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Curriculum change might be the solution to youth unemployment

26 June 2018 - 12:00 By PAUL KARIUKI
Young graduates.
Young graduates.
Image: 123RF

Youth employability is one of the most pressing issues in the present world economy, with over 70 million people under the age of 25 without a job. Sadly, over 40% of the world’s young people are either unemployed or have a job but live in poverty.

In South Africa, approximately 5.9 million youth across the nation are bearing the brunt of the high unemployment rate. Although government has made tremendous efforts in addressing youth unemployment, much more remains to be done.

The quality and relevance of education is at the heart of youth employability. Our education curriculum has been criticized as not adequately tailored to the needs of the labour market.

Many young people are unable to find jobs and employers are not able to hire them because they lack essential employable skills for their needs. The changing economic landscape requires young people to become entrepreneurs that can take initiative and organise a team to get work done.

It will take a holistic approach from government, academic institutions, civil society, labour and the private sector to address these issues and collectively design interventions affordable to all young people irrespective of their socio-economic realities.

Presently, many young people are unable to enter the labour market due to conditions beyond their control. For instance, apartheid development architecture limited access to better education opportunities for the majority of African people, limiting their options to pursue qualifications necessary for an employable future.

Fundamentally, education should not be limited to basic skills such as literacy and numeracy but should be comprehensive, including civic, social, personal leadership and financial skills to equip young people not only to cope but to thrive in a complex, highly interconnected and globalizing world.

Until the education curriculum is revised to redress these structural effects and provide meaningful skills to young people, they will remain trapped in poverty cycles. Curriculum revision is urgently needed so that young people who are still in school are better prepared for the world of work.

The curriculum should include vocational, business management, entrepreneurial, social and money management skills. These skills can help young people with income generation, finding jobs or setting up their own businesses.

Furthermore, these skills should be linked to targeted programmes that engage them in activities based on their future livelihood, their interest in other people and the environment, as well as their desire to develop and lead enterprise activities.

Furthermore, financial management aspects should be added to the new curriculum. As young people become consumers, workers and producers, it is crucial they understand money and markets that increasingly affect them. For example, decisions to spend, save or borrow money influence their ability to access services such as education or health care. Unless they are adequately equipped with essential financial skills, young people will continue to struggle.

Linked to financial management, additional entrepreneurial activities should be added to the curriculum so that young people can develop essential entrepreneurial skills by incorporating practical activities such as forming savings clubs and self-help groups led by young people, aimed at stimulating community-based enterprises and supported locally by their own communities.

Then, self-help groups would be based on peer support, so that young people can develop essential personal leadership skills that are vital in career or business development.

Ultimately, empowered youth equipped with essential critical skills and exposure to useful market opportunities can reduce poverty through their own entrepreneurial efforts while promoting sustainable livelihoods in their own communities, thereby increasing both individual and community well-being. They will become agents of their own future, with enhanced confidence to tackle some of the most pressing societal problems.

In addition to fixing our education curriculum, we must remember that democracy must be lived to be celebrated. It is difficult to enjoy the fruits of democracy when we are living in a highly unequal society. Young people are a critical demography in our nation whose plight must be addressed urgently. It is incumbent upon all of us, as citizens, to recognize our common responsibility and act speedily.

As patriotic citizens, those of us with access to opportunities can do something to offer a young person within our reach a real chance to gain skills and knowledge that will help them secure employment or create opportunities for themselves. We can all do something to create possibilities for young people in the world of work.

* Dr Paul Kariuki is programmes director at Democracy Development Programme (DDP), a national NGO based in Durban. He also serves on the board of the Greater Durban YMCA.