August 12, 2019 marked the 20th anniversary of International Youth Day. First created by the United Nations in 1999, every year the day focuses on a different issue centered on the youth. This year the theme was education – primarily, its inclusivity, equitability, and accessibility.
Focusing on education – the fourth Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) – is essential to achieving the rest of the 17 SDGs of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. According to the UN DESA, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, “Education is a ‘development multiplier’ in that it plays a pivotal role in accelerating progress across all 17 Sustainable Development Goals, be it poverty eradication, good health, gender equality, decent work and growth, reduced inequalities, action on climate or building peaceful societies.”
The United Nation’s Secretary-General António Guterres acknowledged the necessity of making education all-encompassing in his message for International Youth Day 2019. In his message, he emphasizes that, “Education today should combine knowledge, life skills and critical thinking. It should include information on sustainability and climate change. And it should advance gender equality, human rights and a culture of peace.” According to UN News, “All these elements are included in Youth 2030, the UN’s strategy to scale up global, regional and national actions to meet young people’s needs, realize their rights and tap their possibilities as agents of change.”
Aside from its accessibility and inclusivity, education is fighting to stay relevant as the world experiences its fourth industrial revolution. The Secretary-General recognized this issue in his message as well, calling it a “learning crisis.” The UN chief explained that, “schools are not equipping young people with the skills they need to navigate the technological revolution,” stressing that, “Students need not just to learn, but to learn how to learn.”
Despite the obvious benefits of education, statistics continue to be disappointing. According to the UN DESA, “only 10% of people have completed upper secondary education in low income countries; 40 % of the global population is not taught in a language they speak or fully understand; and over 75 % of secondary school-age refugees are out of school.”
However, young people are taking a hand in their own futures. According to the UN DESA, “Youth-led organizations are transforming education by partnering with Governments, educational institutions and other stakeholders, lobbying and advocating education policies and developing complementary training programs.” The Secretary-General is all for it, calling for the celebration of ,“the young people, youth-led organizations, Governments and others who are working to transform education and uplift young people everywhere.” These youth-led organizations are “addressing barriers for youth on the basis of economic status, ethnic group, gender, and other characteristics; updating education plans and school curricula to include lessons about peace, justice and the environment and climate change, among many other areas.”
With the combined efforts of the youth, the government, and the UN and its affiliations, one can only hope that with every recurring International Youth Day there will be improvement in all sectors of education until their inclusion in the Sustainable Development Agenda and Youth 2030 are no longer necessary.