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An interdisciplinary research centre that examines what it means to grow up in a global world


Young people and Fundamental British Values: why is support lower among young people with vocational qualifications?

By UCL Global Youth , on 4 June 2018

A guest post by Jan Germen Janmaat, Reader in Comparative Social Science at the LLAKES Research Centre, UCL-Institute of Education

In November 2014 the Coalition Government called on schools to actively promote ‘fundamental British values’ (FBVs), which it considered to be democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and tolerance. This initiative was part of the more encompassing Prevent Strategy, the aim of which is to thwart the radicalization of young people. The government also proposed a number of actions schools can take to promote FBVs, such as offering citizenship education, encouraging open debates on social and political issues, and organising democratic practices in school. It restricted its advice to primary and lower secondary education, however. Sixth form and further education colleges were given little guidance on how to promote FBVs.

The policy immediately attracted a lot of criticism from scholars and teachers. The label of ‘fundamentally British’ was seen as inappropriate as the values referred to are universal human values theoretically endorsed by many countries. Others criticized the connection with the Prevent strategy, which, in their view, meant that the government was covertly targeting ethnic minorities, and Muslim youth in particular, with the policy. However, neither the government nor academia bothered to check how strong the support for the four values labelled as ‘fundamentally British’ actually is among young people and whether education, in one way or another, can inculcate FVBs. I addressed these gaps by analysing data of the Citizenship Education Longitudinal Study (CELS).

My study has a number of surprises in store for the government. First, I found that support for FBVs among 23 year olds is already very high: on a scale from 1 (minimal support) to 5 (maximum support), the mean score is 4 and 97.5% of the respondents score higher than the neutral midpoint of 3. This casts doubt on the necessity of promoting FBVs still further. Second, minority groups, including Muslim minorities, do not show lower levels of support for FBVs than the white majority. In view of the universal character of the values labelled as FBVs (as already noted), this is actually not surprising. Indeed, one study found that teachers of Muslim heritage considered these values to be compatible with, rather than antithetical to, Islam. Third, and most importantly, the school activities suggested by the government, such as citizenship education and democratic practices, are not related to support for FBVs. In contrast, post-16 educational track does show a strong effect: those with vocational qualifications such as an NVQ or Btech have significantly lower levels of support for FBVs than those with academic qualifications such as A levels or a degree. This effect holds when all relevant controls are added to the analysis, indicating it is genuine and not a reflection of young people with lagging support for FBVs from the onset enrolling in vocational tracks (the latter would represent a so-called selection effect). Thus education does influence the adoption of FBVs but not in ways expected by the government.

Does this result mean that the activities suggested by the government are altogether ineffective strategies to promote FBVs? No, that would be a premature conclusion. But it does suggest that the government has targeted the wrong age group with these activities. We know from the political science literature that young people only become interested in social and political affairs in late adolescence and early adulthood. It would thus make more sense to concentrate any socialization efforts on this life stage, i.e. the period in life that young people are much more receptive to input influencing their civic and political engagement.

In fact, the finding on educational track supports the idea that the curriculum, open discussions of topical issues and democratic practices do matter. Particularly in England, curriculum differences between the post-16 tracks are huge, with vocational tracks not offering any courses that are likely to be conducive for political engagement, such as citizenship education, general studies or history. Other research found that the emphasis in vocational tracks is more on fostering practical skills and social manners than on independent analysis and critical thinking. Teachers in such tracks are less likely to encourage open discussions of political issues and to give students a say in teaching and learning as they fear a disruption of order within the class. Given these very different educational experiences, it is not surprising that students in the vocational tracks are not as supportive of FBVs.

In sum, my findings do not give the government much reason to be concerned about young people’s overall support for basic democratic values. Mean levels of support hide inequalities, however, and these happen to be pronounced across educational tracks. If the government wishes to mitigate such inequalities, it should seriously consider instituting a compulsory and uniform course of citizenship education across tracks in upper secondary. This course should be similar in both content and delivery.

This blog is based on an article published in the British Educational Research Journal (Vol. 44, No. 2): Educational influences on young people’s support for fundamental British values.



