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How can research organisations & institutions engage youth into the research sphere?

An opinion piece about engaging more young people into the research world by our very own JETstreamer Lesedi Matlala
Creating opportunities for youth to imagine better futures have a larger impact in contributing to solve social and economic challenges that our societies face today. Young people are specialists in their own experience and the realities of being youth. Thus their expertise needs to be authentically valued in the policy-making process of any emerging nation in the world. In order for this shift to take place, youth must be viewed as community assets that are capable of partnering in both the identification of socio-economic issues and the development of possible solutions. One step of doing this is for research institutions and organisations to begin involving and engaging youth into their research practices. Involving youth as partners in research processes that are aiming to develop nations offers many benefits for the youth and the entire nation.
At JET Education Services youth engagement in research is a key tenet to its operations. This has led to the development of the JET Streaming program, which provides for a variety of levels for youth researchers to engage and contribute to the transformation of the South African education sector through knowledge. The program includes engagement of young researchers working along experienced researchers in a number and variety of research projects. For a detailed discussion of the JET Streaming program see https://www.jet.org.za/jetstreaming/about.  By engaging young researchers through this program JET education services is working on addressing the transformation of the education sector in terms of the following areas;
·         developing research capacity,
·         upskilling educational academic expertise in application to issues on the ground,
·         building project management skills, and
·         creating collaborative conversations
However, despite the developing importance in youth engagement in research, it is not always clear to some of the research organisations and institution on how to engage youth effectively in research processes, to optimize the experience and maximize the impact of their involvement in the process. Some organisations find it difficult to engage youth researchers into their processes in a meaningful ways. For instance, they may not know how to adapt their procedures to give youth researcher’s meaningful opportunities to express their views and to best use youth feedback to inform their research.
Given this brief context, it is of importance to explore ways in which youth can be engaged into the research world through more meaningful and relevant ways and enable their participation in building a more resilient society.
What do we understand about youth research?
Research is simply understood as a process by which we find out about something. Thus, supporting youth to lead on research projects positively contributes to their development, enhancing their skill set and empowering them to investigate issues that can be used as a launching pad to drive change. Youth research is important because it encourages and allows young people to find out about the issues that interest and influence them so that organisations and government institutions can make positive changes in their areas and community in general. Conducting research also gives them valuable research skills, critical thinking, and experience in conducting research.
How can youth get involved?
Modern technologies have turned into an essential part of life and they serve a pivotal role in doing research. Since youth is quite at ease with the application of digital tools, they can easily learn their potential merits which facilitate self-discovery. Doing research almost invariably involves the use of some kind of digital tool one way or the other. Therefore, the young's interest in digital techniques can be used as a source of motivation for involving them in research.
Moreover, research organisations must be real and practical about their research strategies in terms of engaging youth researchers. For instance If more young people are pulled away by technology and social media, then most of their research processes must become more centered on technology and social media to engage more young people.
 Although acknowledging the role technology as a source of motivation to attract youth into the research world. The use of role models is also one tool to inspire young people to engage into the process. This includes the availability of highly qualified and experienced researchers with unwavering commitment and passion towards innovation and research. These experienced researchers should be willing to providing mentoring and support to the younger generation of researchers.
Other ways to genuinely value youth expertise in the research domain is to recognize and acknowledge their contributions ceremoniously. This involves providing wages, an honorarium, references for job and certificates as appropriate. These above mentioned incentives can also be a good motivator for engaging young people in research world. Lastly it also important that research organisations and institutions to encourage these youth researchers to attend and present in papers in research conference so that they can have wider exposure or expose to larger research community.
In conclusion research organisations are encouraged to reflect on the value that youth engagement can bring to social research practices. The fastest and possible way is for them to dedicate some budget for research projects that will aid to train and build research capacity of for young people.


By Lesedi Senamele Matlala

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