The Commonwealth Students’ Association backs the call of Sir Hillary Beckles for Caribbean governments to clear debts to the University of the West Indies.
The consistent concern of employers globally is that employees have the correct bit of paper but a total inability to effectively apply it and they blame this on failing education systems.
Firstly, high and persistent levels of unemployment together with job vacancies that remain unfilled are often attributed to mismatches between jobs and skills. Skills mismatch is defined as the gap between an individual’s skill and demands of the job market.
The Hays Global Index assesses the dynamics of skilled labour markets across thirty-three countries from all regions of the globe. The report reveals that between 2015 and 2016 there was a global increase in the challenge of business to matching available skills with unfilled jobs. On a scale 1-10, 10 being the most unfavourable 15 countries scored at least 6.5.
Employers and industry officials need to be involved in defining curricula and learning outcomes and help to decide which skills the students are being trained. Austria has won the attention of the international community for controlling its unemployment rate through its dual education system which is characterized by alternating school-based and company-based training stages; it is always kept up to date through consolidated efforts and partnerships of players in the labour market and education. If the economy changes, or if production methods or provisions of services change, trainees immediately learn to meet new demands.
Secondly, having been in raised in the Information Age, Millennials are the most tech-savvy generation the world has ever seen. As a result, the growing portion of the labour force is drawn to STEM careers. Many boast a portfolio of hard technical skills that belie our young ages. However, when it comes to soft skills, Millennials fall short, and it’s frustrating for employers.
In a McKinsey survey of young people, employers in nine countries 40% of 2700 employers said lack of skills was the main reason for entry-level job vacancies. Sixty percent said that new graduates were not prepared for the world of work. There were gaps in soft skills such as communication teamwork and punctuality. In the 2016 Payscale report titles “Levelling Up: How to Win the Skill Economy”, critical thinking, problem-solving, attention to detail, writing proficiency topped the list of skills managers find missing from job seekers. While formal education leaves graduates technically and academically prepared their soft skills are severely lacking.
One potential solution is measuring students’ participation in co-curricular activities. Research has shown that these activities can function as important tools in developing skills and universities and employers should pay attention to the extent that students and potential employees, participated in them.
Non-academic activities demonstrate a young person’s level of commitment to personal growth that goes beyond the norm and should be very attractive to future employers as a prediction of well developed soft skills. The education system must move to formally recognize these activities as integral to student development as co-curricular, not extra-curricular which suggests a mere add-on.
Thirdly, all levels of education must come to recognize the essential facet of entrepreneurship: it is a practice, like that of law and medicine, that can be codified, developed and taught. Modern education systems must discontinue its failure to demonstrate an understanding of the fundamental importance of entrepreneurship as an applicable practice.
I recommend the integration of entrepreneurship in the heart of the education system from beginning to end. It is quite likely the most important step a country can take to help reverse the trends of rising youth unemployment and social dislocation. Entrepreneurial education shakes students out of a world of passive learning into one where they must stand on their own feet as decision makers. The enterprising mindset is not some abstract, genetic characteristic, but rather the outcome of an education that focuses squarely on thinking and acting entrepreneurially.
Preparation for future jobs
What are we training students to do? In the last millennium, the structure of education has remained constant: students sit in rows listening to a lecture as they follow a book. This factory model will be the demise of the workforce if we don’t reinvent the education system to meet the need o the 21sth century.
With an assortment of jobs being automated across industries, the future of education must extend beyond the textbooks and into mobility, accessibility, and personalization, creating lifelong learners that keep up with the rapidly changing technology. According to Robert Terek, winning author and digital transformation guru, labour is being transformed because we are using a software as a substitute. He says “After decades of de-skilling work, we’ve made it possible for half the jobs to be replaced by software automation. What kind of world are we preparing students for? It’s certainly not a world of factory-based jobs…but in fact, that is how our education system is set up. Everything that can vee vaporized will be and education is no exception. With an eye on the future, Terek encourages educators to shift their mindset to:
- understanding that education can now be delivered anytime, any place, on any device to any student and;
- cultivating a habit of lifelong learning within students.
systems must place student outcomes at the forefront of their considerations to meet the needs of our economies, employers and ultimately boost the employment prospects of graduates.