Listening to youth: A selection of recent podcasts about young lives

By UCL Global Youth , on 11 April 2018

A guest post by Hanaa Almoaibed, PhD Student at UCL-Institute of Education

Podcasts have become an increasingly popular and innovative way to discuss contemporary issues, and in this blog post I want to highlight the range of episodes and series that focus on youth and young people. While this list is far from comprehensive, the podcasts mentioned below allow us to reflect on some of the difficult issues young people are faced with today as they navigate their transitions into adulthood. To listen to a podcast on the issues that are discussed below, simply click on the highlighted text in the relevant section.
Podcasts capturing everyday and extraordinary experiences
Many of the podcasts that are currently available are first person accounts of the daily lives, struggles, and joys of young people. Two good examples of this are Majd’s account of her experience as a young woman transitioning into adulthood in Saudi Arabia, and Melissa’s story of being a teen mother. Similarly, the Campus series is a collection that sheds light on the ‘life-defining’ experiences of young people (although it tends to focus on students).
Other series are more detailed and topic specific. For example, the Youth Element series focuses on the issues faced by youth in East Asia, while Multicultural Youth Radio presents the voices of Sudanese migrant youth in Canberra as they reflect on their daily experiences as migrants.
Education and Employment
We know that transitions related to education can be particularly challenging for young people, and there are a range of podcasts that discuss the associated challenges such as: the choice of specialisations; type(s) of degree and associated fees; and entrepreneurship, skills and how to bridge education and employment (including these podcasts by McKinsey). Another frequent theme in these discussions is that these transitions are not straightforward, and that the challenges that youth face can be more pronounced depending on variables such as gender, race and class.
Education, Development and the Global South
Education is often seen as a key development goal for youth in the Global South, as large youth populations are often seen as both a threat and an opportunity. As a development issue, education is not only seen in light of access as a matter of social justice (often needed in response to sometimes outdated embedded assumptions about race and gender) but is also debated as a solution to high unemployment rates, linking the issues of education and employment very closely. Issues of skills and technical training for youth employment are often the centre of conversations such as in the Carnegie Council for Ethics and International Affairs’ episode related to political stability through employment opportunities for youth in the Middle East. Similarly, the Centre for Strategic and International Studies’ podcast episode on ‘The Promise of Youth in Africa’ hosts several experts who discuss creating more opportunities for skills and fostering entrepreneurship and technical training in Africa, as does this International Monetary Fund discussion.
Gender identity
Issues of gender identity are explored in a multitude of ways, and we can listen to discussions about these experiences in Gender Identity and Youth Culture and How Millennials think of Gender. The United Nations Gender Focus also has several episodes related to gender issues in general, and youth and gender in specific. Many of these episodes explore issues of sexuality and stigma (see here also on youth and homosexuality in Russia) and how this affects young men and women in their ability to find meaningful life arrangements and work, exploring the issue from the perspective of violence, public policy, human rights, religion and cultural relevance.
Health and wellbeing
While navigating through the challenges and opportunities of early adulthood, many young people struggle to reconcile a myriad of health issues that may complicate transitions. Mental and physical well-being are pertinent to the transition experiences of young people around the world, and the risks they face such as violence and substance abuse. In light of this, the first Season of the In Sickness and in Health series is dedicated to youth, social justice and mental health, and discusses several youth well-being topics such as mental health, depression, LGBTQ youth, media and technology.
The Healthy Mind Matters podcast devotes an episode to looking at the question of whether technology and social media can exacerbate mental health (and sometimes even increase suicidal thoughts) among young people. This podcast episode on Youth and Gang Violence on Social Media focuses on a more specific sub-group of youth, but provides more universally-applicable insights into the intersection of online and offline meanings of belonging and self-worth. The episode looks at ways qualitative research methods and mechanisms can be used to unravel socially-constructed dimensions of identity related to class, race, and political status, and their impact on experiences of trauma, violence and well-being. This opens up a necessary conversation about how to work with young people to develop more effective research to understand the meanings of being young, and developing policy capable of mitigating risks and obstacles to youth well-being and development.
Security and political engagement
Young people often negotiate risk and marginalisation through political engagement and participation. For many, this is a matter of security, for others, it is a way of achieving improved access to their rights and opportunities. Youth can engage in political activism through innovative ways both online and offline (such as these youth in Denmark or the youth in the World Economic Forum’s Global Shapers, and the women who pushed for the right to drive in Saudi Arabia).
For young people in areas of conflict or political instability, many of the issues discussed above are aggravated by fears of safety, security and future stability. For some, this can be due to being part of a minority under threat (such as the so called “Dreamers” in the USA), and for others it can be the daily realities of living in a country destabilised by conflict, such as for many young people in Israel, Palestine and Lebanon. In addition to their fears, many of the young people are bored and discontent, which in turn ends up being a concern for global security.
And while some young people do turn to violence, others find the pressures of modernity and transitions so overwhelming that they close up and isolate themselves, such as the Hikikomori in Japan.

Adolescent Wellbeing conference, 12th December 2017

By UCL Global Youth , on 20 November 2017

A cross-disciplinary conference co-organised by the Centre for Global Youth and the Great Ormond Street Institute for Child Health, University College London.

This one-day conference will take place on 12th December 2017, at the UCL-Institute of Education. The main aim of the event is to bring together researchers from neuro-science, health sciences, and social sciences to examine a common challenge (how do we ensure the wellbeing of adolescents in diverse contexts?) from different disciplinary perspectives.

To facilitate a cross-disciplinary conversation, we are adopting a broad definition of wellbeing, so that it includes not just physical health or mental health, but also social, political and/or economic wellbeing (and the challenges youth face in attaining these types of wellbeing). Many of these different facets of young lives are interlinked, but their connections are not necessarily fully understood.

Outline of the Programme

The final programme is available for download here and you can view the abstracts for all papers here.

Registration: This event is sold out, and ticket booking has now closed. If you have already booked a ticket for this event, the Registration Desk will be located on Level 3 of the Institute of Education (The closest entrance is on Bedford Way).

Finding the IOE: Please consult the Eventbrite page, which includes a helpful map and journey planner.

To find out more about CGY events, contact Dr Avril Keating (a.keating@ucl.ac.uk), subscribe to the CGY mailing list, or follow us on Twitter, @uclglobalyouth.

This event is sponsored by UCL Grand Challenges Programme (Human Wellbeing strand), the Department of Education, Practice and Society and Great Ormond Street Institute for Child Health.

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Mental health and wellbeing after humanitarian emergencies: what do we know about support programmes for children and young people in low- and middle-income countries?

By UCL Global Youth , on 6 November 2017

To celebrate Humanitarian Evidence Week (6-12th November), we have a guest blog post by Kelly Dickson and Mukdarut Bangpan, EPPI-Centre, Social Science Research Unit, UCL Institute of Education

Figure 1_v2The United Nations Children’s Fund estimate that a quarter of the world’s children are living in countries affected by conflict or natural disasters. We know that these events can have a long-term impact on children’s and young people’s mental health and psychosocial wellbeing, and while many programmes have been designed to support children and young people dealing with the consequences, our knowledge of what works and why is still developing. To address this gap, Oxfam and the Feinstein International Center humanitarian evidence programme, commissioned us, as part of a wider review, to draw together a synthesis of outcome evaluations from across the world to gain a view of research effort in this area. Our review sought to capture the full range of approaches taken to provide mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) for children and young people (CYP) in countries affected by conflict or natural disasters, and the outcomes they seek to improve.

What did we find?
We found that evaluations of MHPSS programmes for children and young people are still relatively new with few conducted before 2004, and most appearing in the last five years. A rich diversity of approaches are currently being tested for their efficacy, measuring a wide range of outcomes. For example, programmes might incorporate trauma-focused approaches e.g. using psychological techniques tailored to meet the needs of CYP experiencing emotional and psychological difficulties or take a strength-based approach, focusing on CYP’s individual resilience and family and social networks to develop positive coping strategies.

Common psychotherapeutic modalities such as cognitive behaviour therapy or narrative exposure therapy were most likely to address and measure mental health outcomes such as post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, functioning or anxiety. They also measured psychosocial outcomes such as pro-social behaviours (e.g. actions which benefit someone other than yourself) and, less frequently, hope and resilience. Psychosocial programmes were similarly ambitious in their aims, measuring a range of both mental health and psychosocial outcomes.

