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Fostering Critical Thinking and Media Literacy in the Next Generation: Developing European Youth's Skills for a Brighter Future

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At a time when European societies have never been so pressured and polarised in the context of the post-pandemic, the Ukrainian crisis and climate change, it is important to highlight the key role of critital thinking amongst European youth in building a better future. As we all know, critical thinking is a vital skill that allows us to evaluate information, arguments, and evidence in a logical and unbiased manner. It enables us to make informed decisions, to solve problems effectively, and to communicate clearly and persuasively. In today's fast-paced and complex world, the ability to think critically is more important than ever. In this context, Fedactio's team participated in "Razor", a 10 days training course about "Promoting critical thinking through youth work" organised by Udruga Prizma in Zadar (Croatia). The program was co-funded by the Erasmus+ Programme of the European Union.

In contemporary European society, there are many challenges to critical thinking. One of the most significant challenges is the abundance of misinformation and propaganda that circulates, especially online. With the proliferation of fake news, conspiracy theories, and biased sources, it can be difficult to discern what is true and what is not. This is especially problematic in an era of echo chambers and filter bubbles, where people are more likely to encounter only information that confirms their preexisting beliefs and biases. This can include fake news about scientific and political issues, as well as real news about conflicts, economic crises, and other important events. Given the importance of critical thinking in today's world, it is crucial that we are able to identify and evaluate the reliability of the information we receive, especially when it comes to issues that have significant impacts on society. Another challenge to critical thinking is the pressure to conform to certain beliefs and values. In today's highly polarised and divisive political climate, there is often a social and emotional cost to expressing dissenting opinions or asking tough questions. This can discourage people from engaging in critical thinking and suppress the free exchange of ideas that is essential for a healthy democracy.

What youth workers can do to overcome these challenges and promote critical thinking in European society ?

One solution is to educate ourselves and others about the principles and practices of critical thinking. This can involve seeking out diverse and reliable sources of information, learning how to identify and evaluate arguments and evidence, and developing the ability to think creatively and independently. By develping these skills and applying them in our daily lives, we can become more informed and engaged citizens, better able to navigate the complexities of the modern world.

Why critical thiking is so important as a tool of active citizenship ?

By using critical thinking skills, European Union citizens and future citizens can learn how to identify and evaluate false or misleading information, and to distinguish it from reliable sources. They can also learn how to question the validity of the information they receive and to express their thoughts and opinions in a well-reasoned and respectful manner. These skills are essential for navigating the complex and often confusing landscape of information in the digital age, and for participating meaningfully in public discourse and decision-making. Critical thinking is an important tool for active citizenship because it allows individuals to make informed decisions, to engage in effective problem-solving, and to communicate effectively with others. By evaluating information, arguments, and evidence in a logical and unbiased manner, people can form their own opinions and take action based on their beliefs and values. For example, critical thinking can help citizens to participate meaningfully in public discourse and decision-making. Whether it is voting in elections, advocating for a cause, or engaging with government officials, the ability to think critically allows individuals to make informed choices and to communicate their views in a clear and persuasive manner. In addition, critical thinking can help citizens to address social and political issues in their communities and beyond. By analysing problems and considering multiple perspectives, people can develop creative and effective solutions to challenges such as poverty, inequality, and environmental degradation.

Who participated ?

A total of 8 organizations participated in the "Razor" training project in Zadar, Croatia, which was led by Udruga Prizma. The other organizations included Fedactio from Belgium, DrOne from Croatia, EduEra from Slovakia, Asociación Promesas from Spain, Hang-Kép Kulturális Egyesület from Hungary, Ottovalante Sulcis from Italy, and Teatro Metaphora from Portugal. The host organization, Udruga Prizma, provided a supportive and inclusive environment for the representatives of the participating organizations to discuss their ideas and experiences on this topic and exchange views.

Which objectives were accomplished ?

The goal of the project was to improve the ability of partner organizations to promote critical thinking among young people through their youth work. This has been achieved through the following specific objectives:
- Enhancing the knowledge and skills of youth workers from partner organizations in the areas of critical thinking and conspiracy theories.
- Utilizing non-formal education methods to foster critical thinking in youth work.
- Sharing experiences and information among participating organizations on how to use non-formal education to promote critical thinking among young people.

Which topics have been covered ?

