22.10.2012 - ODG

A lost generation in the making - 'La Croix' (France)

Published in La Croix, France, 22 October 2012.

The world is getting younger every day – but far too many young people lack the basic skills to make the most of what the world has to offer. We are deepening and sharing knowledge more every day – but millions of young women and men are left out.

There are today 250 million children of primary school age who cannot read or write, and some 71 million teenagers who are out of secondary school. 200 million young people in developing countries have not completed primary school. That is equivalent to the entire population of Brazil. A lost generation is in the making.

We must get them into school and make sure they get the skills they need. We need a revolution today for skills, for quality education, to provide young people with the tools they need to lead decent lives, to get decent jobs. If we fail, we undermine the foundations for stability and peace, for sustainable development.

The situation is more than dramatic – it is dangerous. In the Arab world, 28 million young women and men, aged between 15 and 25, have not completed primary schooling. This represents one tenth of the region’s population, of which one third is under 25 years old. In sub-Saharan Africa, 56 million young women and men have not completed primary schooling, about one third of the region’s youth.

One young person in eight is unemployed in the world today. One in four works for just over a dollar a day. Girls are hit hardest everywhere. The poor, in cities and rural areas, face the steepest obstacles. All of this fuels adult illiteracy – there are 775 million women and men today who cannot read or write.

With the demographic ‘youth bulge,’ the problem is not just that these young people are marginalised from society – it goes deeper. If we fail to act, our youth without skills may increasingly weaken our societies. The knowledge societies we need for the 21st century must build on skills, on giving young women and men tools to withstand change and make the most of it – in many parts of the world, this is a pipedream.

The price that societies pay for raising children without basic skills is simply unacceptable. It is a violation of individual dignity and human rights. It undermines business and economic growth. It holds entire societies hostage. It also tills the soil of unrest.

UNESCO’s newly released Education for All Global Monitoring Report on ‘Youth and Skills: Putting education to work’ shines the spotlight on this crisis in the making. It shows that some 200 million young people need a second chance to acquire basic literacy and numeracy skills.

Governments know this -- but they must do far more to ensure every girl and boy gets the learning they need. This means helping children make it to secondary school and stay the course. It means building early ties between schools and the world of work, to give children experience for a head-start. We need more programmes to train young people who have missed out, especially young women and the poor. The business world must also step up and support education systems far more. We need to build new partnerships between the public and private sector, because we are all in this together.

This requires additional financing. I know the current economic climate is not generous – but fixing the skills deficit is a way to fix the future. We calculate that countries need $16 billion every year to ensure all children enter primary school by 2015 and an additional $8 billion to ensure universal lower secondary school enrolment.

That sounds like a lot of money. Viewed from the angle of the world’s military spending, estimated in 2011 at $1.74 trillion – it isn’t. Education is simply the best investment in the societies and economies we want and need. Our Report estimates that for every $1 you spend on a child’s education, it will yield $10-$15 in economic growth over that person’s working life time. Everyone stands to gain.

To build the future we want, we must give every young woman and man the skills to escape poverty and unemployment and to lead lives of their choosing. This is vital for social mobility inside countries -- it is essential for equality and justice across the world. For this, we need a revolution for skills now.

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