'During the Covid-19 crisis, new needs for digital tools for youth work emerged. But it is important to have a continuous debate on the future of youth work.'
Verke is fully funded by the Ministry of Education and Culture. Verke aims to strengthen the competencies to manage, plan and implement digital youth work, strengthen the capacity to develop evidence and knowledge based digital youth work, and strengthen youth workers' competencies and awareness about the possibilities and risks of digital media. In practice, Verke trains the youth sector throughout Finland, produces materials and gathers data on digital youth work. The topics of trainings and materials are various, for example using social media in youth work, robotics and maker culture in youth work settings, using digital games in youth work, solutions in youth work, building strategies for digital youth work etc.
JfE: Mrs Tuominen, why and how should youth work respond to the digitalisation of society?
Mrs Tuominen: Technology is present in every area of young people's lives, meaning that every young person is somehow connected to digital cultures, whether they use digital media and technology actively or passively. If youth work wants to keep up with the social changes, it must stay curious, flexible, bold and experimental with new technology. Rapid development of new technologies means also that it is important to have a continuous debate on the future of youth work: How will artificial intelligence, for example, affect cultural phenomena associated with young people and youth work practices?
One essential role of youth work is to support the empowerment of young people and their capacity to be active in the digital society. To achieve this, youth work must take into account young people's experiences, and use those methods, cultures and environments that are familiar to young people. Also, an especially important role for youth work involves preventing a digital divide between young people, by ensuring that they have a more equal access to digital technology, and by enhancing their technology-related skills.
JfE: Is there enough research on these topics?
Mrs Tuominen: Youth work should make use of the massive amounts of digital data that is being gathered on young people and make adjustments on youth work practices after carefully analysing the data. Data collection and some analysis could also be automated. This topic is reflected with more detail in our joint publication with the Estonian Youth Work Centre from 2019. Currently, it would be extremely helpful for the future development of digital youth work to know in more detail, how the Covid-19 pandemic affected the digitalisation of youth work, so a European-wide qualitative research is needed.
JfE: What is the current state of the arts of digital youth work in Europe?
Mrs Tuominen: The Covid-19 pandemic has led to the situation where most of youth work happens online throughout Europe. This has meant a giant digital leap for many youth work organisations. The youth sector has a strong background in offering councelling and conversational help online. So, for some organisations this was nothing new and they have shared their expertise to help other organisations start online activities. We have also seen great initiatives in having other types of activities online, like doing thing together with groups of young people.
JfE: Do you think that there are lessons learned for the time after the crisis?
Mrs Tuominen: We hope that when things start going towards the new normal, the benefits of online tools have been noted more widely in youth work, and also some new innovations start to form about how to combine online and offline activities. And let us not forget: Digital youth work is namely more than online youth work. It can happen also face-to-face, and other digital technologies can be used than the Internet.
JfE: Is there a definition or an overview of what 'digital youth work' is?
Mrs Tuominen: Together with some European partners, we published last year guidelines on digital youth work, where we define the concept in a bit more detail and give tips for youth workers, youth work organisations and policy makers.
JfE: With regard to the state of the arts: What do you expect from European actors like the EU-Commission, the Council of Europe etc. or especially the German EU-Presidency?
Mrs Tuominen: As stated in the digital youth work council conclusions, it would be good to bring together young people, youth workers, experts, researchers and ICT sector to innovate new ways and approaches to using technology in youth work - both at European and at national levels. Now during the Covid-19 crisis, there may have emerged new needs for digital tools for youth work, so this momentum should be harnessed. Also, new forms of Erasmus+ virtual exchanges should be developed and marketed for the youth sector.