"The power of youth is the common wealth of the entire world… No segment in society can match the power, idealism, enthusiasm and courage of young people." Kailash Satyarthi, Nobel Peace Prize laureate
Nowhere was this more apparent than at the 2018 Youth Dialogue organized by the UN President of the General Assembly. On May 30, the UN Headquarters’ ECOSOC room was teeming with the energy and intellect of hundreds of young advocates representing member states, civil society and NGOs, gathered to discuss the pressing issues of their time.
There was nervous anticipation in the room as the General Assembly President Miroslav Lajčák mounted the stage to deliver his opening remarks. What would this dialogue mean for young people?
But the anticipation lifted into fervent enthusiasm as he said that the event was meant not to talk about young people or to young people, but to sit back and listen to them. This empowered young people to talk boldly about their experiences and perspectives throughout the day.
Turning a life around thanks to education
And so began a day that was not only a dialogue, but a movement of young people. UN Youth Envoy Jayathma Wickramanayake talked about the many inspirational young people she met in the recent past, including GPE Youth Advocate Mohamed Sidibay. Mohamed was orphaned during the civil war in Sierra Leone and was recruited as a child soldier. But education turned his life around and now, Mohamed uses his voice to advocate for education for children and youth across the world.
Jayathma also emphasized the role of young people in delivering the SDGs, the importance of education and the GPE Financing Conference as a turning point where world leaders displayed their commitment towards education for all children of the world.
The themes she addressed raised some of the most ubiquitous concerns for young people across the world – Will we get a quality education that will help us grow? Will we find jobs that suit our potential?
Too many children still lack access to education
Speaking alongside Shamoy Hajare, a young social entrepreneur from Jamaica, and Safaath Zahir, a women’s rights activist from the Maldives, Mohamed emphasized the crisis in education today – more than 260 million children out of school, and many more not learning or gaining skills which will enable them to be a productive part of the workforce.
“The right to education is a right of all, not the privilege of a few,” he said
With these stirring words, Mohamed pointed out the stark reality of education – that it is unable to reach the most marginalized, including girls and children with disabilities.
We know that young people need to work to utilize their potential and to lead more fulfilling lives.
“No child should have to rely on chance to receive that which is rightfully theirs – a quality education. We should become the last generation to speak of 263 million children being out of school.”
Education for the jobs of the future
Mohamed Sidibay participated in a panel discussion addressing this very issue: The future of work – Bridging the gap between education and employment.
So, what is the way forward? Mohamed pointed out that often, there isn’t an adequate recognition of the skills needed in the job market. Too many students with degrees are unable to get jobs. Governments and the private sector need to be incentivized to introduce skills training.
Mohammed suggested a systems approach - streamlined communication between governments, employers, private sector and young people to identify skills for jobs of the present and future, and to integrate them into education systems.
With the fast pace of technological change, education systems will need to be agile to keep up with the pace of technological change and ensure that students are ready for the jobs of the future.
Another panel session on the Prevention of Radicalization and Violent Extremism featured Joy Bishara, one of the girls kidnapped by the Boko Haram in Chibok, who stressed the importance of girls’ education in conflict. The session was followed by an Open Mic, a format where young people could come on stage to address issues of their choice. This open format was a breath of fresh air, where many used speech, poetry and song to discuss education issues.
Youth’s potential is immense
The day ended in a celebration at the terrace of the UN. Looking over at the Hudson river and across to the young people, I couldn’t help but marvel at the similarity – the potential of young people across the world is like a river flowing boldly into a boundless ocean. It is agile, nourishing and limitless. Young people have launched social entrepreneurships, led protests, taken over governments and changed the course of history time and again.
And yet, their potential is often overlooked in education policy dialogue. It is not only right, but also imperative to provide space for youth voices in education policy arenas. Recently, GPE Youth Advocate Edith Asamani, along with other African youth, prepared recommendations at the Pan-Africa Conference on Education, which made their way into the Nairobi Declaration.
This speaks to the power of the youth, and how critical their perspective is in defining policies. One key takeaway from the event is that when youth speak, we must listen, because their ideas are fresh and intelligent, and because they must have a say in the policies that will affect their lives.