poll youth voices new Brunswick moncton

Province Should Poll Youth Regularly

If it’s good enough for the United Nations, maybe it’s good enough for New Brunswick.

The UN’s director general, Michael Moller, says organizations and governments have not been listening closely enough to young people. “The paternalistic approach to development does not work any more,” he stated, announcing that the UN is launching a global poll meant to measure youth opinions on education, the internet, family life, and more. The goal is to survey more than 25,000 people ages 10 to 29 in more than two dozen countries – Canada included. The data is meant to capture what concerns youth across the world, highlighting strengths and weaknesses in achieving shared goals.

This is not a one-time information grab, though. The UN plan is also trying to keep pace with change by running the survey four times a year.

Dan Cassino is designing the poll. He’s a political science professor and expert in experimental research. He says polling children every few months will “let governments test a lot of new things” and encourage leaders to “act quickly to correct emerging problems.”

It’s a great idea, and one that we as a province could embrace. Why not have an ongoing statistical image of what matters most to youth in Moncton, Fredericton, Bathurst, Edmunston – and be able to draw on each other’s gains in different measures? If youth in Miramichi report a higher satisfaction with feeling safe, let’s find out why and how we might replicate this in other communities. If St. Stephen kids are the happiest in the province in relation to time spent with family, let’s share their stories and learn from their examples.  

The foundation to create our own poll exists in the framework of the New Brunswick Health Council’s student wellness survey – we would just need to recreate the questionnaire online and increase the frequency of reporting on the results. A little awareness about the program, and voila!

The current survey is a partnership between the Department of Social Development, Wellness Branch, and the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development. All data collection and analysis is done by the New Brunswick Health Council, which was created by the provincial government to engage people in discussions about our health system and to measure it in various ways.

The Student Wellness Survey takes place every three years; one survey focuses on students in kindergarten to Grade Five, while another looks at older students. The goal is to measure students’ “perceptions, attitudes, and behaviours in a number of key areas related to student well-being.” The survey has shown that, over the past few years, youth in our province (and the parents of children in Kindergarten through Grade Four, which are asked to fill out the survey on their child’s behalf) are reporting better health habits (drops in rates for smoking, pot use, energy drink consumption, etc), increased satisfaction with school, improved social and emotional development, and a general sense of well-being that is reassuring.

Obviously, the NBHC Student Wellness Survey is not as broadly mandated as the UN’s poll, nor is it as frequent, but why couldn’t we use it as a platform from which to create a similar provincial engagement measure for our youth? If we want to attract and retain families, this is a key piece of the puzzle. Any parent will tell you their child’s happiness and quality of life is one of their greatest motivators when making decisions about what community a family will call home. A province that is taking that happiness seriously and sharing that information, using it to celebrate successes and inform policy decisions, will stand out among the rest.

A version of this post appeared originally in the Times & Transcript. Click here for more of Jenna Morton’s column, She Said.

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