Representing the voice of youth

Issue: Volume 96, Number 5

Posted: 27 March 2017
Reference #: 1H9d76

Scarlett Parkes worked together with students from 11 countries to write an international White Paper on Global Citizenship. She has recently returned from the international UNESCO forum in Ottawa, Canada, where she presented the paper.

A standing ovation at an international UNESCO forum in March made the culmination of many months and long hours of work all worthwhile for 17-year-old Auckland Girls’ Grammar deputy head girl Scarlett Parkes.

The driven year 13 student co-wrote an international youth White Paper on Global Citizenship with youth teams from 11 different countries, collaborating virtually across multiple time zones.

Scarlett was one of 10 representatives who travelled to Ottawa, Canada to complete the finishing touches and present the paper at the Third UNESCO Forum on Global Citizenship Education.

As the sole Oceania representative, she received funding from the New Zealand National Commission for UNESCO to attend the week-long forum.

The event brought together almost 500 leading experts, practitioners and policymakers from around the world, as well as youth representatives, to examine pedagogical approaches and teaching practices, and to ensure that practical change is brought into classrooms.

“Our presentation went better than I could ever have imagined!” says Scarlett.

“The pride in our work and passion for what we were saying shone through in every single speaker and the audience fed off that."

In fact, the first ‘question’ we got was from a lady who thanked us for our presentation and asked everyone to stand and give us another round of applause!

“Getting a standing ovation from about 50 extremely influential people was an astounding achievement by the group, and we were all so surprised and proud, many of us cried.”

Hundreds of young New Zealanders have contributed to the White Paper through their responses to a survey coordinated by Scarlett about local, national and global issues.

The Paper is divided into three themes: complexity and interconnection; diversity and difference; and community and compassion. Each theme considers ideals, concerns, questions and ways forward. Recommendations centre on introducing flexible curricula, fostering critical thinking and challenging traditional school structures.

“Global citizenship is so complex,” says Scarlett.

“There are so many interconnections and power structures in place that it is very dangerous to presume that any one person has ever arrived at an understanding of things."

“There is always more to learn (or unlearn) and more understanding to be gained. In that sense, we aren’t ever ‘educated’; education is a process that never ends.”

Scarlett is no stranger to the theme. She won a school award last year for her contribution to global citizenship. After participating in and then leading the Make a Difference (MAD) Sustainability hui run by Auckland Council, she and a friend started an environmental group at school called the Green Team.

She is also on Auckland Girls’ Grammar’s Global Citizenship Committee and is involved with Youthline’s National Youth Collective.

“The world is so much more interconnected than it ever has been before, and this means that if something affects one area, it is going to affect everyone else to some extent,” says Scarlett.

“However, a lot of the world is at this interesting stage where issues seem all at once horrific and pressing, as well as far away."

“This provides this weird dichotomy where people know about issues and are often terrified of them when they stop and think, but don’t feel motivated or empowered enough to do anything."

“For example, climate change is something people have known about for a long time, and although there are so many people fighting against it, there still are not enough for change to happen fast or for people in power to really listen."

“In New Zealand I think we perceive ourselves as quite far away from the action, and we forget that not only does everything happening affect us, we can affect everything happening.”

A key theme of the forum, which connected to the UNESCO Week for Peace and Sustainable Development: The Role of Education, was the role teachers play in developing learners’ knowledge, skills and attitudes that promote peace and sustainable development.

“Teachers are on the frontlines of bringing Global Citizenship Education (GCED) into learning environments. Without confident, qualified and well-prepared teachers, we cannot advance GCED,” said UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Education, Qian Tang, at the official opening.

Other representatives from New Zealand at the forum included the New Zealand National Commission for UNESCO’s Commissioner for Education, Dr Cheryl Stevens, and teacher and global citizenship advisor, Libby Giles, who both also received funding from the National Commission to attend the forum.

For Scarlett, her experience at the forum is just the beginning.

“I made a number of connections during the week, so my first goal is to continue the conversations I’ve been having and see what can be achieved in a New Zealand context."

“I will be presenting on my experience in school, as well as sharing with groups I’m involved in outside of school to allow them to have an opportunity to implement some of our recommendations,” she says.

Scarlett feels passionate about the conclusions from the White Paper.

“One of the girls from Canada, Cheyenne, said to a UNESCO Associated Schools Network (ASPnet) organiser the day before we presented that ‘We may be presenting a paper, but you’re hearing our heart’, which was exactly how we all feel."

“Similarly, a poet once said that young people write poems as if each one will save the world, and that is what we did with our paper.”

To read the International Youth White Paper on Global Citizenship visit the TCGE website(external link) 

To read more about the UNESCO Week for Peace and Sustainable Development: The Role of Education, visit the UNESCO website(external link)

Scarlett Parkes discusses the White Paper on Global Citizenship at the international UNESCO forum.

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 5:55 pm, 27 March 2017

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