Hugo Paul is part of the LearningPlanet Youth Council, where he and seventeen other young people from around the world are committed to bettering education through youth empowerment. He is a student at the University of Technology of Compiègne (UTC) and has been an active part in many social, ecological and democratic initiatives prior to LearningPlanet, including Up For Europe, Together For Earth and Ticket for Change. 

The interview was led by Eva Keiffenheim from Big Change at Salzburg Global Seminar Education Futures: Shaping A New Education Story and builds upon ideas in A New Education Story – Three Drivers to Transform Education Systems. Hugo’s insights connect to the driver “power” and reveal how young people can have agency in transforming education systems.

What is your role right now as a youth advocate?

I’m a member of the Youth Council of the LearningPlanet Alliance and I’m also launching an exploration of learning communities. And as a member of the LearningPlanet Youth Council, I and seventeen other young people from around the world are helping LearningPlanet to find a good way to involve the youth. The main goal of LearningPlanet is to transform education and amplify youth voice and agency. So it’s important for them to also have young people in their governance.

There’s a difference between youth voice and youth agency and ownership. How do you experience this type of power?

Let me share two examples. The first one shows how organizations want to do things for the youth but without the youth. 

In France, we have just had the presidential elections and a youth event was organized about the presidency. The organizer gathered 100 young people to ask questions to the different candidates. 

While the intention is good, they didn’t involve young people enough when creating the event. We felt frustrated because we didn’t have a lot of freedom in the questions we could ask. The event was also moderated by older people. And so it felt like they just inserted the youth into their ideas without giving them real agency. During this event, a lot of young people were really frustrated and some were even angry with the organization. So that’s an example of what we maybe should not do.

A good example of empowering young people is my experience with the Learning Planet Institute. The yearly Learning Planet Festival, gather organizations from around the world to transform the education system. And they are doing everything to put youth at the centre of this event.

Four or five months ago, so right at the beginning of the creation of the festival, they gathered young people and said: “Okay, we want to do something, but we don’t know how.” We had a blank page to work with, and they consulted us.

It was really nice to actually start at the beginning of the process because we had more freedom and a real sense of ownership. But it also helped us as young people understand the reasons for and the constraints of such an event. We acknowledged them and said: “Okay, we would prefer there were no borders, but there are borders and with these borders in mind, what can we do?” It was both an exciting and inspiring process. 

I think if an event is not really created with the youth, you feel it, you feel that youth is just an image. At the Learning Planet festival, participants could feel young people’s agency. 

For example, young people moderated different sessions. We had a session to learn how to moderate and it wasn’t about what we had to do or what we should not do. The message was: Just be you and it will be completely fine. 

I had the chance to moderate a panel discussion with Matthieu Ricard, the famous French Buddhist. It was my first time as a moderator and it felt like real empowerment. 

How did LearningPlanet give you the tools and competencies to experience this kind of ownership? What helped you collaborate with others and co-create the festival? 

LearningPlanet created a space of confidence and of collaboration among the youths. We are 18 young people from 17 countries. We saw totally different cultures, backgrounds and also different ages because the youngest person is 13 years old and the oldest is 25 years old. Between 13 and 25, there’s a huge gap. However we don’t feel this gap, we don’t feel the difference in culture, and we don’t feel the difference in age. And all of that just by meeting online, that’s great work. 

Photo of Hugo Paul at the Salzburg Global Seminar.

Concretely, we are meeting every month to really create a community and learn from each other. Maybe that’s the key, to give freedom to the young people and say: “You have the space and you can do everything in this space.” 

But this is also challenging because you have all of this freedom, but you don’t really know how to do it. I believe that we need a common goal to construct something collectively. 

You said something very interesting in the beginning, that LearningPlanet created a space of confidence and trust. How did they do that? If you think of other organizations which want to create a space of confidence, what advice would you give them?

One piece of advice is, to create strong relationships between members through interpersonal sessions. During these sessions, it was just about what we were doing, and what we liked and we also played some games in order to really create a special link between us. 

Another one is that there is a moderator of this youth council who is really dedicated to helping us and answering all our questions. We have this support, we know that if we need something we can ask someone and we will have an answer.

And finally, it’s all about taking action. It’s not just about saying you have freedom and agency. You are not creating confidence through the words but through the experiences. For example, right now I’m in this wonderful seminar with wonderful people and they offered me this opportunity. They asked me to represent the Learning Planet in the youth council. It’s a lot of responsibility but it gives me a lot of confidence.

Photo of Hugo Paul at the Salzburg Global Seminar.

That’s a good point. Hugo, what’s your vision for education?

For me, education is like soil. You have to construct an ecosystem that enables every seed to grow as it wants. So every pupil or every person is a seed. That’s why for me, it’s not possible to have universal education. It’s like gardening, every soil is different and you have to work with each soil differently. In a nutshell, my vision of education is: How would you construct an ecosystem where every person at every stage of their life – because education does not finish at 18 years old -, can grow as they want?

Thank you, Hugo, for taking the time to share your perspective.

All photo credits: Salzburg Global Seminar/Katrin Kerschbaumer

A word from Hugo Paul

Transforming education systems can’t happen without the youth. Recent global research led by Big Change suggests that to transform education systems, we need to shift power, and “expand who has voice and agency by investing in stakeholders so they can make confident decisions about learning and education.” One of the proposed actions is to “liberate agency and co-agency of educators and learners.”But how can organizations really empower young people? In this interview, I share what I learned from my work with LearningPlanet on how to really give agency to the youth. Thank you Eva Keiffenheim for creating the ideal atmosphere for the expression of my ideas.