Around one in six of the world’s population are aged between 15 and 24. These young people are disproportionately concentrated in some of the poorest countries, where their numbers are still rising. Sub-Saharan Africa alone will have over three and half times more young people in 2030 than it had in 1980. Large numbers of young people equipped with appropriate skills have the potential to boost their country’s prosperity. Ignoring the skills needs of disadvantaged young people not only limits their chances of achieving their potential, but also threatens to slow growth and poverty reduction.
Disadvantaged youth are often below the radar of youth employment policies and programmes, or approaches aimed at creating jobs in the private sector. Many have not been able to progress to lower secondary school and urgently need support to develop foundation skills. To give them a better chance of obtaining good jobs, they must be able to build on these foundations by acquiring the transferable skills and technical and vocational skills that are required in today’s ever-changing labour market.
This Report describes policies and programmes that have been successful in meeting the skills needs of disadvantaged young people – whether engaged in the formal or informal sector in urban areas, or as smallholder farmers or rural entrepreneurs. By closing the gap between rich and poor and males and females, investment in skills development can help make societies more equitable.
Several lessons from this Report should form the backbone of national policies, as well as donor and private sector investment strategies, that can improve young people’s job prospects. As part of broader development efforts, they can help lift disadvantaged youth out of poverty.
One of the most important messages is that all young people need a pathway along which they can acquire strong foundation skills, starting from early childhood right through to lower secondary school and beyond. To help give all young people an equal chance in life, it is vital to ensure that they do not face discrimination in educational access, quality or relevance because of where they live or what their gender is. Those who have missed out on foundation skills need a second chance to acquire them. Otherwise they will be consigned to low paid, insecure work, and will not be able to benefit from the further training that can lead to better jobs.
The need to take action in support of skills development for young people has become urgent. This Report identifies the ten most important steps that should be taken. These can be tailored to fit country-specific circumstances and needs.
1. Provide second-chance education for those with low or no foundation skills
There are around 200 million 15- to 24-year-olds in low and middle income countries who have missed out on completing primary school. Governments need to offer them second-chance education to provide at least the basic literacy and numeracy skills they need to get back on track and escape the cycle of low paid or unpaid work that can trap them in poverty.
As well as helping young people acquire foundation skills needed for work, second- chance programmes that also include practical skills for particular trades can boost their self- confidence. Having such skills gives them more control over work and livelihood choices.
Providing second-chance education to the large number of young people who need it requires well-coordinated and adequately funded programmes on a much greater scale. With the support of donor organizations, governments should make this a policy priority, including it in education sector strategic plans that sets targets to reduce significantly the large number of young people without foundation skills. Budgetary allocations based on the number of disadvantaged youth requiring a second-chance education should be identified and included in the national budget forecast.
2. Tackle the barriers that limit access to lower secondary school
It is vital that young people get the chance to attend lower secondary school to consolidate their foundation skills. Alarmingly, around one in three of youth in low and middle income countries do not get to this level. Most of those not in lower secondary school live in rural areas or poor urban informal settlements, and a disproportionate number are young women. Large numbers do not even make it through primary school. Those who do stay in school often receive education of poor quality and relevance. Without the foundation skills that primary and lower secondary school should offer, their chances of finding secure and decently paid work are severely limited.
A global target should be set to ensure all young people benefit from lower secondary school, with the aim of achieving universal lower secondary education of acceptable quality by 2030. Long-term education plans should identify strategies and financial resources required to meet this goal.
Countries with large numbers of young people who lack access to lower secondary school need to start by tackling the barriers that exclude many disadvantaged children and adolescents from participating and progressing in education. Key measures that can improve access to lower secondary school include abolishing school fees and providing targeted financial support, linking lower secondary to primary schools, ensuring that there are enough government school places and assuring accessibility in rural areas. In addition, strategies are needed that address the cultural barriers that young women often face.
Even in countries where access is not a major problem, providing a common core curriculum is a vital way of equipping all young people with foundation skills.
3. Make upper secondary education more accessible to the disadvantaged and improve its relevance to work
Upper secondary education offers young people opportunities to develop skills that will put them in a strong position to obtain good jobs. In the developing world, however, making the transition to upper secondary school remains difficult, while some rich countries are still struggling to make upper secondary near universal. To address these shortcomings, action is urgent in three key areas.
First, upper secondary education has to strike a balance between technical and vocational and general subjects by providing flexibility in subject choices and links with the workplace. Offering students short work placements as part of the curriculum and enhancing the relevance of what they learn in school in relation to the world of work can make them better candidates for good jobs. It is important for all students, irrespective of their gender or where they live, to have this opportunity. All students should also receive career guidance that emphasizes the skills requirements of a wide range of jobs in the formal and informal sectors, helping them choose school subjects that are relevant to these jobs.
Second, secondary school curriculum reforms should focus much more on developing in learners the capacity to solve problems and to apply knowledge creatively in ways that are relevant to many different job contexts. In addition, curriculum innovations are needed to tap into the potential of information and communication technology (ICT) to help learners develop the skills required in a labour market that is increasingly dependent on technology. More emphasis should be placed on its practical use in the workplace.
Third, flexible opportunities should be offered to students who are at risk of dropping out of secondary education. Distance education centres can be set up to cater for the learning needs of disadvantaged youth. Appropriate recognition should be given to skills gained through such alternative learning pathways.
All countries, regardless of income level, need to pay greater attention to the needs of young people who face disadvantage in education and skills development by virtue of their poverty, gender or other characteristics. The precise nature and extent of these needs vary according to where young people live, but the response should address a common set of issues. The ten steps outlined here, based on evidence of policies, programmes and strategies that have been successful in many countries, can inform the choices that governments, donors and the private sector make in addressing the skills needs of disadvantaged youth.
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