The idea that education is the key to economic viability and sustainable development isn’t a novel idea. In fact, it’s a key point to most development plans and studies. Yet, time and time again, we fail to make education a priority. It’s frustrating and we make excuses like ‘youth need to take education into their own hands.’ After all – we made it, why can’t they? The problem is that most people who need proper schooling don’t have a voice or a way to express their need. It’s a much bigger issue than truancy; it’s about an inadequate education infrastructure.

As described in a report from The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, “Progress increasingly depends upon the products of educated minds: upon research, invention, innovation and adaptation. Of course, educated minds and instincts are needed not only in laboratories and research institutes, but in every walk of life. Indeed, access to education is the sine qua non for effective participation in the life of the modern world at all levels.” When phrased that way, free, effective and accessible education seems like a no-brainer. Of course, nothing is that simple, but we need to more actively focus on funding education initiatives for our youth.

We can’t use schooling as a crutch either though. It’s not the solution to every significant problem. It also doesn’t mean that every child who doesn’t have access to a proper education will never receive. That being said, proper schooling more easily enables them. Youth discover the tools needed to lead independent lives and make an impact.  

I’m not blind. I know the youth population in Africa has been growing rapidly over the last few years, so the bill for free education only continues to rise. I think this should just signal that the government can’t be the only establishment attempting to fill in the gaps. We need support from NGOs, businesses, apprenticeship opportunities with corporations and more.

It’s also important not to limit our youth based on gender. As Dr. Osotimehin noted back in this article in 2014, “If Africa is to take advantage of this demographic transition, as other regions have done, we must invest specifically in our daughters and ensure that each young person and each adolescent girl has access to education and quality health care, including comprehensive sexuality education and reproductive health services.

It’s also important to acknowledge that education in the formal sense isn’t always a viable option for all areas or all people. Some children don’t learn that way, and rather than focusing on formal concepts, it’s important to emphasize skill-based learning. The job market is not always a positive place as we saw in recent years. Therefore we need to focus on teaching skills that won’t become obsolete and apply to multiple facets and careers. Diversified skills are now the attributes that constitute viable candidates. We need to encourage children to try everything and absorb every lesson they can. It may be the difference between finding a job or not.

We also cannot lose sight of life skills in the classroom. According to a United Nations’ Youth report, 29.6% of Sub-Saharan Africa’s youth are non-literate. That is a huge problem that needs to be addressed. Literacy unlocks so many doors, just as the lessons on personal finance and communication do. These skills can define a young person early on and set them on the right path. Without these basic necessities they don’t know where to begin and how can we blame them?