by Rebakaone Bowe
It’s 6:30 am, and I’m on the train headed to the hospital. I have a Pediatrics mid-core evaluation in the afternoon, and an upcoming shelf exam breathing down my neck. I count the number of stops left to disembark while swaying swiftly to my ever-so random playlist as I sip my cold coffee. Just another day in New York City. Five months in the big apple and I have finally blended in. I have mastered the art of elusion, of having my life all figured out, or so I think. I don’t even like coffee! Although I seem outwardly composed, deep down, deep in my shoe, my sock is slipping, but that is the least of my worries as my mind is consumed by the realities of being an ambitious 21st-century youth in a fast-changing world. We must not throw our hands in the air and succumb to despair. We must navigate ourselves out of the crossroads.
I like thinking ahead and preparing for hypothetical situations that may or may not happen. Though stressful at times, it gives me a sense of control as I attempt to navigate the complexities of life in the current global climate. New circumstances and realities have redefined the meaning of youth as young people find themselves embarking on an arduous transition to adulthood amidst a variety of social issues such as youth unemployment, mental health illness, and gender inequity. I am not an expert on the challenges most of my peers and I face every day, but through personal experiences and critical analysis of these issues, I have come to realize it is imperative that the voice of millions of young people across the globe be heard in matters that directly impact our lives and the lives of those who will come after us.
The issues we must confront
Perhaps the greatest setback of our generation is an education system that has failed to prepare youth for a globalized world. How could we possibly curb youth unemployment and poverty when at the core of the matter is an educational structure that has not adapted to accommodate the current global needs? Education, as defined in international human rights law, should be characterized by availability, accessibility, acceptability, and adaptability. However, this is not always the case. In developing countries, we are still facing a staggering lack of availability and accessibility to education with “264 million primary and secondary age children and youth out of school in 2015” according to the 2017 Global education monitoring report. In addition, in a society where we are taught that education is the key to success, even after investing in it for 20 plus years, from pre-kindergarten to a postgraduate degree and beyond, the return is dismal. To their dismay, millions of graduates find themselves jobless, in debt with an impending mental illness despite playing by the book. I am merely scratching the surface here as this issue of education runs deep beyond the scope of this piece.
We cannot talk about education without talking about its contribution to the current youth unemployment rate. Though separate issues, the two are intertwined. Are youth unemployed because the education structure fails to nurture them accordingly or is it because there are simply no jobs to absorb them? It is difficult to isolate the two when the assumption is that if there is a good education structure then we should be able to generate jobs through innovation. Furthermore, the difficult transition into the labor market as highlighted in the World Youth Report is also met with significant income insecurity and unstable employment with millions of youth in developing economies in underpaid jobs.
Setting out for New Horizons
One would think that with a world population of approximately 1.2 billion people aged between 15-24, countries would harness the potential of this demographic dividend to advance socioeconomic change. As young people, we must actively participate in the global dialogue on sustainable development aimed at creating a better world. The single most important thing is to redesign education structures and youth empowerment programs to facilitate innovativeness and sustainability.
It gives me great hope for the future seeing individuals such as Honourable Bogolo Joy Kenewendo, appointed as Botswana’s youngest minister at the age of 30. In a 2018 interview by CNNMoney Switzerland’s Tanya König at the St. Gallen Symposium, Kenewendo most fittingly stated that “many revolutions in the past were led by young people and we need those energies to champion the new and present economic revolution”. She went on to highlight that “It is not young people leading in a vacuum, it is us starting to take our space in leadership forums”.
About the Author
Rebakaone Bowe is an Ambassador for The Youth Assembly and soon-to-be final year medical student. She has a keen interest in global health, education and sustainable development goals implementation.