Figure 1 Types of programmes and outcomes measured

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Of the 45 MHPSS programmes identified in our review, many took advantage of whole-school or classroom-based settings to deliver programmes to children and young people in groups rather than 1:1 settings. Although not possible to outline each programme in detail, two case examples, indicative of the need for support, programme components and outcomes measured in the field, are provided below:

MHPSS after the 2008 earthquake in Sichuan province, China
A large number of young people were exposed to the harrowing events of the 2008 earthquake in the Sichuan province, China. Many of those who survived showed signs of being extremely fearful and anxious and went on to develop psychological problems, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression. In 2010, a short-term (six sessions) group cognitive behaviour programme was designed to support adolescents, who had lost one or both parents, manage trauma-based fears and negative thought patterns. The programme aimed to teach young people relaxation techniques and imagination skills, such as finding a ‘safe place’ in their mind. They were also supported to cope with intrusive flashbacks through guided meditation and nightmares through dream intervention exercises.

The programme needed to be adapted from the original manual (‘Children and Disaster: Teaching Recovery Techniques’, initially developed by the Norway, Foundation for Children and War) to ensure it was suitable to a Chinese context. Firstly, by removing exploration of avoidance behaviours, as they are often viewed as important adaptive strategies, to help people cope with change. Secondly by including the use of culturally specific examples of how to view events, ideas and emotions in a more positive way (cognitive re-framing). The aim of the programme was not only to ameliorate symptoms of PTSD and depression, but also to provide young people with the psychological resilience to recover and thrive as they made the transition from adolescence to adulthood.

MHPSS in conflict-affected contexts
War affected communities in the Democratic Republic of Congo continue to live under constant threat of attack and/or abduction by militia operating in the region. Growing up in armed conflict settings can destabilise familial relations and lead to emotional and behavioural difficulties in children and young people. To improve CYP’s mental health and psychosocial outcomes, (such as PTSD, conduct problems, prosocial behaviours) a family focused, community-based psychosocial intervention was designed for children aged 7–18. Programme activities included: psychoeducation about the impact of war, a life skills leadership course, relaxation techniques and mental imagery exercises, effective communication and conflict resolution skills and short video clips to address discrimination and stigma towards former child soldiers who had returned to the community.

Programmes activities were adapted to be culturally familiar to the local population by using culturally familiar songs, games and rituals, and drawing on local cultural and spiritual beliefs about how to address MHPSS well-being. The programme was also highly relational, focusing on building positive and trusting relationships with young people and enhancing community ties. Programme providers sought to encourage positive family interactions and community acceptance through these approaches to help mediate and improve the mental health and psychosocial of war affected youth.

Theory as a missing link
However, despite these efforts to build an empirical evidence base, studies commonly lack an explicit description of the programme theory underpinning their design. Further theorisation on the links between programme aims and focus, choice of programme components, delivery and anticipated mechanisms for improving outcomes for CYP could provide a more nuanced understanding of how and why MHPSS may or may not work. This programme theorization could also benefit from an understanding of how characteristics of young people, such as age, gender or other individual or social characteristics also interact with and mediate the impact of programmes in natural disaster and war affected settings.

HEW Logo V2How did we get these findings?

We conducted a comprehensive search of 12 bibliographic databases and 25 websites. We included studies published in English from 1980 onwards, if they delivered MHPSS programmes to one group of children in LMIC and compared their findings against another group of children who did not participate in a programme. To find out more about the systematic review and evidence on the effectiveness of programmes, please see the evidence summary of the full report here.


The research was funded by The Humanitarian Evidence and Communications Programme (HEP), a partnership between Oxfam and the Feinstein International Center, Tufts University on behalf of the Department for International Development. To find out more about the systematic review and evidence on the effectiveness of programmes, please see the evidence summary of the full report.


Learning Active Citizenship in UCL’s Global Citizenship Programme: Making the case for more education for Active Citizenship for university students.

By UCL Global Youth , on 15 October 2017

A guest post by Dr. Ioanna Noula, Independent Researcher and Visiting Fellow, at the Department of Media and Communications Department, LSE

A core theme in UCL’s strategy is to become a global University addressing global challenges and delivering global impact. The UCL Global Citizenship Programme (UCLGCP), a two-week summer course offered every year free of charge to all undergraduate and postgraduate students across UCL, is considered a key enabler to this end. It also constitutes a flagship programme for UCL’s Connected Curriculum, enabling “students [to] make connections across subjects and out to the world”. The Programme aims at advancing students’ employability while fostering their civic engagement. Students have the opportunity to select among 10 different strands that address different global challenges.
In 2016 the Active Citizenship Strand was introduced as an innovation to UCLGCP. The distinct character of the strand consists in that it is set within the human rights framework espousing a social-justice oriented model of global citizenship and stresses the importance of political awareness and participation. I had the opportunity to get actively involved in the Programme as a “navigator” of the Active Citizenship strand and as a researcher in an award-winning research project that explored the UCLGCP in comparative perspective and identified ways higher education can develop young people’s awareness, knowledge and skills related to global citizenship. As a navigator I was in charge of facilitating students’ learning through debriefing group sessions. I also acted as a liaison between the Strand and the campaigning organisations students were placed at. This experience allowed me to closely observe the impact of the activities of the strand and of the UCLGCP overall on students’ understanding of global and active citizenship.

What does learning active citizenship involve?
The strand’s pedagogical approach to civic engagement goes beyond the theory/ practice divide. Daily, over the course of two-weeks, students attend workshops and lectures in the morning and they spend four hours in the afternoon at the placements. Students work in groups tasked with creating an online campaign raising awareness around a civic issue. This project takes place in collaboration with campaigning organisations (partner organisations) including, amongst others: Amnesty International, War on Want, Right to Education, and Think Global. Students are placed with the partner organisations, they support their work, and develop a campaign in order to disseminate the work of the organisation or to launch a campaign of their choice related to the issues that their selected organisation takes action about. Moreover, their placements enable them to observe closely the work routine of the partner organisations and the strategies they deploy to achieve their cause. Therefore, placements are both an opportunity to engage with and take action on civic matters, and an opportunity to develop their communication skills and habits that will serve them towards a successful professional life.
The strand also includes a taught element comprising workshops and lectures from expert activists and practitioners in the campaigning sector. The students primarily gain insights on how to campaign and politically engage with topical issues and global challenges. The importance of awareness raising and active participation to address global issues is also highlighted. The advocacy and campaigning skills taught (strategic thinking, communication, networking, campaigning) were also emphasised both as a benefit for their professional plans, as well as a life skill that contributed to their self-confidence.

