Arming Youth with Skills and Work: notes from the (Youth version of the) UNESCO Education for All Global Monitoring Report

Arming Youth with Skills and Work: notes from the (Youth version of the) UNESCO Education for All Global Monitoring Report

By: Gcobani Qambela*

I spent much of 2012 researching from home in Lady Frere, rural South Africa. In the course of the year, two young males from our community committed suicide. I could not believe it the first time my mother informed me of the first suicide early in the year. I was taken aback because these were not abstract people I did not know or vaguely knew, but rather these were my peers that I grew up with and played with in the dusty streets and muddy brown waters from our local river stream.

Expectedly I fell into the “why’s”/”what happened?” type of questions. Although there is no knowing for certain, my mother told me the first person was frustrated with being unemployed as a male in his mid-twenties, with growing responsibilities and no formal education or work experience. About two months ago we buried another young man who also took his own life, the narrative was the same. This to me sent warning bells that a lot of unskilled young people in my community are growing increasingly frustrated with unemployment. A lot of young people are suffering in silence, and see no way out of their current situations than ending their own lives.

A few months back I was also presented with the opportunity to form part of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) / Peace Child international Task Force made up of over 400 young people from all over the world that was tasked to put together the Youth friendly summary of the Report of the 2012 UNESCO Education for All Global Monitoring report (EFA GMR). This was a ground breaking move on the side of UNESCO because although ten EFA GMR’s have been published in the past decade, this was the first time in its history that they consulted young people to give input on key findings of the Report and also to communicate the recommendations of the reports to governments.

The Report was launched on the 21st of November, 2012. The Director-General of UNESCO for the Youth version of the 2012 EFA GMR stressed that “The current youth population is the largest we have ever seen. To bridge their hopes and the realities of the world of work, young women and men know they need as varied a range of skills as they can obtain. To help them meet their needs, we must listen to their voices”.1

Education is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a human right, as vital as the right to be free from slavery and torture.2 A number of commitments therefore have been made by governments to ensure the realisation of this right and that all citizens receive proper education. The most popular and widespread of these is the 2000 commitment in Dakar, Senegal by 164 countries to attain six main goals3 relating to education. However it has been noted that most of these countries will not be able to attain these set goals and targets by the set deadline of 2015. 4

Millions of young people are still not in school, and millions of those who are in school are still unskilled and lacking the necessary skills to access employment. 1 in every 5 young people in developing countries have not completed primary school, while 1 in 8 young people are unemployed and 1 in 4 of those who do work earn less than $1.25 per day (58% of these being females).5

Since 1999, the number of school children attending primary school has improved by almost 50%, but this is still not enough, as one in two children are still not able to attend at this level.6 All countries are compelled by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child to provide free and compulsory primary education, yet this target too will not be reached by 2015. Economic barriers such as the inability to afford school fees, transportation to school, school uniforms and the price of books have consequently kept millions of children out of school. 61 million primary-school age children and 71 million lower-secondary school age children are out of school.7

It is important that the learning needs of both youth and adults be met through the provision of accessible learning and life skills programmes. Adults are important too because there are an estimated 775 million illiterate adults (two-thirds of these being women).8 EFA notes that “Sixty-eight countries have still not achieved gender parity in primary education, and girls are disadvantaged in sixty of them… [while it remains] important to note that boys are also affected by gender disparity, due to poverty and the pull of the labour market.”9

The majority of the disadvantaged youth are the rural poor: the majority of the poor people in the world live in rural areas where they are largely dependent on small scale farming and often poorly paid casual labour. The EFA youth report notes that “An extreme lack of access to education in rural areas means that young people can rarely learn to read and write, let alone learn the skills needed to work on modern technologically enhanced farms”.10 Moreover the EFA report further notes that “Around 70% of the world’s 1.4. Billion people living in extreme poverty inhabit rural areas”.11

When Willow Hewitt, the editor of the youth version of the EFA GMR first made contact about the report, she told us in personal communication “While working on this project, I have read so many shocking statistics about education… The UNESCO Report on Education, Skills and Work is filled with problems, but our Youth Summary must show the world solutions.” While the EFA GMR Youth Summary notes that there are also other groups beyond just the rural poor who are disadvantaged, such as the urban poor, young women, young people affected by conflict, and marginalised minorities (such people with disabilities, HIV/AIDS and non-heterosexual orientations), the report also points a positive picture in terms of areas governments can tap into in empowering young people. There is hope, the situation is not hopeless.

These “pathways to empowerment” of youth include providing access to school for youth and adults. Governments can also provide second chance programmes for those young people who missed primary or secondary school so that they can get access to education. Practical training can also be provided in the form of internships and apprenticeships to help give youth a window into the job market. More innovatively the Youth Summary also proposes government explore digital learning as well to educate and skill young people to enter the job market.

While the suicide cases above might appear to be isolated events, for me, they mirror a desperate scream from young people for not only education but also access to the job market. It takes a lot of frustration for a young person to see no way out of a problem other than terminating one’s own life. The UNESCO Youth Summary is really rich with not only problems, but nuanced discussions and great examples on steps that our governments need to take to ensure access to education for everyone, both youth and adults.

The UNESCO / Peace Child Youth Summary of the Education for All Global Monitoring Report is available for free download here.

Gcobani Qambela is a regular Bokamoso Leadership Forum / BLF Contributor. Read his short biography and previous articles here.

1 Youth Version of the Education for All Global Monitoring Report: Be Skilled, Be employed, Be the Change Generation. 2012. United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and Peace Child International. Hewitt, Willow (ed): United Kingdom Online URL:, pg. 3

Ibid, pg. 4

 These goals are: (1) Expand early childhood care and education, (2) Achieve universal primary education, (3) Promote learning and life skills for young people and adults, (4) Reduce adult illiteracy by 50%, (5) Achieve gender parity and equality, and (6) Improve the quality of education

 Ibid, pg. 5

Ibid, pg. 4-5

 Ibid, pg. 6

7 Ibid, pg. 7

8 Ibid, pg. 8

 Ibid, pg. 8

10  Ibid, pg. 14

11  Ibid, pg. 14 (citing EFA GMR, 2012, pg. 279)



One Response to Arming Youth with Skills and Work: notes from the (Youth version of the) UNESCO Education for All Global Monitoring Report

  1. Thank you Gcobani for this haunting and nuanced engagement. I’m glad that you are placing this issue within a global context instead of leaving it at the national level. Africa being the youngest continent, I’ve also become increasingly worried about what possibilities are there for many of my own relatives. I have a half brother in the mines, cousins who are security guards and another cousin who works for a well known clothing shop where she barely makes R2000 ($250) a month. Many of us are living side by side with structural inequality.

    But quiet clearly it seems to me that what we are seeing is also an indication that this particular economic system we are using is in need of fundamental change. So I think the discussion has to go beyond simply “arming youth with skills”, it has to involve an honest examination of the utility of the neo-liberal economic structure. The Eurozone economic crisis and the growing inequalities in the US, demonstrate that this particular economic framework is not one that is designed for purposes of equity. I say this after reading in horror the very high number of unemployed graduates who are surprisingly the ones with commerce and technical skills that are more popular than our humanities degrees in terms of ‘compatibility’ with the economy. So we can’t dismiss these thousands of young people by saying they studied the ‘wrong’ subjects. Therefore as much as look to the actors (the youth), we must do so while (re) imagining the kind of structure we are preparing them for.

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