Over the last few years successive governments and different Non-Governmental/ Pressure Organizations like ours (Emerging Political leaders EPL Forum) had put in significant legwork into building systems of early child development ensuring that every Nigerian Child has the chance to develop their love for reading and learning, We even have a Universal Basic Education program set up by our Government through the Ministry of Education to ensure that every Nigerian child acquires early education. We have also identified ways in which ordinary people can connect with each other in building a network of support for the development of young people in their communities. All of these strategies are aimed at setting up our children for success later in life.
How can we create a society in which every person has the support and the opportunities to fulfil their potential?
But there’s been a more difficult problem: figuring out how to build real and imminent possibility for young people, who have already been failed by a poor quality education system and who are trying to build independent lives in a tough economy. This is particularly so for the 20.3 million young people aged 15-24 years who aren’t working or aren’t enrolled in an educational institution such as a school, university or Polytechnic.
Many successful developing countries have capitalized on the ‘dividend’ created by a large youth bubble that is associated with demographic transitions. I believe there is a window of opportunity during these transitions, which can be seized but which requires smart, effective and rapid social and policy change that supports the multiple potential positive effects that a young population creates. I believe that our Country Nigeria have a window between 2017 and 2035 to really capitalize on our youth bulge for strong economic and social prosperity. Young people aged 15-35 years old currently make up 36% of the Nigerian population. Notwithstanding the limitations created by an ineffective education system, this young and energetic minds should be a major boon for our economy and could build a positive social trajectory for our country. However, the status quo means that young people face a hostile and difficult society in which there is little focused, innovative, or effective action to support them. Young people are also the parents of our young children, so building opportunity for them is crucial to breaking the intergenerational transmission of poverty.
We are missing out on their potential, and the potential they have to actively and positively shape Nigeria. Put simply, we cannot and should not write off a generation of young people. We have the power to support and connect with them, to grow their prospects, to ensure they can access real precedent-setting opportunities, and ultimately change the trajectory of the whole country. There are many ways in which we can do this. Here follow four powerful ways in which we can do it as ordinary citizens in our personal and professional capacity.
Change our perceptions
Earlier this year, United Nations office of Statistics released its ‘social profile of youth’ report. It paints a bleak picture: 59% of young people live in households below the poverty line; over 50% of young people are unemployed, and few successfully navigate through the education system to ultimately attain university degrees. As a result, we have a prevailing perception of young people as a ticking time bomb, an idle, unruly, and terrifying group of people who threaten the stability of the country. And often, we lay the blame at their feet, not our own.
But seeing young people like this is a choice.
There are many studies that show young people are optimistic about the future; they often try multiple strategies using lots of perseverance to get education and work. In the stories of young people that I have listened to, I see exactly this at work. Lots of resilience in the face of significant obstacles and ongoing attempts to create new opportunities and possibilities for themselves. We get to choose how we see young people: do we look only at the consequences of years of society failing them; or do we acknowledge that, for the most part, young people are trying their hardest to make good lives and contribute enthusiastically to building a better country. If we can shift our perception, then we can start to take the everyday actions that will build real possibility for these incredible young people.
Support young people to navigate their way through the education system
A big determinant of a young person’s success in life is their educational attainment. Part of the driving forces behind the protests that we see when universities increase school fees or go on strikes are because young people know, and have seen, that getting a tertiary degree can pull an entire family out of poverty – and after managing to navigate through a tough and complex education system, it is a tragedy that many young people are excluded from completing University education by strike actions or fee increments.
Surveys have highlighted the importance of early reading and supporting the development of young children. This is crucial in setting people up for success throughout their lives. But for young people in the education system already, we need to think about what strategies of support they can be provided with now. For example, how can we ensure that young people are supported to stay in school, how do we help them to catch up on the fundamentals of literacy and numeracy, and what skills and support do they need to navigate the complex system of post-school options?
There are many ways in which each one of us can make a contribution to these outcomes. Do you, for example, have a spare computer, tablet, or mobile phone lying around? Being computer literate and having access to information can dramatically change a young person’s life.
Do you have time to become a mentor to help a young person to choose subjects, to figure out how to access University admission and/or how to transition smoothly from education into work experience? Studies show that having a mentor significantly increases a young person’s chances of being enrolled in post-secondary education, compared with young people don’t have one.
Create opportunities where you are for young people to gain work experience
More than half (over 20 million) of young people in Nigeria are not in education, training or employment. They live in families in which the income level is very little, most of them will not have completed WAEC, and many will face a plethora of challenges as they try to transition into employment or further education. Your chance of being employed increases as you age, with those between 19-25 years old far more likely to be unemployed. Young people are literally stepping out of school and into an abyss of no opportunities.
According to research commissioned by The Small Enterprise Development Agency (SEDA) in 2016, there are over 6,660,000 formal SMEs in Nigeria. If half of them each took on a single young person for work experience – just covering transport and food costs we could create real opportunity for one-tenth of all unemployed young people each year. If NGOs, larger companies, and government departments did the same, we could easily absorb the vast majority of young people, giving them a sense of what work is, providing basic skills and foundational workplace competencies, and getting them started on their journey towards fulltime formal employment. Creating a single programme – whether through an
Employment tax incentive, like our national youth service corp. Empowerment job opportunities’ just like the ruling APC promised during campaigns at a scale to reach over 20 million young people is unlikely and expensive. A top-down approach simply can’t reach everyone so we all have to each choose to act now.
Taking on a young person at your company –especially someone who has been failed by the education system –is daunting. But what is more daunting for us as a country will be a generation who are never able to transition into being self-supporting, creative and capable adults. Our government should take a look at how we can structure voluntary work to prepare young people for work, and strategies to profitably employ youth and provide a recommendation on how to make this work based on the experience of organizations and companies that are doing it well. We have to also put together a themes-based mentoring or coaching guideline/life skills toolkit – either for a young person who is wanting to develop these skills and awareness within themselves or for someone who is guiding a young person through such a process.
Mentor a young person
It’s easy to forget that one of the most valuable things you can contribute to other people is your time and your knowledge. part of what our organization(Emerging Political Leaders Forum)should do is to link the poles of Nigeria: to connect young people who had dropped out of school with those who were getting PhDs; to connect youth across different issue areas, different political parties, different tribes and religion. One of the reasons I think this was important is that our history has left us with deep divides that limit the transfer of knowledge and ‘suss’ required to navigate systems and access opportunity. Networks carry subtle but crucial soft skills and enable knowledge transfer that makes up a huge part of a person’s ability to access opportunity.
For example, in one of my interactions with young people I figured out the different ways in which adolescents in Big Cities like Abuja or Lagos or Kano spoke about their future careers. Young people in the villages’ could identify what they wanted to become and that, in general, they had to work hard at school to get there. So did the kids in the big cities. But the kids in the big cities had a secret weapon: without fail they could think of someone in their family’s network who had that career they were pursuing, they could think of people who would be able to advise them and help them make decisions about their options, and as a result, they could identify the precise path they would need to take to ensure their success. This kind of confidence,
knowledge and suss is developed in human relationships and networks which the young people in the villages do not have and that is why mentoring can be one of the most powerful tools to change the trajectory of someone’s life.
These are just a few of the many ways in which each one of us can engage with the young people who cross our paths on a daily basis in Nigeria. I hope that this little work will encourage us to see the huge potential and possibility of young Nigerians and inspire us to take action in supporting just one of them.
© This #CreatingChange Series is presented by Hon. Nnamdi Nwaka(Aspirant Imo House of Assembly, Nwangele State Constituency) and presented to Emerging Political leaders(EPL)Forum on Monday 04 2017.