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Young people reflect on the Covid-19 pandemic through political cartoons

Young people are given a voice through political cartooning as the University of Leicester, Shout Out UK, and Cartooning for Peace collaborate on a successfully awarded UKRI COVID-19 rapid response grant; Covid in Cartoons; to provide young people with the skills to communicate their experience during this pandemic through the age-old medium of political cartooning.

Cartooning for Peace cartoon illustrated by Nicolas Vadot of BelgiumNicolas Vadot (Belgium) - Cartooning for Peace

COVID-19 poses specific challenges for young people from vulnerable or minority groups, who may feel particularly disempowered by the pandemic. In order to restore agency and belonging, schools will not only need to remedy curriculum and attainment gaps, but must also create an inclusive framework that recognises the differential impact and lived experiences of the crisis, with a view to rebuilding social cohesion.

We know that challenges faced by vulnerable groups are not only exacerbated by the pandemic, but are overlooked in the building of normative social narrative. Together with partners Shout Out UK and
Cartooning for Peace
, researchers Dr Fransiska Louwagie and Dr Diane Levine (The University of Leicester) will combine their expertise in building pathways to resilience and developing critical literacy skills, to provide young people with the tools and confidence to engage with their political environment. The project will utilise a decidedly participatory approach, building meaning-making and representation amongst young people through inclusive and democratic practices.

Through their award-winning educational platform Shout Out UK will deliver an online minicourse developed with the University of Leicester and Cartooning for Peace, a renowned international network of cartoonists which has turned the press cartoon into an educational tool promoting dialogue and tolerance. Through the lens of political cartoons, students will be granted the opportunity not only to engage with the experiences of artists across the world during the pandemic, but also to build and articulate their own views, feelings and responses to the crisis unfolding around them. The project anticipates a UK-wide dissemination of tools and processes for teachers and youth workers and will propose areas of reform to policy makers.

By working with young people to foster and develop their own voices on the subject, this project will ensure their stories are included in the narrative surrounding the pandemic. Ultimately, this will provide students with a vital platform to inform our country’s recovery, making sure that the process of rebuilding is shaped by Britain’s youngest generations.

Dr Fransiska Louwagie, University of Leicester, said

“The project will work with political cartoons and cartoonists to engage young people from vulnerable groups in processes of meaning-making about the pandemic, The cartoons will offer a fabulous starting point for exploring and discussing lived experiences of the crisis, allowing us to build an inclusive narrative of the current situation. We are particularly excited about our partnerships with both Cartooning for Peace and Shout Out UK, two organisations who bear critical reflection and creativity at the heart of their mission.”

Dr Diane Levine, University of Leicester, said

“Life is particularly challenging for young people at the moment. We want to learn more about how they can best survive and thrive through the pandemic. The only way to do this well is to take an interdisciplinary and intersectoral approach, and that’s exactly what we’ve done in this project. As a result of Covid in Cartoons, young people at a vital stage of their development will gain the knowledge and tools to become resilient and critical during these strange times and beyond.”

Matteo Bergamini, Founder and CEO, Shout Out UK added

“The pandemic is proving particularly difficult for young people. As an organisation that builds young people’s emotional resilience in schools and youth clubs across the UK through Political and Media Literacy, we welcome this collaboration to support students’ critical reflection skills and emotional resilience. At a time of widespread misinformation and political polarisation, these skills have never been more relevant, and what better way to develop them than through the well-established creative tool of political cartooning.”

Kak, President of Cartooning for Peace, said

“The political cartoon is a means of expression at the junction between journalism and art that deals with news events. It can convey an opinion that opens up debate and reflection. It is therefore a fantastic medium for education, especially for young people.

Humour is a form of language in itself. Cartooning for Peace spends more and more time deciphering its codes with the pupils, so that they try to understand the meaning of the cartoon, and articulate a constructed and critical discourse on the subject it depicts. Moreover, the characteristic of humour is to distance oneself from seriousness, to be able to play down a subject, a situation, even a delicate one such as the coronavirus crisis.”