The Commonwealth Students’ Association is really excited to be celebrating Commonwealth Day with everyone. Today is the day that we celebrate the beautiful values of the Commonwealth that unites 53 nations together amidst our vibrant diversity. This year Commonwealth Day is even more special as it leads up to the Heads of Government meeting and Commonwealth Youth Forum in London as well as the Commonwealth Games to be held on the Gold Coast.
As young people, who make up about 60% of the population in the Commonwealth, we stand ready and pledge to be partners to enable a more secure, prosperous, sustainable and fairer future. Harnessing the potential of young people regardless of race, language, religion, socio-economic status, and ability is fundamental to achieving these goals.
A More Sustainable Future
Preservation of our environment and management of climate change is critical to achieving a sustainable future. Increasing participation of young people from small-island developing states, indigenous and marginalized communities is essential to benefit from the wisdom and knowledge they possess in protecting our planet. Improving infrastructure for active dissemination of information via social media channels, traditional media, and government campaigns will raise awareness and also the role and responsibility of each individual in preserving our planet. Young people throughout the Commonwealth should be encouraged to become active citizens and volunteer with advocacy groups to drive change at a local level.
A More Prosperous Future
In order for the Commonwealth to achieve shared prosperity through inclusive economic growth, young people must be mobilized to design programmes that will help to reduce youth unemployment. Student leaders and our youth need to be involved in strengthening economic and social policies that aim to eradicate poverty, reduce inequality, propel economic growth and increase access to quality education for both boys and girls. It is only through inclusion and partnerships that our united and collective capabilities can be translated into a more prosperous Commonwealth.
A Fairer Future
In order to tap on the talent of everyone in our communities and enable them to play an active role, we must first empower them with equal opportunities and resources. Inclusivity needs to be a key strategy so that we can maximize the reach of our policies and programmes, which must highlight the needs of those who are differently abled, people living in marginalized and/or at-risk environments.
A More Secure Future
A secure future is central to achieving prosperity, sustainability, and fairness and we as young people have a critical role in ensuring peace, security and safety. We need to learn from the best practices of countries that have achieved stability and security and adapt them to suit communities who are striving for it. Development of young people is an important function of having safe and peaceful communities. Young people in at-risk environments are often vulnerable to exploitation and disproportionately exposed to risks, insecurity, or adversity. This could lead to detrimental effects on their social, emotional well-being and hence, their future economic capacities. Creating outreach programmes that specifically aims to empower individuals in at-risk environments will have a strong positive impact on our security in the long run.
Young people need to become critical players in national development and governance at all levels including constitutional, leadership, legal, policy, political, funding and planning levels because decisions and policies made today will directly affect us as we inherit the future.
We must, therefore, activate ourselves at the decision making tables and power our future. Individually, we are like flames of candles but when we unite towards a common future and a common goal, we transform into a bonfire of change that we wish to see.
CSA’s Video on Commonwealth Day:
During the IPF, the students and young people from across the Commonwealth have had very engaging and robust discussions on some of the critical issues that education faces in the Commonwealth. As the Chairperson, I had the honour of presenting these recommendations on behalf of CSA and the students at the Ministerial Meeting.
These were the key recommendations:
Firstly, on Student Governance. We believe that students play an integral role in the education system. We, therefore, recommended to Honorable Ministers to
- Reaffirm the recognition of students as partners in education as agreed upon in the Nassau Declaration and provide appropriate support and resources to enable effective participation of students in the formulation, implementation, and review of education policies.
- We recommended Ministers to empower students by facilitating and supporting the establishment and strengthening of National Student Organizations, through increased resource allocation and Capacity Building, using the Student Governance Report and Toolkit developed by the Commonwealth Secretariat and Commonwealth Students’ Association (CSA).
Secondly, on Youth Entrepreneurship and Employability
Youth unemployment is a major crisis in the Commonwealth and we believe that self-employment and entrepreneurship is a viable alternative to traditional formal employment pathways for many young people. Studies have shown that entrepreneurship makes a huge contribution towards wealth creation and poverty reduction. Indeed, entrepreneurship, especially for young people, is a key driver to developing the human capital necessary for the future, unleashing the economic potential of youth and promoting sustainable growth and development. We, therefore, recommended Honorable Ministers,
- To acknowledge that the future of work demands a greater focus on entrepreneurship education and Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics (STEM), particularly for girls and young women. We requested Ministers to commit to introducing and integrating entrepreneurship and STEM education at primary, secondary and tertiary levels to increase young people’s employability and engagement in the digital economy.
