African students face serious challenges in planning and building prosperous futures for themselves.
Employment prospects for the youth have plummeted over the past decade and there are major concerns for their future financial security. The situation is exacerbated by the global corona pandemic, which has seen school children displaced from in-classroom learning.
In Kenya, the government announced the total cancellation of the school year in an effort to “level the playing field” so that students who lack access to online learning resources would not academically fall behind those who do have e-learning support.
In a recent conversation with my 15-year-old niece, she remarked: “Now that school is canceled, I’m anxious and scared about my future. I also wish I understood more about the pandemic because I feel isolated and uninformed.”
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Parents and educators also have some concerns: Will Kenyan children fall behind their peers in other parts of the world due to the cancellation of the school year? How bright is the future for Kenyan students if they are without access to e-learning and modern digital skills? Finally, how can we empower students to feel a greater sense of connection and contribution to global issues such as the corona pandemic?
The corona virus is unprecedented for nearly everyone alive today. We never saw it coming and most emerging market countries were not prepared.
In Kenya the effects of the pandemic on our development are palpable. Industries are struggling, government borrowing and corruption have mutually increased, our health system is overwhelmed and under-supplied. Cases of extreme poverty are rising. Food supply chains are threatened. Schools have been shut down.
Many of the challenges we are facing are especially salient for the youth who are the greatest stewards of the future. As emphasised by world leaders at the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit, where the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were established, the youth are a largely untapped yet necessary force for global development.
However, the catalytic impact that we hope to see from the youth can only happen if they are equipped with the skills, tools, information, and opportunities that they need to reach their potential and contribute to the world around them in a meaningful way.
The global agenda for sustainable development offers a unique opportunity to reorient our education system in a new direction with sustainability at its core, so that Kenyan students are better prepared to make an impact and meet future workforce demands.
The 17 SDGs will serve as the main driver for development until 2030 and beyond, and hence it is imperative that Kenyan students can learn about them from a young age.
Currently, this material has not been successfully integrated into K-12 school curriculum.
What is most concerning about the lack of SDGs training in schools is that consequently, our youth are not learning to see themselves as problem solvers.
Through learning about the SDGs, students can become familiar with the greatest challenges plaguing their communities and the world at large. This helps frame their mindsets early so that they think about their future careers from the perspective of ‘What are the largest problems in the world today? Which problems do I feel most passionate about solving?’
Education is fundamental towards the success of all the 17 SDGs. Education is directly related to SDG 4 (Quality Education) but underpins the entire sustainable development agenda.
Our education system now has the opportunity to support the youth in building resilient careers amidst an uncertain future of work, and to prepare them to contribute positively to the social, environmental and economic development.
Ultimately, the government has the most pivotal role to play in driving this shift. Preparing the youth to be leaders of our sustainable future entails creating the right conditions for their active engagement.
Public schools should start teaching students about each of the 17 SDGs early enough, and provide them with case studies relevant to the African context.
- Adero Okudo is an Energy and Sustainability Economist based in Nairobi