The global population of young people (aged 10-24 years) totals some 1.8 billion and continues to grow, yet the vast majority of these young people are living in poverty with little or no prospect of earning a living. According to statistics from United Nations Population Fund, in many developing countries the percentage of the population aged between 10-24 is well over a third (Zimbabwe, Afghanistan, Haiti, Iraq, Pakistan for example), while other parts of the world are verging on a shortage in this generation. China, for instance, has famously reversed its one child per family policy in 2013 in the face of a decline in this potentially valuable demographic – the human capital to feed its growing industrial workforce.
In so many parts of the world education provision just doesn’t match the needs of a growing young population – schools are too few and too limited, there are not enough teachers to keep up with demand, and even if teachers were available they would not have enough experience to deliver high quality education. In some developing regions, data shows that the vast majority of young children regularly attend school, yet their attainment is poor and illiteracy widespread. So, the conclusion here has to be that the education they’re receiving just isn’t fit for purpose. Yet, if these children were able to reach their potential, there could be huge economic benefit to their countries, as well as to other nations as their numbers are added to the global skilled workforce.
Compounding the issues of poor education provision, in many developing countries, family support structures and the dependence of older generations on the young, mean that younger generations are required to work from an early age. Traditional schooling for them is impossible. Yet there is still an appetite for learning and the most determined and fortunate will go to lengths to snatch ‘moments’ in which to fit study around their work so that they can improve their long-term prospects and those of their families.
While issues of access remain for many of the world’s young people there are also challenges associated with the inconsistent quality and coverage of curricula across the globe, often making it impossible to compare attainment and qualifications. How does a university admissions officer or a prospective employer decipher a school career that has no recognisable common framework?
What we need is to widen access to internationally recognised, high quality education by leveraging technology to create cloud-based classrooms, supported by on-the-ground staff. Where students and collaboration is the central heartbeat of the process, and where class and income are no longer barriers to learning, where classes span time-zones and oceans, where studying can be scheduled to fit the cultural context, and where independent learning and international mindedness are promoted through collaboration. Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations, says that policies need to ensure that education systems across the world prepare young people for the skill demands of employers. His Sustainable Development Goals state: “Stimulate generational progress by catalysing a global movement to achieve quality, relevant and universal education for the twenty-first century.”
While it is difficult to foresee a time when the world will unite in this way, there is nothing to stop individual countries from adopting new and innovative education practices that circumvent shortfalls in resources and a lack of trained teachers for their own benefit, providing wider access to their young people and the prospect of a more balanced international skills base.
I will be in India next week where primary school enrolment is nearly 100% yet, by secondary school, participation in education has slipped to just under 60% for males and under 50% for females. I believe that countries like India, where there is a risk of social instability, caused by social exclusion, poor education and prolonged high levels of youth unemployment, could reap huge benefits by leveraging technology to access quality courses that are taught by experienced teaching professionals. Internet penetration in India still lags behind other countries but growth in usage through mobile technology is one of the fastest across all nations, indicating that it may not be long before it catches up. Overall, about 40% of the world is connected via the internet – this has grown from 1% just 20 years ago, so growth in India could be just as, if not more, rapid. India can harness the power of the internet to deliver quality education to young people in both urban and rural communities, increasing access to quality curricula that will open up national and international prospects for these young people that they will not otherwise have.
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