Students’ takeaways
After the completion of the programme, students provided feedback on their experience by completing evaluation forms. Additionally, a number of students were interviewed as part of the comparative research project. These data provided a number of key insights into students’ perceptions of this Strand. It was concluded that the aspects of the project that benefit students most are:

  • the practical character of the learning experience provided and the opportunity given to students to acquire professional experience,
  • the emphasis placed on students’ employability also mirrored in the opportunities that emerged for students to work or volunteer for their selected organisations,
  • the prestige of the partner organisations as an addition to students’ CV,
  • the opportunity given to students to pursue their personal interest in active citizenship, working along expert practitioners and learning from experienced activists,
  • the approach to active citizenship as a means for awareness raising and social change,
  • the emphasis of the strand on the global scope of contemporary citizenship,
  • the opportunity given to students to interact with peers from diverse disciplinary backgrounds as a means to enhance their perspective on the way they perceive the world and the challenges it is faced with.

However, a number of shortcomings of the programme were also identified:

  • many of the students concluded that it would be a lot more useful to spend more time at the placements in order to become more involved and integrate in the routine of the organisations,
  • given the importance the strand places on the use of social media for the purpose of learning campaigning skills, the findings revealed that although students acquired significant know-how on strategic campaigning online, they were not encouraged sufficiently to reflect on the interplay of their online and offline citizenship.
  • students who answered questions regarding their online citizenship demonstrated a thin understanding of the civic impact of their online participation. In their answers they associated online active citizenship to petition signing online or to the practice of following campaigning organisations online corresponding to the definition of “slactivism”.

Moreover, there is a tension between the employability aim of the programme and the social-justice oriented character of the strand. One way to address this would be to place more emphasis on problematising ways in which future professionals can creatively integrate critical civic attitudes in their chosen professional context would be crucial. This is particularly important for STEM students, who ordinarily rarely enjoy the opportunity to problematize sociopolitical issues over the course of their studies or to consider the impact of their professional choices for future developments in the world.

Active citizenship and the global university
This Strand constitutes a unique pedagogical constellation of practical based learning, cutting-edge research and a social justice ethical framework. It is premised on collaborative, experiential, transdisciplinary, reflective forms of learning that seek to engender inclusive, empathetic, ethical, critical and transformative attitudes setting the foundations for a sustainable approach to global living.
The findings yielded from investigating students’ experiences in the Active Citizenship Strand suggest that there are great benefits for HEIs to involve students of all disciplines in courses and extra-curricular experiences that do not solely focus on enhancing their knowledge and skills and render them employable. Most importantly, I believe that these educational opportunities should aim at emancipating students and creating citizens that engage with the world with a critical mind, capable of challenging the unquestionable truths, and default assumptions in their chosen field of study and inspiring them to bring about change as through their chosen careers.

Women in Saudi Arabia can now drive: Where will they go?

By UCL Global Youth , on 29 September 2017

Posted by Hanaa Almoaibed, PhD Student at UCL-Institute of Education

In an historic announcement on September 26, 2017, women in Saudi Arabia were granted the right to be issued driver’s licenses for the first time. This is BIG news in a country of over thirty million residents, 40% of whom are under age 25 – and 48% of these young people are female. Nearly twenty seven years ago, a group of forty seven women who protested their inability to drive were stripped of their passports, lost their jobs, and were publicly shamed along with their families. Over the past several years, there has been a resurgence of calls to allow women to drive…and well, not for nothing! My social media feed has been inundated with commentary, congratulations, jokes, and about a million memes. But does this royal decree really mean that in ten months’ time, diamante studded pink pickup trucks are going to flood the streets of Riyadh (as some memes so offensively suggest)?
The official rationale for not allowing women to drive was that the Saudi society was not ‘ready’. And it is true that some members of society (some in very influential positions) have repeatedly claimed that women were physically unfit and mentally incapable of driving. They managed to convince society that their mothers, daughters and wives were too vulnerable to drive; being alone in a car would put them in grave danger of assault. While I am emotionally elated and relieved that this day has finally come, the fact that these arguments have held up for so long is indicative of certain features of the Saudi society that for many women are not going to disappear tomorrow.

But why now, at long last?
Saudi Arabia is a very young country, with a very young population that is exposed to the global world through social media, TV shows and travel. Saudi Arabia is also undergoing a large scale economic and social reform transformation plan. It is a country that has seen rapid shifts. Just fifty years ago, the population was around four million, and only 5% of the adult population were formally educated and literate. This looks very different today, but while women are highly educated today, so many are not participating in the formal economy, despite government encouragement to ‘utilize’ this wasted ‘human capital’.
Since around 2005, many new policies have pushed to move women into the formal economy. The push to replace foreign nationals with Saudi citizens, for instance, gave private companies incentives for hiring more women. Workplaces were redesigned to have separate spaces, entrances, and facilities for women. With these new laws, women started to move into a variety of sectors. Yet, even today only around 15% of the labour force is female. Although women have increasingly joined the workforce in a variety of different sectors in the past few years, most notably in retail, Saudi female unemployment remains around 34%.

Will allowing women to drive change anything?
I believe it will change many things. For one, if women who already work begin to drive, they may have more disposable income, as financing a car is more cost effective than hiring transportation, be it live in, live out, contracted or one-off taxi or Uber rides. Families may enjoy less complex logistical negotiations about school drop offs and shopping trips. Many women will enjoy the freedom that their male relatives have always wanted to give them, as their mobility is no longer restricted. And finally, as much of the social media feedback indicates, women already feel more self-worth by the knowledge that soon, they may not have to request drop-offs and pick-ups in the form of endless small favours from their brothers and sons, etc…Their everyday rhetoric is changing. The government has now essentially shifted the choice onto the society and into the households that they claimed for so long were not ready. Are they?

