No Youth Left Behind: Empowering Young People with Relevant Skills for the 21st CenturyBy Oby Bridget Azubuike – Researcher, University of Oxford
The 1st of May 2015 was a memorable May Day with no major news, except that I, a young Nigerian woman, walked into a 19th-century building somewhere in the south of England and started a job as a researcher at the University of Oxford.
For the first time in my life, I felt like an impostor.
It was beyond anything I had ever imagined would happen to someone like me. I was given a gate pass, the type that many young people like myself may never have. That gate pass was relevant education – a niche type of education – that ended with me learning how to manage data, analyse it and produce results from it. For once, it did not matter where I was from, the colour of my skin or my gender, that skill set was all that mattered.
There are hundreds of quotes about the importance of education and its impact on lives and societies, from Nelson Mandela’s “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world” to Malala Yousef’s “one child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world”.
The usefulness of education is no longer in doubt, and that debate has moved on.
However, transforming this knowledge of the importance of relevant education as the premise of development in every society into action is one major challenge countries like Nigeria struggle with. The roadblocks are multifaceted in nature, from the exponentially growing population, to ethnoreligious conflicts, to corruption, to an obsolete education system and to lack of adequate data for decision-making (and the list goes on).
The world keeps asking; when will the sleeping giant arise and start the process of actually developing? The challenges facing many developing countries like Nigeria are multi-dimensional and there is a dire need for simultaneous solutions to these problems even in the face of scarce resources.
What is lacking isn’t the evidence for the importance and impact of education, but implementation. If education is the key, then why don’t we get on with it?
While the global research and policy agenda is largely focussed on basic and secondary education, and getting millions of children of school-going age into schools, there is another critical challenge on our hands – higher education.
In Nigeria, as well as many countries like it, young people are not being properly equipped for the 21st-century job market. The real question is this; by the time all children (leaving no one behind) go through the education system, what will be the return on that education if today’s youth are not being equipped to properly contribute to the labour market or to create the jobs for the future?
A focus on basic education while neglecting the education of young adults is in itself problematic. The high unemployment and underemployment rates in the country means many young people are idle and not productively contributing to the economy. The inability of the education system to instil the practical knowledge and skills in students, which ensure a smooth transition from education to work fuels the graduate unemployment and underemployment situation in the economy. Many graduates in the country spend several years trying to find work while employers lament graduate unemployability.
A growing youth population is a demographic advantage that can be adequately utilised to chart the course of Nigeria’s development. If the youth are empowered with the right skills, knowledge and resources they can be change-makers, the quality teachers needed for the out-of-school children that will be joining the system in the years to come, the entrepreneurs, the employers and the policy makers that will implement the recommendations from the never-ending reports and research outputs. I had an education that empowered me with the knowledge and skills to crunch data. These skills opened up opportunities that changed my life, and these opportunities inspire me to become a part of the solution to Nigeria’s educational challenges.
Unfortunately, majority of the population cannot afford to purchase an education abroad and need local solutions to the skills gaps and limitations in the current education system.
Intentionally mobilising the youth to act as change agents and empowering them with the tools and skills, is the way forward to tackling a number of challenges that undermine Nigeria’s development.
Oby Bridget Azubuike is a quantitative research assistant at Oxford’s department of International Development. She has a BSc in Economics and Statistics from the University of Benin, Nigeria and MSc in Economics from the University of Sussex, UK. At her current role, she works mainly on quantitative data cleaning, analysis and research dissemination. She has experience in instrument/questionnaire design, fieldwork and data collection, instrument validation and quantitative data analysis in the field of education and international development. She is passionate about education and aspires to be a change maker in Nigeria’s education system, for now she is using her personal experiences to lend her voice to advocate for a change in the current system. Having studied in Nigeria and the UK, she also wants to help students who are coming from Nigeria (similar education systems) to study in the UK make the most of their study abroad. She blogs at www.obybridget.com Connect with her on twitter and LinkedIn.