World Youth Day 2019 : The importance of Transforming Education | Sunday Observer

World Youth Day 2019 : The importance of Transforming Education

Not one of us wants to grow old. We wish that we could be young as long as we live. That is the power of youth, which some say is the best time of your life. It is the most productive period of our lives and the most energetic. There really is no standard definition of what youth is, but we generally believe that someone aged 15-30 can be considered as a youth. In politics and some other fields, even 35 is considered a youthful age.

There are currently nearly two billion young people between the ages of 10 and 24 in the world. This is the largest youth population ever. But one in 10 of the world’s children live in conflict zones and 24 million of them are out of school. Political instability, labour market challenges and limited space for political and civic participation have led to increasing isolation of youth in many societies. Wars and conflicts have decimated the youth population in many countries – we have experienced this ourselves.

Focusing on the youth has become so important that the United Nations has declared a separate day to do so - August 12, World Youth Day. It was first designated International Youth Day by the UN General Assembly in 1999, and serves as an annual celebration of the role of young women and men as essential partners in change, and an opportunity to raise awareness of challenges and problems facing the world’s youth.

Sustainable development

This year’s theme Transforming Education highlights efforts to make education more inclusive and accessible for all youth, including efforts by youth themselves. Rooted in Goal four of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development – to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all” – International Youth Day 2019 will examine how Governments, young people and youth-led and youth-focused organisations, as well as other stakeholders, are transforming education so that it becomes a powerful tool to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Girl children need to be educated

The United Nations notes that inclusive and accessible education is crucial to achieving sustainable development and can play a role in the prevention of conflict. Indeed, education has been described as a ‘development multiplier’ as it plays a pivotal role in accelerating progress across the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, such as poverty eradication, good health, gender equality, decent work and growth, reduced inequalities, action on climate or peaceful societies. Education is especially important for girl children, a factor that is neglected in many parts of the world (though not in Sri Lanka).

The crucial role that quality education plays in youth development is well recognised. In addition, comprehensive youth development benefits society-at-large. However, what is less known is the fact that young people themselves are active champions of inclusive and accessible education. For example, youth-led organisations are transforming education via lobbying and advocacy, partnerships with educational institutions and the development of complementary training programs.

Modernising education is essential. In a landmark move, Sri Lanka has become one of the first developing countries to provide tablets to senior schoolchildren. This is the future, as there will be no need to lug around heavy textbooks and notebooks when everything can be contained in the tablet. The tablet can also act as a scanner of photos and documents, though it is not clear at this moment whether it can also recognise handwritten characters inputted through a special pencil. The country has also trialled smartboards, the digital version of the more familiar blackboards. Many countries are also delivering examinations through the Internet (Computer Based Testing) which can save paper and prevent cheating. This is likely to come to Sri Lanka in due course.

The other most important factor is upgrading school and university curricula to reflect the needs of the times. OECD surveys suggest that both employers and youth consider that many graduates are ill-prepared for the world of work. This is especially so in Sri Lanka, where many graduates have not followed courses that have any relevance to job market requirements. In many countries, the informal sector and traditional rural sector remains a major source of employment but these jobs are not assured.


Rising youth unemployment is one of the most significant problems facing economies and societies. At least 475 million new jobs need to be created over the next decade to absorb the 73 million youth currently unemployed and the 40 million new annual entrants to the labour market.

In fact, young people are almost three times more likely to be unemployed than adults and are continuously exposed to lower quality of jobs, greater labour market inequalities, and longer and more insecure school-to-work transitions. In addition, young women are more likely to be underemployed and under-paid, and to undertake part-time jobs or work under temporary contracts.

One reason for youth unemployment, which affects all regions around the world, is a mismatch between the skills workers can offer and the skills which are in demand. This is known as structural unemployment. This is prevalent in Sri Lanka as well. If you glance through the vacancies sections of this newspaper, thousands of jobs are advertised, but some ads are repeated week after week, apparently because the employers cannot find suitable job takers. In other words, many people in the job market do not have the skills that the employers need.

There should be a firm focus on skills development among both young males and females. The latter should be encouraged to venture into the more male dominated sectors such as motor mechanism/car repair, heavy vehicle/earthmoving equipment operations, welding and air-conditioning. Males too should be encouraged to take up sewing/tailoring, cookery and other vocations. Sri Lanka already has a good structure for vocational training, with technical colleges around the island and a central Vocational Training Authority (VTA). There is a national NVQ (National Vocational Qualification) certification system that is accepted in most countries.

The problem in Sri Lanka is not essentially the lack of vocational training opportunities. The main issue is that every student tries to enter a State university. This is impossible given that only around 25,000 university openings are available annually. This means that almost 100,000 students who do have the required admission qualifications cannot enter universities. The result is that a large number of students end up without getting any sort of job-oriented education.

This is one problem that our educationists and law makers have to address. Our curricula must be aligned with the needs of the job market, for students to find jobs more easily. Unfortunately, several vocational subjects were removed from the curricula some time back, the repercussions of which we still feel today. This should be rectified without delay.

Unemployment and poverty are two social evils. If youth are skillful, they will get jobs and become self-reliant and many problems in society will be solved. Gainfully employed youth will also not turn to drugs, vice and crime. Parents and teachers should also encourage students who display a talent for skills and subjects other than textbook studies. If a youngster displays knack for repairing radios, let him or her continue. The school is the obvious place to start job hunting. There are three approaches – vocational subjects, education fairs and job fairs. Vocational subjects should be taught to all students, irrespective of whether they will eventually take to a vocation. Education fairs obviously focus on higher educational opportunities here and abroad, other than the State universities. By participating in these fairs, students gain an idea of what skills and qualifications are needed to find a job.

Skilled workers

In Sri Lanka, it is virtually difficult to find a job that does not require a good knowledge of English. This is indeed why some private companies prefer school leavers who can speak good English over university graduates who are not very fluent in the language. English, though not essentially a vocational subject, must be taught to all aspiring job seekers.

Our policymakers as well as our youth must also be aware of two more challenges – automation/robotics and digitilisation. Yes, these trends are likely to take some skilled jobs away. The key is to identify sectors where automation or digitalisation will not make much of a difference even in the future.

Many skilled and educated youth also think of migrating either permanently or temporarily to another country in search of greener pastures due to lack of opportunities or low wages. This too must be addressed as a developing country cannot afford to lose most of its best brains.

The youth must also be veered away from the evils of drugs, alcohol and tobacco in order to ensure a healthy next generation. They should be encouraged to lead active lifestyles to prevent the spread of Non Communicable Diseases such as diabetes.

The youth, especially first time voters will be the decisive factor at the coming elections and all political parties must get their ideas and views on development, reconciliation and other issues. Youth marginalisation has led to two insurrections in this country, a lesson that should not be forgotten. The youth are the future and that factor must be taken into account at all times.