World’s Youth Are Being Left Behind

Rohingya girls taking religious education lessons at a Madrasah in the camps. Globally, 75 percent of refugees of secondary education age are not in school. In Bangladesh, Kenya, and Pakistan, the figure is closer to 95 percent. Credit: Kamrul Hasan/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 22 2019 (IPS)

Globally, youth are being left behind in education and employment, threatening the future vision of sustainable, inclusive, and prosperous societies.

In a new report, the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) highlight the need to pay attention to and invest in youth as they are critical to building the world’s future including by helping achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

“Youth are being referred to as the “torchbearers” of the 2030 Agenda and have a pivotal role to play both as beneficiaries of actions and policies under the Agenda and as partners and participants in its implementation,” the report states.

“A few years into the implementation of the Agenda, unacceptably high numbers of young people are still experiencing poor education and employment outcomes, and future prospects remain uncertain,” it adds.

Today, there are 1.2 billion young people between 15 to 24 years, representing 16 percent of the global population. Despite advances in technology and information dissemination, attending school remains elusive to many.

Around the world, over 260 million children under the age 19 were out of school in 2014. Of them, 142 million were of upper secondary age.

The disparities between and within countries are even more stark—84 percent of youth in high-income countries are able to complete upper secondary education while the figure is only 14 percent for low-income countries. Additionally, almost 30 percent of the poorest 12 to 14 year olds have never attended school and many others do not have access to primary education.

Displaced and refugee children face particular challenges and are quickly becoming a “lost generation.”

“A lost generation is not only identified by empty classrooms, silent playgrounds and short, unmarked graves. A lost generation is one where hope dies in those who live,” said U.N. Special Envoy for Global Education Gordon Brown.

Globally, 75 percent of refugees of secondary education age are not in school. In Bangladesh, Kenya, and Pakistan, the figure is closer to 95 percent.

In Nigeria alone, where conflict has ravaged the north, over 13 million children are out of school, the highest proportion in the world.

If nothing changes, approximately 80 percent of refugee teenagers will never get a secondary school education, and 99 percent will not be able to access higher education.

With no hope for a formal education or future prospects, some children have turned to suicide.

At the Moria refugee camp in Greece, Medicins Sans Frontières (MSF) found that a quarter of children had self-harmed, attempted suicide, or thought about committing suicide.

“At 10, when life should be in front of you – full of hope and excitement at every new dawn – young boys are so devoid of hope that they attempted to take their own lives,” Brown said.

“These young people are no longer only the lost generation, they are the invisible generation. And we must do more,” he added.

Without accessible and quality education, youth also end up being left out of the world of work.

Youth unemployment has worsened in recent years, with 71 million young people unemployed around the world.

Even those that are employed often find themselves living in poverty.

U.N. DESA pointed to the need to ramp up action on youth education and employment, especially as it relates to all of the SDGs including gender equality, health, and inequality.

However, such policies and programmes must address specific individual and socioeconomic contexts.

“It is important to recognise that the flourishing of youth is about more than successful transitions to employment. Young people have aspirations that are far broader and need to be valued and supported,” the report states.

“Rather than rating the success of programmes on narrow measures of educational or employment attainment, it is crucial that institutional, programme and policy evaluations be more firmly grounded in young people’s own accounts of what they value for their human development and for the sustainable development of their communities and this shared planet,” it adds.

For instance, the Young Rural Entrepreneurs Programme in Colombia helps aspiring entrepreneurs set up innovative, productive, and sustainable businesses in rural areas.

The programme provides targeted skills development and vocational training to unemployed youth in high-demand sectors, particularly targeting vulnerable groups such as displaced persons and indigenous communities.

The report highlighted the need to invest in such capacity building, providing youth with life skills such as effective communication and problem solving as well as skills that match the demands of the job market.

Lebanon has seen success in the double-shift school system which helps provide education to Syrian refugees. Of the 400,000 Syrian refugees in Lebanon who are in school, 300,000 attend double-shift schools.

“The only way to reach the SDG of every child at school is for a child’s real passport to the future stamped in the classroom – and not at a border check post,” said Brown.

“The 2030 Agenda offers a positive vision for youth development; however, a great deal of effort will be needed to realise this vision,” U.N. DESA said.

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