Family, social norms and young women’s aspirations
I recently undertook a series of focus groups and in-depth interviews with young men and young women in Saudi Arabia as part of my doctoral research. The purpose of these interviews was to find out what social and individual factors shape their transitions to adulthood, and in particular, their decision to pursue vocational types of training and employment. During my research, I found that young women were highly motivated to gain university and functional college qualifications; in fact, often, they were much more than Saudi men. Allowing women to be in control of their own transportation may result in many more efficiencies related to scheduling and time management, for instance, and higher levels of accomplishment.
I also found that the young women have a heightened awareness of the social structures and regulatory barriers that enable or restrict their behaviour. As the significant regulatory barrier to driving and movement is now removed, there will inevitably be more room for negotiating choices from a social perspective. Most of the young women feel that despite persisting social structures, they are responsible, along with other women, to show that their aspirations for achievement are not contradictory to the overall social order, and most are prepared to engage with this idea publicly, in the form of educational achievements and work.
However, while many young women believe that while they can achieve anything, cultural norms surrounding mixed gender environments continue to generate a fear of social stigma. What constitutes this stigma varies depending on geographic location and socioeconomic status, amongst other things. Driving may open up new employment paths for women, but it will most likely not revolutionize the types of jobs and sectors that they will take part in. It is worth noting, however, that most of the young women I interviewed described their choices as their own, and many describe themselves as content with their own situations. Furthermore, women describe the careers that they do not pursue as ones that are outside of their ‘horizons’ of action and choice. If driving is frowned upon within the overall family setting, then women may see this as beyond their reality, making the impact of this development minimal, at least in the short term.
Finally, women discuss their ability to navigate family expectations and aspirations, and strive to make their families proud and work to convince them to see eye to eye with them if they disagree. Their desire for their family’s pride often translates into an aspiration that is in line with the family’s aspiration. This in turn translates into their desire to achieve a ‘culturally acceptable’ status in society. So, as young women undergo several turning points as they transition into adulthood, this new law will certainly nudge at issues related to access, choice and take-home income. It is a massive step in the right direction—a leap forward that must be acknowledged and celebrated. However, we must remember that social and gender norms are deep and hard to shift. The recent Royal Decree provides the welcome top down legitimacy needed to broaden the ‘horizons for action’ of youth, but it will take time for the wider society to shift, and for new spaces to open up so that all young people can contemplate new opportunities and express more agency.

Adolescent Lives: Cross-disciplinary, cross-national and critical perspectives on youth and wellbeing

By UCL Global Youth , on 21 September 2017

A cross-disciplinary conference co-organised by the Centre for Global Youth and the Great Ormond Street Institute for Child Health, University College London.

This one-day conference will take place on 12th December 2017, at the UCL-Institute of Education. The main aim of the event is to bring together researchers from neuro-science, health sciences, and social sciences to examine a common challenge (how do we ensure the wellbeing of adolescents in diverse contexts?) from different disciplinary perspectives.

To facilitate a cross-disciplinary conversation, we are adopting a broad definition of wellbeing, so that it includes not just physical health or mental health, but also social, political and/or economic wellbeing (and the challenges youth face in attaining these types of wellbeing). Many of these different facets of young lives are interlinked, but their connections are not necessarily fully understood.

In addition to exploring different dimensions of wellbeing, we will also highlight how the risks to adolescent wellbeing vary in different contents and for different sub-samples of youth. ‘Risk’ means very different things for Middle Class girls in the Global North, young men in gangs, and young people in developing or conflict-ridden societies. This event will thus shed light on the diversity of risks, but we also seek to identify any common concerns that can help us to work across disciplines and cases.

Call for papers: If you would like to present a paper at this event, please send a short abstract (250 words) to Avril Keating (a.keating@ucl.ac.uk) by 5th October 2017. (Please also include your name, title, institutional affiliation, and email address in your attachment).

We are particularly interested in hearing from scholars that are researching the follow topics:

– Adolescent physical and mental health

– The impact of digital technologies/ social media

– Youth politics in times of division and conflict

– The challenges of researching youth wellbeing

– Youth attitudes towards their future wellbeing

– Gender and wellbeing

Registration: This event is free and open to all, but spaces are limited and pre-registration is required. To register, simply RSVP via Eventbrite by 24th November 2017.

To find out more, contact Dr Avril Keating (a.keating@ucl.ac.uk), subscribe to the CGY mailing list, or follow us on Twitter, @uclglobalyouth.

This event is sponsored by UCL Grand Challenges Programme (Human Wellbeing strand), the Department of Education, Practice and Society and Great Ormond Street Institute for Child Health.

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Comparing youth attitudes towards politics in Britain and Pakistan: Some initial reflections

By UCL Global Youth , on 19 September 2017

Posted by Dr. Laila Kadiwal, Research Associate at the Centre for Global Youth

Over the past few years, I have conducted a range of in-depth interviews with young people in Britain and Pakistan [1]. Youth attitudes towards politics was one of the key issues that these interviews touched upon, and over the summer, I have been reflecting upon the similarities and differences in their attitudes and experiences. This question is particularly interesting at this juncture as both countries are undergoing extraordinary political changes at the moment. In the UK, the youth vote has become significant in the context of older population predominantly choosing to leave the European Union. And in Pakistan, where nearly 64% of the population is below the age of 29, youth engagement is seen as significant to democracy in the country.

In this blog post, I will discuss two initial observations. These broad observations are likely to change as I explore the data in more depth to understand the nuances and variations in youth attitudes to politics. In Britain and Pakistan, the media have tended to depict Pakistani youth as apolitical and pessimistic. However, I will argue that young people in both countries are concerned citizens raising some of the key politically-critical issues.

Young people in both countries feel somewhat frustrated with politics

Across the spectrum of gender, ethnic and class affiliations, young people in my sample from both the countries see themselves as somewhat unrepresented and disheartened and frustrated with politics.

A majority of young British people in my sample preferred the Labour party over any other political party, but not without skepticism and issues with the broader nature of politics itself. For instance, a 19-year-old male Labour voter who identified himself as working class and from a mixed background studying at a university told me ‘I don’t think any party caters to my ideology and I think we need to have a radical overview of how the system works before they can actually represent us.’

Some of these sentiments resonated with the ‘anti-politics’ discourse (Clarke et al. 2016) that seeks to bridge left and right and rejects current politics and parties. Many British youth in my sample felt less inclined to vote for varied reasons: they were not sure what politicians were promising them, they did not believe in politicians, or politics was not a significant aspect of their lives. This finds an echo in recent studies (e.g. Howker and Malik 2010; BSA, 2017; Pearce 2015) that suggest that young people believe that politicians do not address the issues which matter to them. The State of the Nation 2015 report highlights that young people care about different issues to those of the population as a whole. They ranked the NHS, unemployment, education, immigration and living standards as their top five key issues in the survey but did not feel that any political parties satisfactorily addressed these. Howker and Malik (2010) describe these young people as a ‘jilted generation’ that feels uncertain in terms of jobs security, affordable housing and stable future but does not believe that the political elites are listening to them.

