At almost 1.2 billion, today’s generation of young people (aged between 15 and 24) is the largest in history. As the biggest demographic in the world - over 25% of the global population - young people are critical agents of change. It's never been more important for their voices to be heard.
At its World Assembly in January 2015, the Global Campaign for Education (GCE) formally recognized the need to represent and include youth-led movements, and the Board now reserves two seats for networks working on youth rights or child labor.
Many of GCE’s national education coalitions have long counted youth-led organizations among their members. They recognize that young people have a key role to play in leading global efforts for sustainability. As such, they need to be at the forefront of decision-making, and civil society organizations can and are helping to ensure this happens.
In Africa, for example, youth-led organizations that are coalition members in Nigeria and the Gambia are leading the way to ensure the right to a quality education. This is taking into consideration that both countries face underfunded education sectors and have a great youth bulge within their populations.
Since sub-Saharan Africa has the highest youth population in the world, and the fastest population growth projected between now and 2050, this rise in youth activism and engagement is bringing much-needed fresh perspectives, skills and knowledge to the fore.
Ensuring young people take part in holding their governments accountable
In Nigeria, the National Youth Coalition on Education (NYCE) has been working closely with the GCE’s Nigerian member network the Civil Society Action Coalition for Education for All (CSACEFA) and fellow NGOs such as Connected Development (CODE).
Together they aim to boost youth engagement in the monitoring and evaluation of education projects in the country, as well as improve accountability and transparency through budget tracking. CSACEFA has ensured that young people are meaningfully represented in monitoring education projects within the Universal Basic Education Commission - a government regulatory agency set up to provide greater access to quality basic education in Nigeria.
NYCE members have been able to more effectively engage with key stakeholders at national and subnational levels following a training organized by CSACEFA and CODE. These networks contribute to the development of civic and leadership skills among young people, especially the most marginalized.
For example, CODE’s Follow The Money initiative empowers rural communities to track government spending, and training is ongoing for young community activists in Maiduguri, in Borno State, which has been plagued by insurgency for six years.
The United Nations Security Council emphasizes the importance of youth participation in fostering sustainable peace, so involving and empowering young people is particularly important in countries affected by crisis.
Making an impact at the grassroots level
GCE’s coalition in the Gambia, the Gambian Education For All Campaign Network (EFANet), also recognizes that active engagement of young people is key to the country’s development.
One of its members is the Salimatou Foundation for Education (SaFE), which is a youth-led organization founded by 23-year-old Salimatou Fatty – an education campaigner and member of the African Youth Commission.
SaFE’s local outreach activities raise awareness of the importance of public, quality education and of maintaining a dialog with students, so that their concerns and opinions are voiced. It offers career counseling to children and young people – aware that this next generation is critical to the prosperity and sustainability of society, and of the Gambia as a whole.
SaFE also engages with policy-makers and the government on a host of education-related issues; for example, following dialog with the Education Ministry related to poor school infrastructure in a village on the Senegalese border, the government committed to ensuring education policies in border towns were being effectively implemented. The organization makes the most of the power of young people to mobilize others: its team of youth volunteers regularly reaches out to local communities, both on the ground and via online campaigns.
Inclusion of youth voices in international education platforms and organizations
It’s clear that young people are already extremely active at the national and local levels in campaigning for the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals and for education more generally. After all, young people are best placed to understand the problems that directly affect them, their communities and their countries.
However, they are also contributing to strengthening the global education movement through their engagement in regional and international youth councils, global advocacy networks, and other youth and education focused platforms.
Moreover, several regional frameworks for ensuring a holistic, not tokenistic, approach to youth participation and youth engagement have been published over the past decade - but there’s more work to do. Governments that recognize young people’s right to participation in decisions that affect them, and which establish clear pathways for them to do so, will be much better positioned to achieve the SDGs.
As the Education 2030 Agenda states, the future of humanity and the planet lies not just in our hands – “It lies also in the hands of today's younger generation who will pass the torch to future generations.” [2030 Agenda, paragraph 53]