I had the chance to be a panelist in an event organized by the Oulu youth council (Oulun Nuorten Valtuusto). Here in brief some of the issues that came up during the discussion and my thoughts on how Oulu can become a better city for children and the young. A more detailed description in Finnish:

Education is the main tool in building a more equal society.

Early childhood education needs to have enough resources to be of high quality. Every child should have the right for that regardless of their background. Oulu could gradually move towards free early childhood education. This is also a means to improve women’s position in the working life.

Comprehensive schools need to be located close to children’s homes and the school journey should be safe for every child. This needs to be borne in mind when planning new residential areas. High schools and vocational colleges has to be easily reached by public transport

Children and the young deserve healthy and safe schools. We cannot sacrifice the pupils or the teachers’ health by keep using buildings which have mould problems. Investments in healthy schools will pay back as increased well being and decreased sick leaves.

The young and finding employment

Education is the best way to prevent young people becoming marginalized, according to studies such as OECD Education at Glance, as well. Even in the future, everyone needs to have the chance to continue their studies after comprehensive school.

The students in high schools and vocational colleges need support and guidance in continuing their studies in higher education. Universities and universities of applied sciences could offer free study modules (face-to-face or distance learning) for students in upper secondary schools. That would make it easier to find one’s own field of study. The universities have already taken steps toward this, but in the future the city of Oulu could also show its support.

Oulu should also directly support the employment possibilities of the young. Oulu has successfully supported the young to find summer jobs and the activity should be continued.

Every child should have at least one hobby

Hobbies are a good way to fight marginalization of the young and to promote wellbeing. Oulu can support children and the young by subsidising the costs and making sure that children’s hobbies do not become too expensive.

Listening to the young in decision making

Even if the adolescents cannot vote, they still should be heard in the decisions affecting their lives. There could be a presentative appointed by the Oulu Youth Council in the city committees.

One way of helping the young to be heard, is to actually ask for their opinion directly. Kahvila Kitkerä is a good example of this. The young can also be heard by means of participatory budgeting, which has been experimented in Helsinki, for example.

Invest in preventative and low-threshold services

Youth work needs to have decent resources. We also need multisectoral, low-threshold services. I hope that nobody fighting with mental health issues is left alone, but that accessible help is there for those in need. We ought to build Oulu in a way that nobody will become marginalized – but that every young people will get a good start to live their life.