Spelling it out

Youth and adult education is critical

Former Education Programme Manager

August 22nd, 2012

On 22nd August 2012, youth and adult learning education practitioners from southern Africa and beyond met in Johannesburg, for a round table to deliberate on one of the key challenges that is facing Africa today – a burgeoning population of young people who are not in education, employment or training, popularly known as ‘NEETs’.

Let down by the system, these young people are left with very limited options for securing a decent livelihood. Many of them barely complete basic level schooling and leave without acquiring the necessary skills to survive socially and economically.

Not only is their fundamental right to learn denied but their chances of finding decent work in a rapidly-changing and increasingly technologically-oriented world is drastically reduced.

For Africa, this represents an uncertain an alarming future, particularly when you look at the demographics of its countries. Young people account for the majority of the population – and for the well-known pyramid shaped population graphs. Needless to say the consequences of large numbers of uneducated and unemployable young people is a cause for huge concern.

Yet little is being done despite the growing evidence that a disenfranchised youth population poses a great threat to the economic and political stability of any country.

Given this, OSISA commissioned a study – in collaboration with dvv international – to look at the state of youth and adult learning and education in five southern African countries. It paints a bleak picture on this situation.

While progress has been made in enrolments at primary school level and the transition from primary to secondary school level, between 40-45 percent of those who enrol in grade one do not proceed to secondary school – the majority of them girls.

Once they drop out of the school system these young people find themselves with no alternatives. Unable to fit in the mainstream education system, the available route – adult education, offers very few meaningful options.

Not only are adult education policy frameworks ambiguous, the sector itself is poorly financed and receives the least attention at the political level. Worse still, the sector has not evolved to recognise the needs of young people and continues to be defined within the confines of literacy and numeracy.

Obviously, these young people are looking for something more than this.

Other alternatives, like vocational skills training, require a qualification of some sort. For those that don’t, the skills on offer provide no solution as they do not respond to the needs of society. Without viable options many young people find themselves facing a much more vulnerable and fragile future of poverty, crime, inequality, exclusion and exploitation.

Reversing this trend will require governments to give the youth demographic the tools to succeed by investing in educational services that meet their needs. Governments need to rethink their policies on education to offer genuine second chance learning opportunities for young people so as to equip them with skills to allow them to prosper in contemporary society.

This will not be possible if the dearth of data on this population group – in terms of where these young people are, what their education and employment needs are, and what services are currently available – continue to characterise many African countries. Policy formulation and financial investment will come to naught if this remains the status quo.

Most critical, governments need to wake up to the fact that quality youth and adult education within the framework of lifelong learning is a human right, not a special privilege.

Therefore, governments must live up to their obligations and the commitments to which they have signed up to provide quality youth and adult education for all those who want it. It starts with political commitment and putting systems and policies in place while ensuring adequate financing to set the ball rolling. The benefits of this far outweigh the consequences of turning a blind eye to this phenomenon.

The conference in Johannesburg was a major step in the right direction. But an awful lot needs to be done. And action is long overdue – it must start now.


About the author(s)

Wongani Grace Nkhoma is the Education Programme Manager. Wongani has over 10 years experience working in the development sector. Before joining OSISA, Wongani worked with ActionAid International - Malawi as Regional Manager and Education Policy Coordinator


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