Similar to the young people I spoke to in the UK, in Pakistan, youth found themselves disempowered in terms of representing themselves, holding the government accountable, and seeking justice. The participants raised issues around corruption, inequality and falling development indicators. They worried about inequality, inflation, inefficient public services and declining development indicators. They felt concerned about the law and order, road safety, corruption, nepotism, and crime, but the police and judiciary were perceived as serving politicians and bureaucrats. They felt aggrieved by inequitable access to resources and inequitable opportunities for development.

The key difference between the youth in the UK and those in Pakistan seemed to me the different degrees of hope and confidence about their future in their respective countries. Many young Pakistani felt hopeless and insecure and they feared about their and their families’ future due the falling development indicators, violence and the state of affairs in politics, whereas, most of the British young people in my sample group seemed to demonstrate a sense of optimism and hope that they lived in a developed country that stood among the top economies in the world and therefore, things will not be as ‘apocalyptic’ for them.

Young people are divided in their attitudes towards diversity

Another key political issue in both countries is the complexity of youth attitudes to the ‘other’. In Pakistan, politics is deeply intertwined with people’s ethnolinguistic identities. This is further exacerbated by the ideology of Pakistan as articulated in educational curricula that constructs an exclusivist and a narrow notion of who an ideal citizen is. Scholars and activists have argued that the national ideology of Pakistan underplays the religious and ethnic diversity of the nation; twists and omits important historical details (Aziz 2004); and glorifies militarisation and war (Hoodbhoy and Nayyar 1985). It presents India, Hindu, and British people as enemies of Islam (Nayyar and Salim 2002).

Historically, Britain has also faced difficulties in embracing diversity. In the past, the term ‘diversity’ carried a negative meaning in English from the late 15th century, as ‘being contrary to what is agreeable or right; perversity, evil’. In the 1650s, diversity also signified dissidence, derived from the Latin dissidentia. It is only in the late 20th century the term ‘diversity’ has acquired a positive connotation in policy discourse and the benefits have started to be embraced (Kadiwal, 2014). That said, values such as tolerance continue to be tested on issues involving gender and sexuality, multiculturalism and immigration in the UK. The ideology of the fundamental British values also continues to be controversial.

In my research, young people were not passive recipients of socially divisive political narratives; rather, they actively responded to diversity in light of their everyday life in Britain and Pakistan, and in reaction to the prevailing socio-political situations of their countries. Factors such as their socio-economic status, their education, and particularly the levels of issues affecting their local communities, in which they were located, influenced their perceptions of diversity.

Nearly all young Pakistani felt concerned about ethnolinguistic based politics and considered it as the cause of conflict. They felt aggrieved with the (mis)use of ethnic and religious differences to political ends and believed that the conflict among the political parties along ethnic and sectarian lines was one of the key barriers to their unity and development. Yet, young Pakistani appeared to relate to the questions of diversity differently in different contexts, and with different effects. Some of the most exclusivist tendencies in the sample group were demonstrated by male students in a conflict-affected and deprived area. Others, however, constructed non-Muslims as citizens with equal rights. Thus, young Pakistani constructed their relationship with the ‘other’ in multiple and contradictory ways.

Similarly, young British people were divided in their attitudes towards diversity and immigration in Britain. Some young British detested the political discourse of identity and immigration as being divisive. They argued in favour of a more open, mobile and outward looking society and appreciated diversity positively as an asset to the British economic and cultural life, whereas some young people said that their lives revolved around their home and their region and they did not wish to necessarily embrace the ‘other’.

Goodhart (2017) divides these opposite tendencies into ‘anywheres’ and ‘somewheres’. ‘Anywheres’ represent degree-educated and geographically mobile who embrace new people and experiences; in contrast, ‘somewheres’ are rooted in their home region and find the rapid change that mobility or migration overwhelming. It has been argued that this polarization is between those economically benefiting from globalisation and those marginalized from the benefits of globalization. Some have also argued that people embrace the ‘open’ versus the ‘closed’ outlooks in life; openness is about embracing an open economy and tolerant society, while closedness involved those wanting to keep competition and change at bay (Harding 2017). In my interviews, some young British people from a mixed background found themselves at the receiving end of what they perceived as racism, while, other young British believed that people from other cultures and countries were adversely affecting their chances for employment, housing, and education and jeopardising their safety, identity and their ways of life.

These discussions revealed young people in both countries as concerned citizens raising some of the key politically-critical issues. This contrasts with perceptions of politically apathetic youth in both countries and rather point to larger problems with political systems in both the countries. Across the spectrum of gender, ethnic, national and class affiliations, I saw young people asking vital questions that affected their lives directly but feeling to some extent unrepresented in politics. Young people actively engaged with political narratives in their micro-contexts of everyday lives and they actively responded to socio-cultural and economic diversity in light of their everyday life in Britain and Pakistan, but their reactions were not static, decontextualized or homogeneous. It was not always possible to neatly straightjacket young people in one position. Thus, I would recommend that as researchers we need a fluid, dynamic, and open theoretical framework to analyze young people’s attitudes towards politics.


[1] My observations here are based on my research with young people in these two states. In 2017, I interviewed 13 young people (six females and seven males) between the ages of 15 to 24 on their responses to Brexit and the EU Referendum in a South-Eastern city of England. Eight participants identified themselves as the White British and five hailed from a range of mixed backgrounds. Prior to this, in 2015, I had interviewed 62 (32 females and 30 male) young people between 14 to 29 years in a Southern megacity of Pakistan on their perceptions of peace, education and conflict. In both the countries, youth participants hailed from a spectrum of socio-economic backgrounds (from marginalised to politically active; from out of school to elite and highly educated). A qualitative research approach was used, including semi-structured interviews and focus group discussion.