The training covered a range of sub-topics related to critical thinking, including contemporary issues, conspiracy theories, the impact of social media, and fallacies and biases. These topics provided valuable insights and skills for understanding and practicing critical thinking, such as how to verify the accuracy of an article or how fake news is created. The information shared and discussed during the training was of great importance for fostering a more rational and informed youth in the EU countries, which is a key European value. The training was interactive and focused on exchanging information and opinions, which helped participants to understand each other and identify fallacies and biases in practice. The training session on societal issues provided valuable insights and perspectives on a range of important topics. For example, participants learned about the importance of feminism and gender equality, as well as the challenges and obstacles that women and other marginalized groups face in society. They also explored the concept of freedom and how it relates to individual rights and responsibilities, as well as the role of religion in modern society and the ways in which it can both unite and divide people. In addition, the training addressed the sensitive and often controversial topics of racism and discrimination, and the ways in which these forms of oppression and injustice can manifest in different forms and contexts. Participants learned about the EU's commitment to promoting human rights and equality, and the ways in which these values can be upheld and defended. Finally, the training examined the impact of the conflict in Ukraine on European society and other countries, and the ways in which this crisis has shaped global politics and relations. Participants also learned about various conspiracy theories that have emerged in relation to this conflict and other societal issues, and the importance of critical thinking in evaluating the validity of such theories.

Which methods and tools have been used ?

Given the vast amount of information that people are exposed to today through various sources, and the importance of informed and educated citizens in democratic societies, specific sessions were focused on providing media literacy and critical thinking skills. These interactive sessions offered practical techniques and exercises for developing young people's critical thinking abilities and helping them identify cognitive biases and fallacies. The participants noted that when young people have the critical thinking skills to recognize the stereotypes, biases, and underlying motivations of those who produce political and media discourse, they can develop their own strategies for combating false information and misinformation.

How cultural awarness is important in european context ?

The training was held in a welcoming environment that encouraged social interaction between organizations from various EU countries. Each organization and participant contributed to the project in their own unique ways. Throughout the training, participants shared their cultural and personal views and presented their cultures, but despite these differences, everyone came together in the shared values of European identity and the EU's core values. It was very useful for all participants to meet and exchange practices with people from other cultures who work with youth, and this helped to strengthen organizational and personal connections for future collaboration on EU youth projects. Cultural awareness is important in European societies for several reasons. First, it helps individuals to understand and respect the diversity of cultures within and between countries in Europe. This includes acknowledging and valuing the different histories, traditions, languages, and values of various cultural groups, as well as recognizing the role that culture plays in shaping people's identities and experiences. Second, cultural awareness can foster greater tolerance, inclusivity, and social cohesion within European societies. By understanding and respecting the cultural differences of others, individuals can more easily recognize and appreciate the commonalities that they share, and work together to build more cohesive and harmonious communities. Third, cultural awareness can also facilitate better communication and understanding among people from different cultural backgrounds. By being sensitive to cultural differences and being open to learning about other cultures, individuals can more effectively communicate and interact with others, leading to more positive and productive relationships. Overall, cultural awareness is an important aspect of life in European societies, as it helps to promote mutual respect, understanding, and harmony among people from diverse backgrounds.

How did it boost our skills and employability as a youth worker ?

According to Burak, a volunteer who participated in the training, the information provided was "highly beneficial and it is anticipated that it will be put to good use in their voluntary work with Fedactio and in their future job. Meetings were held to initiate projects related to this pressing topic, and it was reported that there was a significant improvement in the way of thinking and looking at things. It is also noted that this type of project is beneficial for every individual and it is believed that everyone should have the opportunity to receive information about critical thinking in order to develop themselves first as an individual and then as a citizen of the European society. The training also served as a platform for participants to exchange ideas and practices with other youth workers from various European countries, providing a broader perspective and new insights into the difficulties and opportunities faced by youth workers in different settings. This cultural exchange was considered as an invaluable component of the training, as it offered the opportunity to learn from the diverse experiences of peers and establish meaningful connections with colleagues from different cultural backgrounds. Overall, the European training course on critical thinking was deemed as a highly beneficial experience that aided in enhancing skills and developing professional network of youth workers. It is recommended for other youth workers who seek to improve their critical thinking abilities and build connections with fellow professionals.

Conclusion and recommendations

Young people often face marginalization and lack of voice. By designating 2022 as the European Year of Youth, the EU has recognized the important role that young people play in society and the sacrifices they have made during the pandemic. The EU should take action to support their well-being and development, by promoting the meaningful participation of young people in all aspects of public life, and involving civil society organizations to support and empower young people, especially in disadvantaged communities. Additionally, education and awareness campaigns that inspire young people to believe in their power to make a difference, can help to create a brighter future for young people and society as a whole. To achieve these goal, it is of utmost importance that civil society organizations and the European Union prioritize the fostering of critical thinking. It's a powerful tool that equips youth with the ability to evaluate information and arguments objectively, make informed decisions and take active and responsible roles in society. Moreover, fostering critical thinking also means empowering young people to identify and challenge any form of marginalization, discrimination, or misinformation they may encounter in their daily lives. This is especially important in today's digital era, where the abundance of information and misinformation can make it challenging to distinguish truth from lies.

In short, by promoting critical thinking the EU will not only help to achieve its core values and goals. but will also empower young people to become active and responsible citizens who can drive positive change within their communities.

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