Never before in history has there been such a dramatic demographic shift. It is estimated that there are over a billion people in the 15-24 age group. This is referred to as a ‘youth bulge’ because it should decrease over time with improved education and healthcare. Not unexpectedly, youth unemployment and under-employment have now reached a critical level globally with the ‘crisis’ of unemployment now so pronounced that the current cohort of youth has been referred to as ‘generation jobless’. This is partly due to a lack of jobs, but also to a mismatch between skills and market requirements. This is most pronounced in developing countries.
Education has got to be one of the key dimensions of this historic challenge. The facts about education in emerging markets are known: there is not nearly enough of it (particularly with rising numbers), its reach is limited, access to it is difficult for vast swathes of young people (particularly women and the disabled), funding is constrained and technology underused. Quality is wildly variable.
Some pragmatic solutions that represent opportunities are as follows:
- Harness the technology. Harnessing what technology makes possible must be top of the list. Technology makes so-called distance and open learning much easier to establish and every university should have courses on offer in this mode. Technology has created a vast library in cyber-space.
- Embrace the ‘for-profit’ providers. For-profit’ providers have to be seen as part of the system. Too many countries are still hostile to them. The fact is that ‘for-profit’ providers are not only providing a substantial percentage of education across the world, they are often proving it in more innovative and dynamic ways than the traditional universities.
- Move to competency-based education development. Educational systems have for too long ignored the particular skills and attributes that make graduates employable. In many places the system is not producing what the market needs.
- Reform accreditation.
- Strengthen quality assurance. Poor education at any level is unacceptable and the price is high especially in emerging markets where the unemployment rates are so high and other options to gain further qualifications are scarce.
- Partner with the informal and commercial sectors.
- Strengthen funding as a ‘steer’.