Additional References

Ali, Mubarak. 2002. “History, Ideology and Curriculum.” Economic and Political Weekly 37 (44/45). Economic and Political Weekly: 4530–31.
Aziz, K. K. 2004. The Murder of History: A Critique of History Textbooks Used in Pakistan. Lahore: Vanguard Books.
BC. 2013. “Next Generation Goes to Ballot.” Islamabad: British Council.
CCE. 2007. “Civic Health of Pakistani Youth: Study of Voice, Volunteering and Voting among Young People.” Islamabad: Centre for Civic Education Pakistan.
Hoodbhoy, P.A., and A.K. Nayyar. 1985. “Rewriting the History of Pakistan:” In Islam, Politics and the State: The Pakistan Experience, edited by A. Khan. London: Zed Books.
JI. 2013. Apolitical or Depoliticised? Pakistan’s Youth and Politics: A Historical Analysis of Youth Participation in Pakistan Politics. Jinnah Institute.
Nayyar, A. H., and Ahmad Salim, eds. 2002. The Subtle Subversion: The State of Curricula and Textbooks in Pakistan. Islamabad: Sustainable Development Policy Institute. http://unesco.org.pk/education/teachereducation/reports/rp22.pdf.

Teaching young citizens about politics: Lessons from a political education workshop with primary school students

By UCL Global Youth , on 18 August 2017

A guest blog from Rosie Beacon, the Centre for Global Youth intern

I found myself increasingly frustrated during the EU referendum campaign and the aftermath to see my friends and peers making very opinionated and quite inflammatory statements, often using information that was factually incorrect or lacking context. I always wondered if they’d been taught always politics at school whether they might think differently, or maybe less harshly. To explore this theory, in October of last year I started a project called Politeach and, along with a team of fellow volunteers, designed an interactive political education workshop for Key Stage 2 pupils. I was unsure how to go about doing this, but thankfully, UCL Volunteering Services Unit (VSU) gave me the tools to help Politeach to come to life.

Why did I feel the need to actively involve myself in political education?

I’ve been dissatisfied with the political education system since I left school, and I think it will always be a pressing issue for numerous reasons. Firstly, it is difficult to reconcile voter apathy with such low levels of political literacy. Secondly, social media has become the best worst nightmare for politics. While it can be a world of opportunity for engaging new audiences, it can also influence people into thinking a certain way when they’re not equipped to challenge it, making it just as much of a liability as an opportunity. And lastly, politics can be simplified to an easily digestible level that not only encourages pupils to understand political mechanisms but also stimulates debate and reasoning skills, which is an indispensable skill in any discipline, not just politics. It is these reasons that inspired me to get stuck into political education myself.

What did Politeach involve?

Politeach is a two-hour workshop designed for Key Stage 2 pupils. It is role-play based and entirely hypothetical so there is no association to real-life political parties, which, we believe, gives the students a sense of agency over their decisions whilst simultaneously learning about how the government works.

The workshop is based around three main activities:

  1. Party selection, Election of Party leaders and Election of Government
    The students are organised into small groups of 10, which are then further sub-divided into an Orange Party and a Blue Party. Each party then chooses a party leader, writes a manifesto (we give them a list of policy options and they choose which options they would like) and a mini election speech. This activity culminates in a general election to decide a government.
  2. House of Commons debate
    After some preparation time, the new government and the opposition party then debate their party platforms.
  3. Referendum
    The entire class comes together for this section, which is usually done outside. The entire workshop is orchestrated so that every party has one manifesto pledge that is the same (e.g. every Orange Party has ‘Longer break times instead of going home early’ and every Blue Party has ‘Going home early instead of longer break times’. We close the debate section at an inconclusive point to try and demonstrate how political decisions can be taken to a referendum when politicians cannot decide. When outside, volunteer teachers hold up signs saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and the pupils have to run to the side they agree with.

Design and delivery: the obstacles

While Politeach was a very successful initiative, it was not without obstacles. When attempting an education initiative in particular, it is imperative to do as much planning as possible. That said, Politeach was constantly changing, and even during the workshop we were adding things in here and there, in addition to meticulous planning leading up to the delivery.

With a workshop structure in particular it is of utmost importance to be flexible. This is applicable at all stages of planning. We actually started out Politeach planning to do 8-10 lessons in one school over a term, an idea I initially preferred because I thought it then seemed like politics was a proper lesson and not an extra-curricular activity. However, we soon realised this was borderline impossible; schools do not have the time or resources to delegate this sort of time. Once we adjusted to a workshop design, the actual delivery also required flexibility. Since the main benefit of a workshop is that you arrive, you teach, you leave, this means that you end up in a variety of different environments and have to shape the workshop accordingly to that school. This involves taking into account what the general attainment is at that school, how much politics is taught internally, the class size, the classroom size and how receptive the pupils are.

Moreover, it was my worst fear to have a bunch of disenchanted students and an uncomfortable on-looking teacher during the workshop. This is partially why the workshop is so role-play based, to give the pupils a sense of responsibility instead of being passive observers to a twenty slide PowerPoint on elections. The last thing we wanted was for us to be talking at the students for two hours. If I’m completely honest, I’d rather the pupils not learn a huge amount about the granular details of the political structure and instead, associate politics as something interesting and stimulating which they can play an active role in. So the workshop has a basic structure of replicating the political process, but it also exists to show that politics is not boring, it’s not just for adults, and is relatively easy to get engaged in because the fundamental structure of politics is debating over something you believe in, which you can practice at almost any age.

An additional factor to take into account when teaching political education in particular, is non-partisan teaching. By nature, the workshop is inherently non-partisan because the parties and manifesto options are completely hypothetical and there is very little room for political indoctrination. However, politics is characterised by subjectivity and it should not be underestimated how often the notion of ‘all political education is a form of indoctrination’ is entertained. In practice, particularly with Politeach, it’s very difficult to even imply some sort of party association as there is no way it could be brought in in relation to the content of the workshop. With this said, the volunteers might not say something biased but the pupils certainly can. We were shocked at how much some students knew in regards to party politics. In this situation we had to think of different ways of dealing with political opinions, without expressing our own political view, but still encouraging them and other students to deconstruct a judgement and try and think of a counter-argument.

What is the future for Politeach?

I find it bizarre that the main source of political education for this generation comes from their own research, despite huge decisions like Brexit and the day-to-day decisions made in the government affecting them just as much as anyone else. Politics in its most fundamental form can be quite simple to teach and it can be exciting and enjoyable too. Particularly in the current political climate, pupils are even more receptive and eager to understand what is actually going on while buzzwords of Brexit, single market, immigration, and the NHS are constantly thrown around. Politeach will continue to run next year as a student-led project in the VSU, hopefully going into more schools. However, in an ideal world, Politeach should not be necessary because of a long term, integrated political education system in the main curriculum. Until then however, I hope Politeach, other social enterprises and pressure groups of a similar orientation fill the gaps that the current education system fails to provide.

