Empowering young people

Change. Progress. Future. These are some words we associate with young people. They are our tomorrow. They are our hopes. But young people are all of these and more.

They are our Today.

Being young is about facing challenges, learning, and creating a space for growth and development. It is about seeing problems and turning them into opportunities and solutions. It is about being heard, being listened to, and understood. Being young means being the driving force of society.

There are 199,1111 young people in Bhutan today, comprising 26% of the population. This generation of 15 to 24-year-olds are growing up at a time of change, transition, and paradox

Our young people are arguably the most digitally connected age group, yet the rest of us, despite efforts still remain disconnected to their thoughts, ideas, troubles, and aspirations. We see their troubles manifesting, among others, through the rising cases of mental ill health. By the end of the 12th Plan, the National Statistics Bureau projects that about 62,743 students will enter the labour market looking for employment.2 Given the youth unemployment rate of 20.9%, creating gainful employment and opportunities for employment for the high number of job seekers continues to receive national attention.3

The mismatch of skills and demand among jobseekers and employers was acknowledged as an issue even before the onset of the pandemic. Given that a majority of young people are in schools and colleges, and if we are to argue that one of the purposes of education is gainful employment, then the youth unemployment rate compels us to reflect on how we are preparing our young people to take on the mandates of tomorrow. His Majesty’s Kasho calling for educational reform could not be more relevant.

To succeed in school, work and life, young people must continue to build on the foundational reading and math skills acquired in childhood. At secondary school age, this will mean gaining proficiency in reading and math skills expected at the secondary level of education.4

Launched by the Education Commission, Generation Unlimited, UNICEF, and the World Data Lab, the World Skills Clock aims to mobilize new momentum for urgent action towards achieving progress on SDG Indicator 4 by providing real-time data on the status of skills development globally and at country level. It complements the tracking of other SDGs, including the World Poverty Clock (SDG Indicator 1) and the World Hunger Clock (SDG Indicator 2).

According to the World Skills Clock, 126,263 young people (87.8%) do not have secondary education level skills.5 In terms of digital skills, it was found that 96,254 young people (67%) do not have digital skills. Digital skills refer to the ability to use and understand technology and are measured by the proportion of youth who are able to perform basic computer-related activities.

Investing in the first years of children’s lives is critical, but we cannot assume that this will be sufficient to fully secure their long-term wellbeing and prosperity. We must invest across the continuum of the first and second decades of life.

UNICEF commends the ongoing efforts of the Royal Government of Bhutan to empower its children and young people with the skills, knowledge, and values to fulfill their potential.

Among others, the Adolescent Skills and Employability (ASE) project that is underway in 64 schools and 10 youth centres will equip adolescents and young people with life skills that would empower them to seize opportunities and confront challenges. Also known as transferrable or 21st Century skills, life skills allow young people to become agile learners and global citizens equipped to navigate personal, social, academic, and economic challenges. These skills also help young people affected by crisis cope with trauma and build resilience. They include problem-solving, negotiation, managing emotions, empathy, and communication.

Young people need education and skills to become lifelong learners, to secure productive work, to make informed decisions, and to positively engage in their communities. And developing life skills has become increasingly important given the rising demand for strong socio-emotional skills in the workforce.

At a time of reforms, recovery, and reimagination, the National Youth Policy, 2020, which was drafted in consultation with young people, offers agencies that work with and for young people, and the young people themselves, the guidance and strategy to work together in addressing the existing and emerging challenges confronting young people.

The second decade of life is a period of opportunities and vulnerabilities. The endorsement of the National Youth Policy, 2020, would be one such critical opportunity for us to listen to the voices of our youth and set in motion the promise to empower tomorrow’s changemakers. UNICEF looks forward to the National Youth Policy’s endorsement by Government.

Young people are indeed about change, progress, and the future. Our collective mandate is to support them to become the change and make progress for the future they want. One way to empower them to learn and grow is to create a platform or consolidate the existing ones to enable young people to share their voices on issues affecting them.

There are 1.8 billion young people in the world today – a crucial resource for innovative social change towards a more equal, peaceful, and sustainable world. About 200,000 of them are in Bhutan. Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, gives all 1.8 billion young people the right to have their voices listened to and to be involved in decisions that affect their lives.6

This right, alongside others outlined in the convention, obliges Governments to create an enabling environment for young people to influence decisions and policies that impact them. Despite these rights, young people still face unequal opportunities for participation and civic engagement. This reality leads to the untapped potential for youth development and social improvement.

As the world marks International Youth Day by focusing on Intergenerational solidarity to create a world for all ages, UNICEF calls on all to support and nurture the current and future generations of young people in Bhutan to help them reach their full potential.

It is said that it takes a village to raise a child. And it takes a society to raise every child to become productive citizens of the world.

This article is contributed by UNICEF Bhutan Representative Dr Will Parks on the society’s mandate towards young people.