As we inch toward the December 7, 2020 elections, one key determinant of which party remains in power or which party comes to power should be youth empowerment. The reason is simple – the youth should be the foundations and building blocks for national transformation.
On August 12, 2020, the United Nations led the international community to mark International Youth Day under the theme ‘Youth Engagement for Global Action’. The celebration sought to highlight the ways in which the engagement of young people at local, national and global levels is enriching national and multilateral institutions and processes; as well as draw lessons on how their representation and engagement in formal institutional politics can be significantly enhanced. With only 10 years remaining to make the 2030 Agenda a reality for all, it has become even more pressing for our government and its institutions and agencies to make youth development paramount in the economic development Agenda 2030.
Context of Agenda 2030
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the SDGs were adopted on 25 September 2015 by Heads of State and Government at a special UN summit. The Agenda is a commitment to eradicate poverty and achieve sustainable development by 2030 world-wide, ensuring that no one – especially the youth – is left behind. The 2030 Agenda provides for a shared global vision toward sustainable development for all.
Unemployment remains a worldwide challenge, and Ghana is having its fair share of development and economic challenge. Some 200 million people are out of a job, among them 75 million young people. Further, some 621 million young people worldwide are not in school or training, not employed and not looking for work – risking permanent exclusion from the labour market.
When these global figures are related to Ghana, one can appreciate the local impact on our socio-economic development. Perhaps the lack of employment opportunities at home was and remains the compelling reason why many youths continue to seek greener pastures in Europe and Arab countries, of all places. The ongoing evacuation of thousands of Ghanaian youth from Lebanon is ample demonstration of the negative impact of youth emigration.
The real-life stories of inhuman treatment of our youth in Lebanon should galvanise current and future governments to develop home-grown solutions that meet the aspirations of our youth. These interventions should be driven by education, skills development and job creation. The UN and other development agencies are pushing for the inclusion of youth in the governance and development processes, in a manner that makes them to have confidence in leaders and state institutions. One of the key global initiatives that is advocating for youth development is the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The Sustainable Development Goals are the blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all. The SDGs address the global challenges we face, including those related to poverty and inequality among others. Goal eight of the SDGs advocates for ‘Decent work and economic growth’. It states that sustained and inclusive economic growth can drive progress and create decent jobs for all. Job creation improves the living standards of all, as it makes everybody – especially the youth – contribute to national development.
Undoubtedly, the COVID-19 pandemic has endangered global and local economies, which has affected the capacities of poor countries like Ghana to create more jobs for the youth. In Ghana, ongoing interventions like One District, One Factory; Planting for Food and Jobs; Green House Technology; Planting for Export and Rural Development; and Nation Builders Corps are some of the policy interventions geared toward youth empowerment.
But are these interventions enough? What alternatives will another government initiate to change the equation? Which political party has been proved to provide better opportunities for the youth? The difference between one government and another is the priorities they establish, and where they spend the taxpayers’ money. Whereas one government may spend our taxes on buying cars and pursuing opulent lifestyles, the other may opt to invest in education and social interventions. The choice of a government dictates what we get in the end.
Youth and COVID-19
The UN has noted that COVID-19 affects all segments of the population, with young people playing a key role in management of this outbreak and the recovery following it. For instance, in Ghana youth working in the health sector are playing a frontal role in the fight against COVID-19. According to the UN, though much is still unknown as to how the disease affects young people, governments are mandated to ensure their policies and interventions meet the needs of young people. Specifically, it is important to ensure the youth are heard when rolling out health and non-health interventions in response to COVID-19.
In this context, health education, public health promotion, and evidence-based information are critical in combatting the spread and effects of COVID-19. More than ever, governments are encouraged to invest in developing young innovators to take on the challenge of helping their countries minimise the social impact of COVID-19.
Education is key
No one needs a reminder that the youth need education more than anything in the fast developing and changing labour market. The youth constitute ages 15-35, which falls within the school-going age. This is the time many youths enter Senior Secondary and technical/vocational schools, or are continuing tertiary education. With hindsight, the introduction of Free Senior Secondary School was a perfect preemption of the COVID-19 that took everybody by surprise. It has been demonstrated in countries across the world that future progress resides in youth education, skills development and resultant job creation.
Despite the catalytic role of education in national and individual development, it astounds me that some people, (including those who held power before and are seeking power again) become uncomfortable when education of the youth is mentioned. Perhaps, it is the ideology of certain people that some families and their generations should remain in poverty forever, unable to shatter poverty.
Over the years, this policy of inequitable development through lack of access to education has cut out many children and their families. We should be guided by the fact that children we left out in the past haunted us, and those we are leaving out of education today will haunt us tomorrow. As we look into the future as a country, every child (rich or poor) should be allowed into the education space; since education is the strongest foundation for any country to transform its future.
A few weeks ago, children from seven Senior Secondary Schools rebelled and vandalised school property. The youth had the impudence to openly insult President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo for providing them with free secondary education. They also insulted other public figures who manage the educational institutions. The case of the unruly youth is that they were not allowed to have their way in the examination room. They were disappointed that questions they expected to appear on the exam paper did not come.
As part of preparing students for their final exams, the Ministry of Education procured past questions for students to acquaint themselves with the process. Judging from their behaviour, is it fair to conclude that the students have been over-pampered? I would say no. Any investment is children’s education can never be a waste, since they are being prepared to lead transformation of the country. We cannot call them future-leaders yet fail to invest in their capacities.
However, I need to put it on the record that, in our days, students who had past-questions were those from very influential families. The rest of us could only glance through or copy the past-question by hand, as it was even difficult to pay the cost of a photocopy. At Navrongo Secondary School, the only way I had textbooks and pamphlets was to copy them by hand.
Let me place it on record again that these current Secondary School students are blessed to be going to school at this time in our history. Sadly, experience has shown that some families and their children never appreciate good things; which explains why no matter the opportunities available, some children will still be left behind because of family values and orientation. Perhaps some of those students who insulted the president and taxpayers would have been the very students denied secondary education because of the inability of their parents to pay.
Politics are indeed dirty
I have gathered that some of the children who denounced government for providing them with this enormous opportunity are from families that support a certain political party. Ghanaians are so polarised that even Free SHS has assumed political colours. Ideally, this shouldn’t be the case. It came as no surprise when some politicians, rather than condemning the students’ unruly behaviour, openly encouraged them. From scratch, those politicians have been against Free SHS – and probably orchestrated the student rebellion. They (the politicians) have the means to educate their children in private schools, or even abroad; yet they do not want other people’s children to be educated and have hope for a better future.
I encourage government and well-meaning Ghanaians to never give up on such children and their families. Some families need to be encouraged, coddled and motivated, if compelled to lead their own development. If we are not purposeful and intentional about helping such families and their children, their generations will continue to wallow in poverty.
So, the president’s advice to the Ministry of Education and Ghana Education Service to allow the children to write their exams is timely and prudent. No youth should be left behind in our drive toward national and economic transformation, no matter the ungratefulness and provocation. Government, acting through the taxpayer, is a major stakeholder in youth development.
(***The writer is a Communications and Development Management Specialist, and a Social Justice Advocate. All views expressed in this article are my personal views and do not represent those of any organisation. (Email: [email protected] Mobile: 0202642504 0243327586/0264327586)