The global youth challenge
There are more than one billion young people worldwide aged between 15 and 24, representing the largest cohort that has ever had to progress from childhood to adulthood. Almost 87 per cent of them live in developing countries (United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, 2011). As many as 123 million of this generation, 61 per cent of them girls, were reported to be illiterate in 2011 (UIS, 2013).
UIL – UNESCO publication
Young people who have never been to school or those who have dropped out (or been “pushed out”) are among the most vulnerable.
Being excluded from basic education puts a wide range of opportunities beyond their reach. In today’s world of disparities in social, economic and technological resources, this is not only limiting their life chances (including access to formal quality education, technical and vocational training and employment) but also their potential contribution to their own country’s development.
The enabling role of education and training programmes, especially in preparing vulnerable young people and adults for coping with personal, social and economic challenges, was emphasised in the outcome document of the Sixth International Conference on Adult Education (CONFINTEA VI), the Belém Framework for Action. This document, adopted by 144 UNESCO Member States in 2009, highlights the right to education for young people and adults as well as the importance of harnessing the power and potential of youth
learning for the peaceful and sustainable development of their societies (UIL, 2010).
Literacy and life skills to addressvulnerability
As they transit from dependence to independence, youth need to manage a complex interplay of physical, socio-psychological and cultural changes. They need to negotiate their way through different life-changing phases, such as learning after primary school age, starting a productive working life, adopting a healthy lifestyle, forming a (new) family or exercising citizenship. Although these stages of transition vary enormously from one context to another, they all put young boys and girls into a position that makes them more vulnerable than adults. Gender is an important determinant of vulnerability, together with other factors like socio-economic status and ethnic affiliation.
Literacy and life skills are widely recognised as the basis for any kind of further learning.
According to the World Declaration on Education for All, basic learning needs “comprise both essential learning tools (such as literacy, oral expression, numeracy and problem solving) and the basic learning content […] required by human beings to be able to survive, to develop their full capacities, to live and work in dignity, to participate fully in development, to improve the quality of their lives, to make informed decisions and to continue learning” (UNESCO, 1990, Art I. 1.). More than 20 years later, addressing the literacy and life skills needs of vulnerable youth takes on a more urgent tone if we want to secure their full participation in society.
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