Education, Youth and Sustainability

By Ikenna Ugwu, Enugu

“He alone, who owns the youth, gains the future.” These words of the German dictator, Adolf Hitler about the youth are reflective. We must not throw them away. And if we appreciate it, we may just be close to “gain”-ing the future.

Let’s begin by understanding that half of the world’s population is now under the age of 25. With the current population standing at 7.7 billion, it means that there are about 3.85 billion young people in the world today. And as former UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon rightly noted, “this is the largest generation of young people in history.” Now, how does the world make the best out of this huge population of creative minds? We should hope that young people are the way to sustainability, for now and the future. “Young people are the leaders of tomorrow”. You’ve heard that before. Now, it is time to reject such banal, tired expression attributed to the youth. The reality in that cliched expression is that young people are not leaders today – though there is much to debate about this owing to the growing awareness and activism of young people in global affairs – probably because they are not prepared or engaged in the scheme of operations.

Unfortunately, the optimism and prospects has largely been punctured in many ways and disproved by very disturbing realities: a UNESCO data shows that 262 million children and youth are out of school across the globe; that one out of five adolescents is left out of secondary school. Still, that on this planet, one child out of 11 does not go to primary school. These are education challenges. And what is the hope of a world without education for sustainable development! Question: how can an uneducated swarm of children and young people assume the mantle of leadership, become active change agents in today’s world and the coming generation? Can we rely on them to work out the sustainability we crave now and for the future? The answer in itself, clearly confronts us with more questions challenges than answers.

To be sure, sustainability is not just a noun. It is also a dynamic, “balancing act” that goes far beyond the walls which define how biological systems endure and remain diverse and productive. It emphasises the necessity and urgency to develop ideals that supports both human race and the earth, a world where development meet the needs of the present without compromising the well-being of future generations; the sort global transcended existence that respects universal human right, culture, nature, economic justice and peace, a global society with equal access to health care, education, clean water, energy, economic opportunities and employment.

Interestingly, education is fundamental to the sustainability success, this ideal society. Through education we can affect drastically the above data on education challenges from UNESCCO. However, this is not going to be miracle. Achieving sustainability means our willingness to unleash the potentials of the human mind in a creative and productive way. And this is only possible through education.

The Education2030 agenda is anchored on the understanding that much is yet undone to affect an ideal global education status that can guarantee “inclusive and equitable quality education and lifelong learning for all.” We believe that growth, sustainable growth and development and effective poverty reduction all together depend on knowledge and skill of young people acquired through education. But it all depends on the foresight and quality of our thinking; the interest and commitment of young people to creating sustainable present and future.

Also, there are enough evidences that eradicating poverty, creating opportunities and better conditions for the economically and socially marginalised population worldwide is possible. We just need to do the necessary: create new ideas, equip, empower and inspire the rising generation. But this generation is not just rising, it has risen. Check out what Victoria Ibiwoye, an acclaimed champion for children and young people, Jennifer Uchendu, just to mention but a few are doing and respectively. Indeed. Sustainable development, not just poverty eradication is perhaps the most urgent challenges of our time. But the most critical question we must ask is: how can the youth become active participants in addressing contemporary and future global challenges? Answering this question, a good way to begin is to prepare and equip the youth for the needed contributions.

Understanding the world around us will help in staying focus and committed. The world is now “youth”. We cannot ignore any turning point. As Bill Drayton writes, “starting your day confident in your football skills will get you nowhere if the world’s game is now chess.” Young people must understand the times, and cue in.  Going to school and obtaining certificates is no longer enough to effect remarkable changes in the society. The world needs change-makers not just graduates and literate people.

But youths need to be shown that they matter. They should be given the opportunity and then challenge of solving worlds problems. This way, they continue to study to contribute. They will become better citizens. And the big deal is the possibility that when they are empowered to create solutions, to tackle global social issues, they (in the process) develop relevant employability skills, skills as problem-solving ability, empathy, critical and creative thinking, communication skills and ability to manage complexity and uncertainty. Some will even find path to a lifelong career. We urgently need to adequately incorporate youths into the scheme of things in “a world in transition” towards sustainability.

But why do we need the youth to drive this sustainability cause?

Youths are changemakers. To ignore the energy, creativity and commitment of young people is to ignore the solution to sustainability and the future. Young people are inclined to peer authority. It is easier for youth leaders to mobilise and organise their peers and friends, facilitated by connectivity on social media.

Again, achieving sustainability means that we must allow youths to assume critical roles. Engaging young men and women is the way forward. Young people are critical thinkers. And part of being a youth is the ability to make sense of and asking questions about the world around you. Young people usually bring innovation, fresh perspective and direct insight into issues, something that is hardly accessible to older people.

We must understand inclusion as a virtue. Check, most happy families are inclusive. Bill warns that “the worst thing society can do to anyone is to not want them. To leave them useless, unable to contribute.” He calls this “the new inequality”. And this is not what we want for our youths and our world. Young people remain part of the problem when they are not part of the process, when they do not participate in providing the solution. We must leverage the large population of young people, their unique capacity and creative skills to confront global challenges. Young people must be given wider access and role to participate in, and more specifically lead the way to sustainability. When young people are part of the process, it gives them a sense of connection to the world they live in. Naturally, people take responsibility in issues they have a stake in. Preparing young people for this new order of sustainability means that we must embrace education for sustainable development, the type that builds and equips global citizens with innovative skills to solve world’s challenging problems.

In the end, the world is justifiably expected to be safe and sustainable because of the solutions engineered by youths and children. And as we know, solutions have snowball effect. World challenges are linked, as are the solutions. When poverty decreases, we can ultimately expect improvement in health. When literacy increases, human rights improve and the earth will be safer. When youth are networked to share effective practices, the pace of social change will accelerate rapidly. Then, and only then, again shall we be close to “gain”-ing a sustainable now and future.