As Rwanda marks International Youth Day this week under the theme “Transforming Education”, it is a time when the world, governments, development actors and communities celebrate young people as a force for positive social change.
It is also an opportunity to raise awareness of challenges and problems facing the world’s youth and advocate for accelerated actions to enable their full and meaningful participation as equal partners in the social, political and economic development of their societies.
This year’s theme makes a strong case for inclusive and equitable quality education as a pre-requisite to realizing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its related goals.
It calls governments, young people and youth-led and youth-serving organizations, to invest in transformative approaches to make education a powerful tool for unleashing young people’s potential.
Young people’s knowledge, reach and innovative solutions are essential if sustainable development is to be realized.
“Transforming education requires social innovations, tapping into the talents, creativity and experience of young people towards building the world we want” Mark Bryan Schreiner, UNFPA Representative to Rwanda.
Today, the world has a larger population of young people than ever before in history; there are more than 1.8 billion young people aged 10-24 globally and more than 226 million in Africa. More than 60% of Rwanda’s population is under 25 years.
However, in spite of progress over the past decades, many young people across the globe are still experiencing various forms of discrimination, limited access to educational opportunities, health systems, political exclusion resulting in high levels of poverty.
In 1994, when the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) took place in Cairo, governments committed to addressing the needs and developing capacities of adolescents and youth, promoting social inclusion and realization of the right to education and attainment of secondary school education.
However, according to UNESCO, about 262 million children and youth are out of school. The total includes 64 million children of primary school age, 61 million of lower secondary school age and 138 million of upper secondary age (UIS, 2017).
Overall, inclusive and equitable participation in quality education remains unfinished business.
Transforming education is, thus, a compelling imperative; governments, parents and development actors need to do more so as to remove the many barriers that still stand in the way of young people’s access to quality education.
“When countries invest in the education, health and empowerment of their young people, opportunities are created for them to realize their full potential and the country can harness a demographic dividend which can propel economic growth”, Schreiner asserts.
Rwanda stands out as a model of youth empowerment, youth participation and leadership. The integration of Comprehensive Sexuality Education in the competence-based school curricula and under implementation since 2016, transforms education in equipping young people with critical thinking and life skills, age-appropriate and scientifically accurate information to enable them to make an informed decision about life and healthy relationships.
The inclusive and equitable education provides people with the knowledge, skills, attitudes and creativity needed to solve problems locally and globally, and actively contributes to the sustainable development of their societies.
Education develops human capital; the Rwanda government’s seven-year National Strategy for Transformation 2017-2024 has put human capital development at the centre of its socio-economic development.
The One UN Rwanda remains committed to supporting the efforts of the Government of Rwanda and partners to develop its greatest asset - young people, so that they realize their full potential and secure their place at the heart of development.
The writer is Team Leader, Adolescents & Youth, UNFPA Rwanda.