. Usually they plan to follow up by two or three practical exercises, which they have learned during the workshop, to carry out with their fellow students to engage their peers in critical thinking, reflection and democratic dialogue, Aspelund says.”

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