In Indian subcontinent, the youth embodies a significant portion of our population today, touting the demographic dividend for the country; hitherto it remains one of the most neglected and most vulnerable parts of the population, next only to the women.
The individual and collective successes and failures of these young people would have decisive impact on the economic, social and political future of our nation and its democratic processes. Yet, politics, policies and practices in our country rarely reflect the priorities of youth, especially those millions of urban youth who live on the margins of the cities, towns and villages, at every level. If we have to take advantage of this demographic dividend, it is of critical importance that opportunities are made available to the youth where they could become important stakeholders in nation building and they can participate in the decision making processes impacting their own future. Two critical things that would add significantly to this process are; make opportunities available for the youth and help them develop their own capacity to make best use of those opportunities. These efforts need to be pursued at all levels, at the policy leveconceptual frameworkls, at public institutions, educational institutions and civil societies.
The Youth Fellowship Programme, PUKAR’s flagship project, supported by Sir Ratan Tata Trust is one such initiative. This well known project is based upon the concept of democratizing research and using it as a tool for alternative pedagogy, advocacy, intervention and transformation where research itself becomes a point of action with documentation becoming a moment of transformation of action.
The essential conceptualization of the design involves that one group of ten or twelve youth, led by a mentor or a senior fellow would, with help of simultaneous, rigorous training, conduct research over a period of one year, in their own locality or in their own community on a subject of their own choice, which is anchored in their living experience.
Here the youth while conducting the research, is simultaneously a knowledge producer and the learner. The unique part of this research is that it is posited in their neighbourhoods or localities and anchored in their living experiences, thus creating distinctive knowledge about the city which is perhaps seldom possible in the high end, strongly academic research based in formal institutions. The conceptual framework of Youth Fellowship is based upon an assumption that youth have an implicit knowledge of their own self, family and locality hence they are most suitable to observe and document this knowledge in any format that suits their capacity and creativity.
In the Globalized world where flow of information is fast, dynamic and vastly interrelated, the youth needs to develop capacity to access the right information from the right source, process it, evaluate it and then make an informed decision about their life and career opportunities as well as the political systems which shape and sway them deeply. These skills are unfortunately not taught or encouraged in the traditional pedagogy in India. The emphasis is mostly on memorizing established facts, and passing exams instead of creating and acquiring new knowledge. What is needed is to build the capacities of questioning, provoking, seeking, analyzing, synthesizing of information, a process that forms the fundamental ethos of YF. Throughout the yearly process of research, youth are continuously encouraged to raise questions, reflect upon experiences and document their own feelings as well as information, analyze what they have documented or collected as data and then try to reach a conclusion that will help them to take an independent informed decision, a fundamental ability for a sensitive, responsible citizenship.
Another crucial factor that is important for youth to successfully establish her/ him as a worker in the labour force and as an active community member is to develop behavioral skills. Motivation, taking challenges, accountability, transparency, perseverance, cooperation, tolerance, team building and ability to manage conflicts are becoming just important for a successful career in the interdependent world as is the formal knowledge and educational qualifications. These behavioral skills which are seldom emphasized upon in any formal education system are highlighted in the YF Programme.
This process oriented social science research process has created a large cadre of “Barefoot Researchers” who are exploring the wave of urbanization. With the tools to understand how to shape a research idea, these young Mumbai citizens go out into the world with the capacity for gathering evidence and using that evidence to make arguments about their future and become problem solvers for the future of their city.