An uncertain future

Sources, A UNESCO publication
Guyana Chronicle
September 19, 1999

"THERE are people who contemplate eight years of schooling and still can't find a job, because there just are no jobs. Either you try and improve schooling so that it provides young people with the possibility of being an independent-minded person who can create his or her own job, or adapt to their circumstances."

So says Benedict Faccini, an assistance programme specialist for UNESCO's Special Project for Youth. This is the problem in a nutshell: too many young people cannot be fulfilled. They face an extremely uncertain future: either due to inadequate or inappropriate education, physical handicaps, poverty, or social exclusion due to religious or racial factors.

Perched precariously between childhood and adulthood, youth occupies a difficult middle ground. UNESCO has various programmes that try to reach these young people, no matter what situation they find themselves in. Widely diverse projects - from the International Youth Campaign for a 21st century Free of Drugs, to the Options for Deaf Youth in Myanmar project - seek to shore up the banks of uncertainty faced by so many.

With more than one billion people currently aged 15-24, and the number of those under 15 growing rapidly, the question of their futures is pressing.

What kind of chances do these kids face? Some 284 million children aged 12 to 17 are not in school systems, and this figure will rise to an estimated 324 million by the year 2010. Existing education systems are failing to meet students' needs, but changing them is easier said than done.

"No sector seems more conservative and chained to the past than that of education," says Victor Ordonez, the director of UNESCO Bangkok bureau and a leading educationalist.

Recent statistics from the International Labour Organisation (ILO) show that youth suffers the highest level of unemployment in nearly every country in the world. In South Africa, 25 per cent of people under 25 and looking for work are unemployed. In Mozambique, more than 50 per cent of under 25s are unemployed.

Unemployment is just one of the problems though - disease and poverty are not far behind.

Contemporary social ills hit young people the hardest and most often. And young men and women are not dealing well with the plethora of problems before them. Youth suicide rates in industrialised countries remain consistently high - more than 20 per cent of suicides in Australia are committed by men aged 18-24. Young people are also the biggest users and abusers of illicit drugs - 18 per cent of young American adults are illicit drug users.

No work for everyone

Martine Bousquet, a programme specialist for the Special Youth Project believes that UNESCO must offer serious alternatives to formal education; that the future of education is in offering tangible projects that empower young people and allow them to survive in societies where nothing is a given.

"Nothing is being done for these young people," Bousquet says. "There is no education available for what they need. The fundamental problem is, of course, the simple fact that there is no work for everyone."

"With the marginalised, the question is one of empowerment," she said. "We say that they have to get themselves out of this: be active, not passive. UNESCO does not have recipes, we can't simply tell you people what to do. But we can help you organise, we can help you manage."

Responsibility and self-esteem

Another way of empowering the young is by giving them access to micro-finance. UNESCO seeks to act as a facilitator in the field of micro credit by giving visibility to traditional skills, providing technical assistance, advocating micro-financial services and helping to provide access to markets.

"Poor youth is characterised by problems that go well beyond the lack of money," says Sayeeda Rahman, a programme specialist in UNESCO's Micro-Credits Unit.

"They suffer from a complex set of factors that include lack of access to education, poor health and nutrition, inadequate housing and sanitary activities, illiteracy and polluting environments," she says. "Micro-finance institutions can reach these people and provide them with financial services in ways that promote responsibility, self-esteem and financial self-sufficiency."

A © page from:
Guyana: Land of Six Peoples