- Furthermore, in order to enhance the employability of students and their adaptability to respond to evolving job markets, we requested Ministers to develop curriculums that enhance problem-solving and critical thinking skills.
Finally, non-formal education and life-long learning, which is critical for sustainable development. We, therefore, requested ministers,
- To acknowledge the synergies and benefits of non-formal education and commit to supporting and resourcing the role of youth and community workers in the delivery of Non-formal and Informal education. And to formally recognize and certify within formal education systems the knowledge, experience, and competencies gained by people through non-formal and informal education.
While we made the above recommendations, we also made our pledge as young people as we understand that we have a role and responsibility to play in improving education outcomes in the Commonwealth. We, therefore, expressed our readiness to work as Partners in delivering the goals and targets in SDG4. We pledged to work in collaboration with Ministers and the Commonwealth Secretariat to empower students in the Commonwealth to influence change in education, contribute to their societies and amplify their voices. We pledged to work with Ministers in strengthening National Student Organizations in the Commonwealth. Finally, we placed our trust in Ministers as decision makers with the power and capacity to effect change, to invest in, provide meaningful opportunities and empower 1.2 billion young people in the Commonwealth, so that together we can forge a brighter future for all.
On behalf of all students and the Steering Committee of the Commonwealth Students’ Association (CSA), as the Chairperson of the CSA , I would like to express our immense gratitude to have taken part in the first education stakeholders Integrated Partners Forum, which was a vibrant expression of Sustainable Development Goal 17, Partnerships for the Goals. In the past couple of years after the agreement on the SDGs, international organizations have discussed robustly the involvement of young persons in implementing these goals and integrating youth voices in shaping future policies. It is particularly commendable that the Commonwealth has leapfrogged in implementing this, leading the discussion and culminating it into action.
The CSA would like to sincerely express our gratitude to the Government of Fiji and to the Secretary-General for providing the CSA with such a fantastic platform where students get an opportunity to interact directly with the other stakeholders of education. Platforms like these enable students and young people to be partners in shaping the education arena in the Commonwealth. Our heartfelt gratitude goes out to Madam Secretary-General for her passion and advocacy for youth voices in decision making. Like she had mentioned, ‘Individually you are invisible but together, we are invincible’. The CSA aims to promote unity among student organizations, protect the rights of students and foster a sustainable learning environment in educational institutes in the Commonwealth.
It is with great humility that we represent and amplify the voices of students throughout the member states. At the last CCEM, our scope expanded beyond university students to cater for a wider spectrum of studentship as we work to re-shape the Commonwealth’s future. The CSA was established in 2012 as an outcome of the 17th and 18th CCEM Student Forums. Together with the Commonwealth Secretariat, the CSA published a report on the Status of Student Governance in the Commonwealth (2016). It was reported that only 51% of our member states have national student organizations and that we are still far from democratizing education as we envisioned in the Education 2030 Framework for Action. The framework engages students in policy formulation, implementation, and review as we work to achieve SDG4, inclusive and equitable quality education and lifelong learning for all.
In collaboration with the Commonwealth Secretariat and the National Union of Students (NUS) in the UK, we developed a Toolkit on Student Governance and conducted a pilot run in Kenya. As an initiative launched at the General Assembly in Ghana in 2017, we are working with the All-Africa Students Union (AASU) to train student leaders in the whole continent. We look forward to partnering and working with different stakeholders in all countries in the Commonwealth to train student leaders while complementing their best practices.
I do acknowledge that within the Commonwealth, individual countries have diverse issues to address based on their varying needs. These issues impact our sustainability and require resilience in addressing them. Here, we can learn from one another and use policies and strategies that have worked for some and adapt it to suit our respective cultures and community values. We also need to streamline our focus on achieving educational equity.
I would like to take this opportunity to share about how I became an advocate for high-quality education. As a skeletal muscle biologist, I have been conferred with a Doctor of Philosophy from the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore last year. Growing up in a country and an education system which prioritizes meritocracy and ability regardless of race, language, religion, or social status, enabled a girl like me, belonging to a minority race in Singapore to receive a stellar education in some of the best institutions. It is my desire, to see my story replicated throughout the Commonwealth. We cannot discuss sustainability and resilience without focusing on SDG 4, which facilitates the execution of other goals.
