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Peer Dead Brilliant: young people tackling societal issues on their own terms

This opinion piece is over 9 years old

Simon Atkins previews next month’s Peer Dead Brilliant event where young people will gather and share peer education activities with each other

When I was an English language teacher in Yemen, one of the greatest tricks I ever learned was to give my students a group task that meant they were effectively teaching each other. The students were engaged because they were taking control of their learning and also because their peers are infinitely more interesting than I could ever be. All that remained for me to do was monitor, which is a teaching term for sipping coffee and staring out of the window.

On 6 December of this year, Fast Forward and members of the Scottish Peer Education Network are organising peer education sharing day Peer Dead Brilliant for young people across Scotland to come together and share information on youth issues, as well as exchange their favourite activities and resources. There will be young peer educators from a variety of organisations, from LGBT Youth Scotland to No Knives, Better Lives, to eating disorder charity B-eat, so the young people who attend will become more aware of a range of issues.

Simon Atkins

Peers are seen as a credible source of information, and they are also able to channel information back up to the adult practitioner level, helping to inform their work too

Simon Atkins

Far from an excuse for youth workers to take a backseat, peer education is a way for young people to teach other young people about the things that are important to them, and to do it in a way that’s fun and relevant. Peers are seen as a credible source of information, and they are also able to channel information back up to the adult practitioner level, helping to inform their work too.

In recent years, peer education has become an increasingly popular model of youth work adopted by local councils, independent youth groups and even schools. Portobello High School in Edinburgh, for example, last year skilled up 34 young people to educate 220 peers in challenging aggressive and inappropriate behaviour, particularly towards women. It is believed that this will sow the seeds to tackle Scotland’s domestic abuse problem, and the pilot was so successful that education chiefs are now considering rolling it out to other schools.

The other strength of peer education is that it can be used to tackle any issue. Fast Forward runs a peer education programme on drugs, alcohol and tobacco, while the Corner in Dundee focuses mainly on sexual health. Youth Scotland runs the Stand Up to Sectarianism initiative, and CKUK has for many years been running a peer education programme involving internet safety, specifically by and for young people with learning difficulties. In a climate where funding is scarce and resources are tight, capitalising on the enthusiasm of young peer educators could be the best way to work on a wide array of issues affecting young people today.

Simon Atkins is a development worker at the Scottish Peer Education Network.