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Toronto event 11 -  13 May 2017

The project team were involved in a series of extremely successful meetings in Toronto. Administrative and academic matters were handled extremely well. Thanks are due to Mark Evans and his Toronto-based academic and administrative team and all his colleagues including Najme Kishani and Serhiy Kovalchuk.

Project team meetings

The project team discussed issues and further developed plans for publications, conference attendance, future meetings and other matters.

A public event

The project team made presentations at a public event that was held at the University of Toronto. The event was made available to a wide audience by allowing for virtual as well as face to face participation.

School visit

The project team learned from teachers and students during a visit to University of Toronto Schools where the Principal, Rosemary Evans, her colleagues and students presented a fascinating and hugely impressive account of young people’s engagement.

Meetings with experts in the field of youth engagement

A series of highly informative and valuable meetings took place with a range of academics and professionals.

Guest conversations were organised from five general groupings (formal political, public school educators, academics, teacher educators, special interest).

  • Carol Campbell (KNAER Knowledge Network of Applied Educational Research, Mobilization and Network Building);
  • Kathy Bickmore (Citizenship education research);
  • Sandra Styres (indigenous education)
  • Shahrzad Mojab (civic education curriculum as experienced by immigrant youth from war zones; and youth, refugees, war, and migration);
  • David Ast, Jan Haskings-Winner, Jeff Kugler, and Karen Murray (School/District-based practitioner perspectives);
  • Mary Drinkwater, David Montemurro, Angela Vemic-MacDonald (Teacher education practitioner/researcher perspectives);
  •  June Creelman (Elections Canada)

Substantive issues arising from the above meetings and discussions

The following is not a comprehensive account of all matters. Rather a few selective points have been included in an attempt to capture some aspects of the discussions and to stimulate further reflection. The categories shown below overlap considerably.

Constitutional politics

There was relatively little emphasis on this matter when compared to wider forms of engagement. This does not mean that constitutional politics is being neglected. Rather there seems now to be a greater sense of balance across contexts than that which may be seen in some of the (older) literature about youth engagement. The presentation by June Creelman of Elections Canada offered insights about turnout – the last 2 elections have seen an increase in youth engagement (perhaps the Trudeau factor?) although older people still, proportionally, vote more. New resources are available – e.g., ‘Student Voices’ and ‘Civics’. Collaborative work is being undertaken with colleagues in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and British Columbia as well as others (e.g., those in the Canadian Geographical Society). There is an emphasis on developing young people’s understanding of principles in a non-partisan manner. Evaluations of this work are positive. There are recommendations not to rely exclusively on one-off events but instead develop more frequent and more integrated work.

School-focused or school-related work

In some schools (most notably UTS) there is a very strong emphasis on autonomous youth engagement. UTS, an independent school, has an overarching vision, supported by a Charter of Values, supporting socially responsible global citizens. Students take the initiative in a wide variety of activities (e.g. Model UN; international links; Park Project; Warrior Within; Envirothon; Maximum City; Global Ideas Institute; Music without Borders). Some instances of engagement links to formal teaching and to rewards and schemes (e.g., ‘volunteer hours’; seeking accreditation as an Eco-school).

In relation to less privileged contexts, teachers and others report the existence of progressive formally stated curriculum policy reforms that make explicit a focus on active and engaged citizenship. Teaching practices/learning experiences to support improved learning experiences for civic engagement are also gaining attention (e.g., Social Innovation Student Symposium 2015, There are ongoing challenges to the Ontario civics curriculum. There may be a lack of political will to make things happen, teacher exhaustion, a lack of diversity in the teaching force and an absence of accountability of school boards in relation to equity. The role of the school principal and the establishment of partnerships within, between and beyond schools were highlighted.


Our meetings began with an acknowledgement of the land of indigenous peoples (Huron-Wendat, the Seneca and the Mississaugas of the Credit River) on which the University of Toronto operates. Sandra Styres emphasised diversity within and across indigenous communities, referred to the variety of provision both in terms of structure (mainstream / private immersion schools) and process (e.g., some schools use the first language of students). Some noted the colonial legacy and recent developments with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action and some of the challenges associated with indigenous education. There is a need to support young people in their efforts to engage.

Democratic peace-building

Across the geographical contexts included in Kathy Bickmore’s research (México, Canada, Bangladesh, Colombia) there are many commonalities. for her research she noticed surprisingly little difference in her findings. We need to know more about collective as well as individual responses to peace. Agency is complex and although many know about protests rather fewer may go beyond the superficial aspects of such engagement to understand and to act.

Women, gender and sexuality

Various speakers referred to relevant ideas, issues and initiatives. Day of Pink was mentioned by school students.

Knowledge Networks

Carol Campbell summarised the work of KNAER (Knowledge Network for Applied Education Research).

Youth engagement strategies, trends and issues

The Toronto City Planning publication ‘youth engagement strategy’ was referred to. There are many Toronto city-wide initiatives including Maximum City.

Overarching ideas and issues

Youth civic engagement is understood broadly and undertaken in a variety of ways, largely in non-electoral political activities but also to a lesser extent in formal electoral politics. Political culture supports youth civic engagement and activism and this is evident in the rhetoric of formal educational curricula across Canada. Identity (e.g., cultural, regional, gender, religious) and various local, national, and global trends play a significant role in terms of the purposes and types of youth civic engagement. There remains a variety of issues to explore (e.g., strong in rhetoric/slow implementation, uneven and unequal civic learning experiences, undertones of neo-liberalism and compliance acknowledged, relevance and whose knowledge counts, teacher preparation and support).

Our respondents referred to changes in the nature of youth engagement with increasing emphasis on the environment; gender and sexuality; teachers as role models; and social media. There seems to be an increasing lack of distinction between public and private contexts. There is relatively less emphasis on constitutional politics (see above) and more on identity, efficacy and taking action. There may be distinctions between what students may see as older generations’ activism (e.g., the protests of the 1960s) with the current emphasis on social engagement. The significance of psychological perspectives was acknowledged. These new forms of engagement may be related to the clarification and achievement of equity but may also be an indication of those who are already advantaged securing a competitive advantage. There may be matters relating to interpersonal skills which are worth further exploration. There may be a distinction between being personally engaging and societally engaged. Across our meetings there seemed to be clear connections among respondents’ views and the ideas of Westheimer and Kahne regarding individual, community and political perspectives on engagement, the ideas of Bennet and Segerberg regarding connective citizenship, and also with Turcotte’s work related to core narratives linked to political participation and civic engagement of youth in Canada.

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