I hope that the opportunities that I have received can become a realistic dream for young boys and girls all over the Commonwealth. It is important that we as young people take advantage of platforms and forums like the IPF to raise our concerns, amplify the voices of young people, exchange ideas and suggest solutions in order to contribute to shaping the future policies for education. These are our chances at the decision-making table so we must make the most of it and partner different stakeholders deliver education goals of the Commonwealth.
Globally, as we work together to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, it is becoming increasingly clear that education is the center point of action. Education is vital so that the young people can gain decent employment, inequalities can be reduced, poverty and hunger can be eradicated, gender equality can be achieved and our environment can be preserved. We can be really proud that over the past decades, the Commonwealth has seen substantial improvements in our education infrastructure with reduced teacher – student ratios, clear learning outcomes and objectives as well as the increased standardization in the methods of assessing learning outcomes. However, our destination where no child is left behind and are provided the opportunities, resources and education required to gain decent employment is yet to be achieved. We need to focus our attention of three main areas- Accessibility, Sustainability and Quality
As our standards of living rise, there is a spike in the demand for higher education as more young people recognize and appreciate the value of it. Funds must be matched to improving the quality of colleges and universities and teachers have to be maintained at a standard of excellence. Our education systems need to ensure that young people are equipped with the necessary skills so that we can contribute to the skilled labor force and a knowledge based economy. What we learn in schools and colleges need to be transferable to our workplaces and in our daily lives so that we can make that smooth transition after we graduate.
Our curriculum needs to be rapidly evolving to match the leapfrog in technological advancements, to ensure that students remain competitive and relevant as they graduate. Youth skills such as critical thinking and analysis, problem solving, learning to grapple with failure and using our resilience as a trampoline to spring back up to keep moving forward is essential for our success. We also need to equip ourselves with soft skills like leadership, teamwork, communication and empathy so that each one of us can give back to someone else who has less.
The CSA looks forward to working with different stakeholders of education to address the issues on rising tuition fees so that no talented young person is denied his or her right to higher education because of the inability to pay. A safe learning environment needs to be provided for young women and girls so that they do not have to worry about compromising their dignity or safety in the quest for knowledge. It would otherwise be a huge loss for the Commonwealth if we are not able to fully tap into the talent pool of women and benefit from their skills and knowledge. It is time for our youth to reclaim their rights to equitable, high-quality education.
Interconnectedness of Different Education Stakeholders
While we understand the importance of education, it is important to ask ourselves a simple question- who is responsible for ensuring that our young people are well educated and are equipped with the necessary skills? Students? Teachers? Professors? Education Ministers? Presidents? At different levels, the various groups would point to the other groups shifting the accountability away.
But when we look at education as a whole, we can imagine this as an intricate spider web, where all the stakeholders and partners of education are strongly interconnected. The failure of any sector to deliver will result in the disassembling of this spider web. It is very intuitive that students are the primary consumers of education and should, therefore, be heavily involved in policy formulation.
The Role of NSOs
National student organizations have a good deal of potential power and influence. Activism within a students’ organization can facilitate the development of transferable employability skills, campaigning for gender equality and reduction of tuition fees.
So we, as the students are critical in influencing our future. A well-developed, established and structured national student body is essential in representing our voices, our needs, concerns, and feedback to decision makers. We need to know the importance of student voices and that we can bring about the change that we wish to see. It is a matter of concern that only half of our member states have NSOs of which, only half of them have regular interaction with ministers and governing bodies.
We need to make sure that we are actively involved with our national leadership. However, at times the general consensus could be that students are too young and immature to be part of policy making and decision making. So we also need to prove ourselves as young people that we should be and are deserving of a space at the decision-making table and not just looked at as tokenistic organizations. We need to do our research, be able to draft policy papers and provide our suggestions taking the best interest of students into account and clearly articulate our expectations.
The CSA will become the link between governments and decision makers where we advocate for student voices at the decision-making table as well as ensure that students have the capacity and are deserving to sit on the decision-making table.
The CSA acknowledges the efforts of the Government of Nigeria towards the girls’ rescue, however, we call for the greater allocation of resources in ensuring their safe return.
We strongly appeal to the government to step up their efforts to ensure that all girls throughout Nigeria are given equal opportunities to thrive in a safe learning environment.