Transforming education

As we mark International Youth Day, David Atchoarena reflects on the challenge of ‘transforming education’ for young people and on how we can gear their leaning not only to employment but also to sustainable development


‘Transforming education’ is the theme of International Youth Day 2019, celebrated on 15 July. The focus is on making education more inclusive and accessible for all youth, in particular young women and young people from disadvantaged groups. Taking place within the framework of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 to ‘ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all’, the theme chosen for this year’s International Youth Day goes beyond the usual meaning of education to embrace a vision of learning throughout life, so that youth can fully take part in a lifelong journey for sustainable development.

Although there are variations between countries and between different categories of young people, work continues to constitute an important dimension in the way in which young people see their future. However, beyond their individual situation, young people also increasingly express a concern for the future of the planet. This is reflected in their attitude and participation in society, as citizens and as workers. The meaning of work and its contribution to a sustainable path are important considerations in the way in which youth see employment. Hence, the debate about youth skills is not only about skills for work and life, it is about skills for sustainability and social participation.

International Youth Day 2019 is not only about transforming education, it is about making lifelong learning a tool to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The year 2019 has been rich in events showing how young people and their organizations are champions of sustainable development, including in particular poverty eradication, reduced inequalities, gender equality, green jobs and green growth, environmental protection, climate change mitigation and prevention, and inclusive, fair and peaceful societies. This engagement needs to be appreciated and translated into policies and actions. This International Youth Day, taking place during the High Level Political Forum (HLPF), is the right opportunity to make this call and establish the connection between youth-led organizations, on the one hand, and representatives from governments as well as other stakeholders, on the other.

The figures released by UNESCO at the HLPF paint a mixed picture regarding young people’s access to lifelong learning. While progress has been made, at current speed, the trends are worrying and the world is not on track to achieve SDG 4 by 2030. Today, in spite of efforts made by countries around the world, close to 200 million adolescents aged between 12 and 17 years remain out of school. More than 100 million youth lack basic literacy skills, corresponding to a global youth literacy rate at 91 per cent. Disparities are wide across the globe and, in low-income countries, one in three young people still cannot read. Looking ahead, projections made by the UNESCO Institute of Statistics and the Global Education Monitoring Report anticipate that only six in ten young people will be finishing secondary school in 2030. By that date, although the youth literacy rate is expected to increase to 94 per cent, about 20 per cent of youth aged 15 to 24 years are projected to still lack basic literacy skills in low-income countries.

The challenge of ‘transforming education’ for young people is therefore huge. It is about increasing participation, improving quality, enhancing and sustaining learning outcomes in schools but also through the variety of delivery modes offered by the still-emerging lifelong learning systems. It is also about gearing education and training towards sustainable development and not only for employment. To achieve this, listening to the voice of young people is key. It goes beyond giving them a say in youth segments of the global debates to really establishing the connection between youth, governments and other key stakeholders and making this year’s theme – transforming education – one step towards a broader and deeper transformation process that could lead to more sustainable economies and societies.

David Atchoarena is Director of UIL

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