A survey of high school students attending the “Fridays for Future” school strike in Konstanz shows: this generation is inquisitive, idealistic and interested in politics. Many of the approximately 2,000 demonstrators are not only willing to miss class, but they are also ready to accept school punishment for standing up for what they believe in. So are the school strikes just an excuse for skipping school? According to Sebastian Koos’ research team from the University of Konstanz’s Cluster of Excellence "Politics of Inequality”, that is not the case for the great majority of the students.
Everyone is talking about the “Fridays for Future” school strikes and most people have an opinion about the demonstrations. While some schools ban participation in the school strikes, the German chancellor is praising the thousands of school students for publicly demonstrating their support of sustainability and a different approach to climate change.
Up until now, however, science has not had much to say about the striking students’ motivations. It is not always easy for researchers to stay on top of and evaluate current events as they happen. Research is a time-intensive process. Just preparing a study usually involves long hours of hard work. Publicly sought-after researchers with expertise in economics and the social sciences thus find it sometimes difficult to react to current developments with well-founded assessments and recommendations. Not so for Sebastian Koos, sociologist and management scholar at the University of Konstanz. He has the good fortune to not only be carrying out a research project that dovetails with a very current topic, but his ongoing project also provides him with the creative freedoms that allow him to react flexibly to current events.
Through his project “Our common future: Why do people behave sustainably?” – funded by the Robert Bosch Stiftung – Koos aims to learn more about what motivates young people to actively support sustainability and what hinders them from doing so. To this end, researchers are working together with university and school students to design surveys that help them explore what young people think about sustainable consumption of food and clothing, and how they support actions and measures that promote sustainability.
“Then the ‘Fridays for Future’ movement began to gain momentum”, says Koos. “It addresses exactly those issues that we want to study. So we decided to directly interview the students during the actual strike.” On March 15, 2019, the largest-ever rally took place in our region with up to 2,000 students – most of them from secondary schools – as well as numerous university students marching through the streets of downtown Konstanz. A total of 145 respondents participated in the survey as part of the study.
“We didn’t need to offer the usual small rewards for completing the questionnaires,” reports Franziska Lauth, a student at the University of Konstanz and one of the coordinators of the survey. “We surveyed about one in ten of them. The high school students were actually glad that someone was asking questions to learn about their objectives: who are you, where do you come from? Why are you doing this? And: are you afraid of being penalized by your schools?
The findings of the ad hoc study show: the demonstrators are not only committed, but they are well-informed and want to make a difference. The often heard accusation that the good cause is only an excuse for skipping school is, in fact, not confirmed by the survey: more than 95% of the respondents were of the opinion that their participation could make a difference – but only one in ten found that it was also a good opportunity to skip school. The vast majority (83%) missed classes that day, but that was just as unimportant to them as the school ban on attending the strike, which affected almost half of the demonstrators. The students are even prepared to accept penalties such as detention, which were expected by more than a third of those surveyed.
How can we explain this commitment? Sebastian Koos explains: "The foundations are laid: today’s school students are well-informed, interested in sustainability issues and indignant over the state of the world. A large proportion of those surveyed responded that they were concerned and had informed themselves even before the start of the movement. Many had already been politically active, for example by taking part in a demonstration or petition. What this movement needed was a role model such as the Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg and an effective form of protest: the school strike. The 'Greta effect', the conviction that one's own commitment and involvement can make a difference, is thus an important motive for participating in the school strike. Furthermore, the young people receive a lot support from their parents and, despite official school bans, from numerous teachers. Our survey shows that students are mobilized primarily at school (45%), through friends (60%) and through social networks (75%)”.
The researchers from Konstanz hope that their survey will help to provide a firmer empirical footing for the sometimes heated debates about the school-skipping students. When looking ahead to the next big student demonstration in Konstanz on 29 March 2019, more than eight out of ten respondents intend to go on strike again – supported by more and more parents, teachers, researchers and university students.
- Research and service learning project “Our common future: Why do people behave sustainably?” in collaboration between researchers, university students and school students investigates why young people actively support sustainability.
- Joint project between the Binational School of Education (BiSE) at the University of Konstanz and three partner schools (Suso-Gymnasium (secondary school) in Konstanz and vocational training centres in Radolfzell und Stockach)
- Project coordinator is Junior Professor Sebastian Koos at the Department of Politics and Public Administration at the University of Konstanz.
- Funded with approx. EUR 16,000 by the Robert Bosch Stiftung.
- A total of 145 high school students who participated in the “Fridays for Future” school strike in Konstanz were surveyed. Additional surveys will be conducted as part of the study during the next “Fridays for Future” school strike on 29 March 2019.