Irish youth to lead global study into impact of Covid-19 on young people

Authorities too quick to claim young people are ‘irresponsible’, says Prof Pat Dolan

Young people in Ireland are to spearhead a global Unesco study into the impact of Covid-19 on children and young adults.

It is the biggest study to date on the impact of the pandemic on young people and will focus on how the pandemic has affected them personally, in their families, communities and lives.

More than 6,000 young people across 100 countries have applied to be researchers on the international project being led by Prof Pat Dolan, director of the Unesco child and family research centre at NUI Galway.

It will involve a "youth as researchers" approach in which people aged 18-35 will lead the research. The approach was pioneered by Prof Dolan's team in a LGBTQ study in Tallaght, west Dublin, several years ago.

Among the areas set to be covered include the impact of Covid-19 on wellbeing, education and learning, use of technology, human rights and youth-led action and civic engagement.

Prof Dolan said that over the course of the pandemic, the worst assumptions had been made about young people in our society.

“On too many occasions, people in authority have been too quick to claim young people are irresponsible and lack consideration for society. The programme aims to prove these assumptions wrong,” he said. “This is an opportunity for young people to research topics that interest them when adult researchers seem to care the least.”

Prof Dolan said the team wanted to explore how they have coped and what they see as the key challenges to their education and social relationships.

“We know some of the problems. We know people are affected differently, across classes and cultures. We need young people to help us understand that and help us with the solutions.”

Usable results

He said the youth as researchers approach would produce results that were usable, “rather than research that no one reads, most of all young people”.

Actor Cillian Murphy, patron of the Unesco child and family research centre at NUI Galway, is supporting the project and will take part in the official online launch on Friday, December 4th.

A broad representative of youth will take part in questionnaires, surveys, workshops, focus groups and other methods.

Videos, posters, reports, policy briefs and other content will be produced to showcase the results and share them in the media and on social media as well as within the UN, across governments and Unesco partners.

Two NUI Galway undergraduates – John Gaffey and Ella Anderson – are trained as young researchers, including on issues such as ethics in research, non-bias questionnaire design and sampling methods. They will work on the European end of the project.

Ms Anderson said the fact that young people across the globe would be conducting research with fellow young people would "allow their authentic voice to be heard".

Mr Gaffey added: “It’s up to youth to prove to the world that we can take action to better our communities, proving everyone who doubts us wrong.”