LDC youth seek better access to education, food security

Young people from the world’s 46 least-developed countries (LDCs) have called upon member states, development partners and the global community to enhance their access to education and decent employment and entrepreneurship. They also asked for support for youth movements, human rights and global citizenship education training.

These recommendations are included in a Youth Declaration titled ‘For All Generations’ adopted at a youth forum held at the 5th United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries on 5 March 2023 in Doha, Qatar.

The Youth Declaration is the result of a series of consultations with young people from the world’s 46 LDCs – comprising 33 countries in Africa, 9 in Asia, three in the Pacific and one in the Caribbean. It was drafted in response to challenges facing the youth in LDCs. Current demographic projections indicate that, by 2030, one in five young people in the world will have been born in an LDC, according to the Concept Note of the first thematic round table, ‘Investing in people in the least developed countries to leave no one behind’.

At the moment, there are 1.8 billion young people between the ages of 10 and 24 in the world, 90% living in developing countries, according to the conference website. Young people form a sizeable proportion of the population of these countries.

Challenges and needs

The Youth Declaration includes issues ranging from access to education, employment and entrepreneurship, climate change-related education, knowledge and technology for food security and nutrition, education for refugees, internally displaced and migrants, to digital inclusion.

Among the most important points in the declaration are:

Access to education

• States should guarantee universal access to quality, gender-transformative and inclusive education. This should be done recognising the importance of the universal acquisition of foundational skills, advanced skills development (including transferable skills), technical and vocational education and training, lifelong learning acquired through e-learning, non-formal and informal learning contexts, including learning supported by youth organisations.

• States should increase the funding for education and ensure the necessary resources are available to secure quality education for all young people, especially those from marginalised groups, so they can fully develop through education and gain a wide range of skills, to prepare them for life and work.

• Secure international investment in quality education, ensuring a gender-responsive, diverse, and inclusive school system.

• Invest in ensuring that in-person and digital education are in languages that all young people understand and can take part in.

• Revise and adapt national curricula to ensure that young people in the education system are skilled and equipped with job-ready competencies, but are also prepared to face the challenges of the country they live in.

• Develop and encourage the use of an education system that allows the transfer of grade points across countries and regions. This will allow young people on the move to resume their studies once they are in a more permanent location.

• Work with universities and institutions to drop the English test examinations for students from LDCs that use English as the medium of instruction. The test lowers the chances for young deserving students to enrol in higher education in developed countries since they cannot afford the test.

Access to decent employment and entrepreneurship

• Recognise the role young entrepreneurs and workers play in implementing and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

• Enhance the scale and quality of entrepreneurship education. This should include skills development (both technical and soft skills), incubation, coaching and mentoring programmes for youth. Peer-to-peer learning and the use of technology should be encouraged to allow for scaling and replicability.

Human rights

• Provide human rights and global citizenship education training by encouraging governments to partner with civil society organisations and young people to create awareness and ability-building at all levels of education. Integrate human rights education at all levels of education.

• Ensure the full recognition of the legal status of undocumented migrants and stateless youth and provide all migrant, refugee and internally displaced youth access to services, including education.

Tackle climate change and food security and nutrition

• Incorporate youth-sensitive sectoral interventions in climate policy processes, including the education sector in climate and environment policy development processes that are most relevant to the needs and priorities of the most vulnerable young people – ensuring their concerns and demands are incorporated.

• Empower young people in LDCs with knowledge, expertise, and technology to foster young people’s participation in sustainable agriculture to promote food security.

Digital inclusion, connecting the unconnected

• Member states should recognise the importance of education and skills training for youth in LDCs as a solution to improving digital inclusion. Therefore, they should invest in generating more job opportunities for youth to strengthen skills building and digital literacy of youth, including the next generation of digital nomads, and secure more opportunities for young women and girls to access STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, maths) education.

• Emphasise the need for stable digital infrastructure in educational institutions.

Digital access essential

According to the concept note, providing access to skills, training and quality education is essential to help fulfil fundamental human needs that expand “the individual’s agency, capabilities and ability to participate as a full member of society”. Access to education is essential to structural transformation in the LDCs and is even more relevant, given the rise of the digital economy.

Access also promotes human development outcomes and economic growth. “Fostering entrepreneurship, particularly in the services sector, and taking advantage of the opportunities offered by the digital economy and measures to support entrepreneurship require scaled-up support and resources,” according to the concept note.

Enrolment rates in secondary and tertiary education remain “stubbornly” low. To ensure a skilled workforce, access to secondary and tertiary education has to be facilitated. For women and girls, for example, higher participation in political and economic life starts with access to higher education.

“Greater focus on increasing training opportunities and the acquisition of skills for teachers at all levels as well as better access to electricity, adequate internet connectivity and equipment, such as personal computers, constitutes the next step in supporting LDC efforts to provide a future for their youth.”

The role of universities

Paz Portales, higher education specialist at UNESCO’s Division for Education 2030 in France, told University World News that the declaration addresses crucial issues, and universities can take concrete actions to contribute.

“Among them is the need to address the exclusion from the right to an education that affects many people,” Portales said. “Universities can and should collaborate with education systems, both through the production of information and data on the causes of inequality, as well as by implementing policy measures to widen access to higher education to people from all backgrounds, thus contributing to a better distribution of opportunities and a wider guarantee of the right to education without discrimination.”

Portales said that universities in LDCs as a youth community (students and academic community) along with their student unions should organise awareness campaigns about the Youth Declaration. Education-related issues should also be included in the strategies and action plan.

Susana Puerto Gonzalez, senior youth employment specialist at the International Labour Organisation in Switzerland agrees. “We are supportive of dissemination efforts and consultations with young people in LDCs about the youth declaration, including through universities and other avenues or platforms or bodies that bring young people together,” she said.