Jeremy Corbyn the trend or Jeremy Corbyn the politician: Thoughts on the General Election

By UCL Global Youth , on 19 July 2017

A guest blog from Rosie Beacon, the Centre for Global Youth intern

As a politically engaged university student, I have mixed feelings about the general election. In crude terms, the youth voted Labour, the older generations voted Tory. Why? It would be unwise to reduce the exceptional voter turnout to the tuition fees extravaganza. What else could it have been? It is slightly more likely that the youth were more inclined to voting Labour, but what was it that actually pushed them to get up and go to the polling station this time?

Party preferences in the 2017 UK general election by age

Party preferences in the 2017 UK general election by age

It is no secret that social media has become a political campaigning vehicle in its own right. The growth of micro-targeting in electoral campaigns is unprecedented; Labour, in particular, invested heavily in this through ‘Promote’, their own social media micro-targeting wing. Momentum also perfected social outreach through contemporary platforms such as Facebook.

While this was certainly effective, an immense tool which no political party can attempt to control but only to influence, is ‘organic’ social media activity. By organic social media activity, I mean the ways in which people share political material on social media because they are interested in or entertained by the material, not because they have been asked or paid to do so. The term ‘political material’ is now increasingly flexible due to the way that social media has casualised politics, so that ‘organic sharing’ now includes a plethora of political news – it can be funny, it can be informative, it can be incredibly opinionated, or a combination of all of the above.

From my personal experience, it wasn’t the micro-targeting revolution that helped Labour capture the attention of the youth. It was memes, videos, photos, Facebook statuses, and tweets. Jeremy Corbyn was presented on social media as a trend, not a politician. I personally didn’t vote Labour, but I can certainly see why its enticing. Jeremy Corbyn seems like a cool guy and has a cat who features in his Snapchat stories. How likely is it that I know this from reading The Guardian? The fact that he managed to transcend politics and present himself as a person that just happened to be a politician (with ‘hopeful’ policies) is what made him so appealing – a persona he determined for himself and with the help of spin doctors no doubt, but a persona that captured the beady eyes of the social media generation who thrived off it.

The Social Media Generation

Thus the 2017 general election – and the EU referendum for that matter – symbolise a far more endemic trend in the future of youth politics; the social media generation. The formative years of this generation have been characterised by myspace, Bebo, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, Snapchat – sources of socialising but also immediate sources of information.

Would being part of this ‘information generation’ necessarily affect political literacy? Not completely, but social media has certainly provided an innovative platform for those who were already engaged with politics, and it also allows for those that were not necessarily interested to follow it to varying degrees. Whether you want to follow it or not, especially during the general election, it’s highly likely you saw something to do with politics on your timeline once a day. Its mere appearance on our news feeds equates politics and current affairs with off-the-cuff events happening among your friends, not only making it seem casual but this subtly and incrementally builds up an awareness of what’s going on in the seemingly distant world of politics.

But then, on the other hand, couldn’t you just ignore political news if it appears on your timeline? Not everyone follows the Independent and the Times? Crucially, social media has not only created a contemporary platform for politics, but it has fundamentally altered the face of it. It has turned politics into something you wouldn’t necessarily want to scroll past. Politics on social media can be incredibly personal but it can also be lighthearted, humorous and very witty. This could mean anything from reading your friend’s Facebook status debate disputing how corporation tax should be managed or more likely, one of your other friends sharing a video compilation of Joe Biden telling Barack Obama how much he adores him.

Two political memes that have gone viral in the US and the UK

Biden memeTheresa May meme

The latter demonstrates how social media has made politics casual and easily digestible, and has exacerbated the trend for ‘personality politics’, which, based on my peer group, Jeremy Corbyn hugely benefitted from. Particularly in the context of the 2017 general election, this is evident in the unforgettable wheat fields trend with Theresa May, heightening her representation as the ‘Maybot’, and further alienating younger voters from someone who looks like just another right wing politician who doesn’t quite ‘get’ the youth. This trend in particular shouldn’t be underestimated – it was massive because ultimately it’s funny and easy to find funny, meaning new audiences could engage with this trend, and thus politics, in a simple way. Social media also allowed for nostalgic photos to be shared of Jeremy Corbyn protesting in the 80s and for videos with Stormzy to become viral, furthering his persona as a man who doesn’t just know the people, he’s another one of the people.

Moreover, it is not just viral videos and memes that build up a political awareness among young people. As we start to make progress with our careers, we are starting to recognise our dependence on political decisions. Now, when young people appreciate how politics affects their adult lives, there is a platform in which they can voice their opinions through status updates and comments on others’ status – a new mechanism of debating and reasoning with other political views that hasn’t always existed. All of these trends are also inevitably heightened against a background of drastic political upheavals, such as Brexit and Trump’s election, which saw young people turning to social media sites as a way of voicing their opinions on these dramatic events.

Is social media a political opportunity or political danger?  

In many ways, the general election 2017 crystallized the relationship between social media and politics that has been building for some time. Social media is ultimately invasive (which is why we love it) but this means political personalities are now more important than ever. This is why Corbyn was so successful. Snapchat stories of his cat might not seem like much, but politics has a tendency to dehumanize politicians and he managed to fight against this with the social media generation massively on his side, encouraging a huge and powerful demographic to go out and vote for a man that seemed like he was an actual human being.

However, this social media facet to politics isn’t always a blessing. Social media is a source of misinformation just as much as it is actual information. With such a poor system of compulsory political education in the UK, social media can make voters vulnerable to persuasive views that they’re not well equipped to challenge, particularly when it’s their friends or family sharing them as opposed to a newspaper – people they actively trust. Moreover, the downside to personality politics is that it fails to take into account the whole picture, such as their party platform and their general aptitude as a politician, negotiator and leader. Social media is an innovative new outlet that exposes people to myriad of political news and opinions which they may not have noticed or spoken about before, which is good. However, just like with a newspaper, not everything you read on social media will be true nor impartial. While social media may be the future for politics and political campaigning, we should also be treating it with caution.