The role of youth in education

On the occasion of International Youth Day we look at how to harness demographic dividend in Africa

Recognizing the essential role that youth play in advocating for education, FAWE’s upcoming conference will identify strategies and opportunities to promote youth leadership and engagement in regional, continental and international education dialogue on the gender equality goal in education.

University of Ghana students listen to their political science professor in Accra, Ghana. CREDIT: World Bank/Dominic Chavez

This is the 10th blog in a series of collaborations between the Association for the Development of Education in Africa and the Global Partnership for Education 

On August 12 is International Youth Day. The pressing need to transform the potential of Africa’s large youth population—its greatest asset—into a demographic dividend is the Africa Union’s theme of the year. It recognizes that investments made today in the health, empowerment, education and skills training of youth will determine Africa’s development trajectory of over the next 50 years, and help achieve the “Africa We Want.”

The theme of harnessing the demographic dividend through investments in youth meshes nicely with the commitment of African states to achieve the fourth Sustainable Development Goal—to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.

Gender responsive education is key

For the Forum for African Women Educationalists (FAWE), which works in 33 African countries to empower girls and women through gender-responsive education, it’s vital that progress is made on achieving target 4.1 of the goal to harness that demographic dividend. The target is that “all girls and boys receive equal treatment by going through the full cycle of free and quality primary and secondary education, leading to a genuinely useful learning.”

Reaching this target—a prospect that still seems far over the horizon—will require a huge commitment from governments and their development partners, and a big shift in cultural attitudes to the role of girls and young women in society.

In Africa’s highly patriarchal culture, many fail to derive the intended benefits of education. At an early age, girls internalize their subordination, which impedes their capacity to act as individuals and make their own choices.

Increased equity, gender equality and inclusion is also one of the goals of GPE 2020, the 5-year strategy of the Global Partnership for Education and GPE has outlined how to achieve this in its gender equality strategy.

Women’s empowerment through education

I couldn’t agree more the creation of more equal societies by tackling gender biases from an early age, and that the empowerment of women through education is a powerful driver for effecting cultural change. FAWE is active in promoting both these areas of change in our engagement with education policymakers, planners and managers in Africa.

FAWE’s upcoming Girls’ Education in Africa conference on August 23-25 in Lusaka will give us an opportunity to urge decision-makers to put gender equality higher on national education agendas. Because, as we know, it’s not getting enough attention in many countries.

The conference’s theme is “Towards Gender Equality in Education: Positioning Youth to Champion the African Education Agenda.” It was chosen to highlight the importance of empowering young people to benefit from their education, and to be able to realize gender equality and sensitivity throughout education and training systems which is part of the African Union’s Continental Education Strategy for Africa 2016-25. It commits governments to consider the gender implications of every action they take in the provision of education and skills training.

The conference will be a forum for education policymakers and practitioners to explore new ways of tackling the difficulties that continue to hinder gender equality in education in Africa.

Getting political commitment for gender equality

We want to help build a consensus that a quality education is a prerequisite for inclusion and equality, and get renewed political commitments to achieve the gender equality goals of the Continental Education Strategy for Africa 2016-2025, the Sustainable Development Goal for education, and the Agenda 2063 socioeconomic framework for Africa.

Young people who are beneficiaries of FAWE programs and projects will give their experiences at the conference on the transformative impact of education, and one of the areas will be equity in education.

Conference participants will be urged not to only measure progress quantitatively, but to look closer at how girls and women learn, and what they learn, both absolutely and compared with boys and men. We want to show to participants that entry to male-dominated institutions does not in itself solve the problem of discrimination against girls and women.

Looking beyond the conference, FAWE hopes the policymakers in education —both state agencies and non-state providers— will take decisive steps to transform their education systems through gender-responsive interventions, community partnership and support, and by creating school environments that promote real learning.