Educationalists say young people need at least primary school and some secondary school education to get jobs that are secure and well paid.
But a new United Nations report says that is not the case in much of the developing world. The study, called Putting Education to Work, is part of UNESCO’s yearly publication, the Education for All Global Monitoring Report.
It says over 200 million young people in the developing world have not completed primary school and are lacking the skills needed to move out of poverty. Nearly 130 million are in primaryschool but cannot read or write.
In sub-Saharan Africa, it says a third of young people are failing to complete primary school, while millions more do not go on to secondary school. Those who are most affected come from underfunded rural and urban areas, as well as young women and men who drop out of school to have children or to work for the family.
Pauline Rose, the director of the Education for All Global Monitoring Report, said schools are failing to provide a bridge between school and work -- a problem that's leaving between one in eight young people worldwide unemployed and one in four working in poverty.
She said students need a strong foundation in numeracy and literacy, vocational skills, and the ability to solve problems rather than learn by rote. Students must also be offered course work that reflects local realities. For example, she said many urban and rural students benefit from courses in financial management and microfinance.
Rose says sometimes these topics can be included in the local curricula or offered by alternative sources including non-governmental organizations.
"So non-governmental organizations have been working to provide young people with training that gives them skills in managing their finances, in understanding how to use assets., " she said. "[That includes] animals, cows for example, or other types of assets which they can then translate into running a business and making a profit. These NGOs have been so successful that within a short period of time young people who’ve gone through them have actually set up businesses and made considerable profit."
Rose said alternative means of education are also needed for school leavers, who she says deserve a second chance to get an education.
"There are opportunities to learn through distance education, " she said, "and we find in countries like Mexico and Namibia that large numbers of young people are reached through distance education systems, and these young people are given materials that they can learn at their own pace. They have some face to face tutorials and so on. They have, where appropriate, television training and tutoring. So there’s a wide range of flexible approaches to learning that can help young people get the skills that they need."
Another popular alternative in Africa and also parts of South Asia are traditional apprenticeships taught by carpenters, hairdressers and other master craftspeople. Rose says the approach mainly benefits those who have had some primary school, but who do not have relevant skills for work. She said the system can be adapted to make sure that women are also included and that students receive proper accreditation.
"We find in Senegal," she said, "the majority of young people are actually learning through traditional apprenticeships rather than through technical and vocational education. In the mid-2000’s, about 10,000 had been trained through technical and vocational education compared to 440,000 trained through these traditional apprenticeships. And, there are professional bodies which have been set up to formally recognize their qualifications and help these young people to use their skills in different trades."
Rose said some East Asian countries including Singapore and Korea have boosted their economies with robust yet flexible systems that teach trades and provide young people the chance to work and return to school.
She said some African countries are using their own ideas for improving training and development.
Rose said Ethiopia’s Ministry of Education has made a commitment to ensuring the disadvantaged are learning the skills needed to improve their work.
"We’ve seen in Ethiopia," she explained, "that this has led to the massive expansion of the primary school system in a relatively short amount of time. The out of school numbers have decreased dramatically. It’s potentially on track to achieve universal primary education by 2015, which ten years ago the country wouldn’t have dreamt of. They are now expanding that ambition to reaching universal secondary school by 2020 and hoping that that will translate into economic growth."
Rose said Rwanda is making it easier for students to continue on to secondary school, by ending school fees. The government has also done away with exams that determine whether students in the final year of primary school can go forward.
"In some circumstances," she said, "it means that young people will continue their schooling within one school environment from the first grade of primary to the last grade of lower secondary. The benefit is there’s a smoother transition unlike some other systems in Africa where they have an end of primary school leaving exam, and some are not able to continue if they fail the exam. [Instead], there is a smooth transition for young people to continue into the lower secondary school grades."
According to the Global Monitoring Report, $ 16 billion is needed to ensure that young people worldwide go to primary school, with an additional eight billion dollars needed to guarantee access to lower secondary school.
Most donor countries have agreed to commit 0.7 percent of GDP to aid but many are not fulfilling their commitments. Rose says there’s also a role for the private sector – which now accounts for about five percent of all aid.
"One of the biggest examples internationally," she said, "is the Mastercard Foundation which supports many programs worldwide to enhance youth skills. There’s also some national foundations such as in Egypt the Sawiris Foundation founded by a national philanthropist which is also reaching out to young people, recognizing the huge problems of youth unemployment and what is needed to give them the skills to get decent jobs. So there are examples, but they need to be scaled up. "
The Global Monitoring Report suggests donors provide more aid to strengthening the educational systems of poor countries, rather than using it to educate foreign students in developed countries.
It notes that a scholarship to Japan could provide funding for 72 secondary schools students in Ghana. That, say educationalists, could go part of the way in filling the funding gap.