Transforming Education on International Youth Day

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The world currently hosts the largest youth population ever. Yet millions of these children are missing out on a childhood. Conflict zones, poverty and climate change are just some of the reasons these children are driven out of school and made to work. As today marks the UN’s International Youth Day 2019, we mustn’t forget the millions of children who don’t have access to the education, something which is often taken for granted in the U.K. This year’s theme is Transforming Education, and places a spotlight on the efforts taken to make education more accessible and inclusive around the world. 

Supporting education around the world has global repercussions and is in every nation’s best interests. In 2015, the international community recognised 17 Sustainable Development Goals and adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which placed a timer on efforts to foster change. The fourth goal was ‘Quality Education’, and recognised the crucial role education plays in both the development of young people and in the development of society as a whole. This year’s International Youth Day addresses this specific goal, focusing on the work governments, young people, youth-led and youth-focused organisations do to expand the provision of quality education and through this help meet the world’s wider goal of sustainable development.

Education is at the heart of our work at Kidasha and is a fundamental way we are fighting entrenched poverty. At Kidasha, we centre our work in Pokhara (the second largest city in Nepal), to improve the lives of some of the most marginalised and vulnerable children in one of the most overlooked countries in the world. Nepal alone accounts for 1.6 million children aged between 15-17 in child labour and is one of the poorest countries in the world, with 1 in 4 living on less than $0.50 a day. We work with street children, child labourers, victims of exploitation and children living in urban slums to provide them shelter, access to learning, training and employment opportunities, life skills development and counselling. 

Many charities focus on removing children from danger, but they must go further if they want to stop the child ending up in a vulnerable position again. It’s important to understand the cycle of poverty and the power education has in breaking it. Without it, children in poverty are more likely to enter dangerous and exploitative work. Since our founding, we have witnessed first-hand the ways education can build confidence in children, give them critical life skills, improve literacy and numeracy and improve their overall quality of life. We are proud to have supported almost 4,000 children into education and enabled 2,700 out-of-school children to receive tailored non-formal education. 

We support youth education in a number of ways. One is to provide children in poverty with the essential materials they need to go to school. In Nepal children aren’t allowed to go to school if they don’t have a bag, uniform, books and stationery, which means children from poor families are simply denied education. We regularly organise sessions where we distribute school supplies and in May we were able to give 51 children the critical materials they need for an education. This year our projects will be supporting over 750 children into school.

But transforming education isn’t just about transforming a young person’s opportunities in life through education, but about constantly evolving and refining the practice of education itself. As well as working through traditional channels, a crucial way Kidasha supports vulnerable children is through the pioneering Functional Learning programme we developed. Our work with child labourers highlighted a fundamental issue when it came to education for older children – many young people working couldn’t read or write, but were not interested or able to return to school due to their age and the need to work to survive.. Responding to this we developed a programme fit into the structure of these children’s lives – leading daily classes, between 45 minutes and an hour long, before their working day started. These classes follow a two month ‘curriculum’ which could be moulded to the needs and learning styles of each group, with each class having a maximum size of ten children, aged between 14 and 18 years old.

Our Functional Learning classes are unique in how we teach, as well as when we teach them. We saw how older children could struggle with motivation and confidence with traditional teaching methods so we developed a programme to teach them vital literacy and numeracy skills through their practical application. Our classes teach reading and writing through things like filling out government paperwork and work forms, so the children can see how these skills are vital for everyday life. This practical approach has worked incredibly well for the young people like Kumar, who recently completed our course Before graduating from our programme, Bijay was a 15 year old Class 4 drop out, who had difficulties with learning, concentration and communication as well as being lacking in confidence. Fast forward a year, however, and Kumar’s outlook and skills have been vastly transformed. He carries himself with confidence and self-awareness, is eager to learn and has the literacy and numeracy skills needed to help him in life. Kumar is not alone in having benefited from this new style of teaching. One 14-year old boy working in a garage told us, “I had forgotten even basic arithmetic that I learnt in school… now I am confident in arithmetic and I won’t forget because I use it in my work and I practice myself in the evening. Before I was afraid to approach and talk with new people, but now I am confident to do this. I am better at communicating with clients at work.”

As members of the international community it’s our responsibility to continue the work to transform education and help youth around the world living in poverty. If this doesn’t occur, the repercussions will be felt on a personal, national and international scale. This International Youth Day, we must remember the importance of children in securing a sustainable future for generations to come by educating and empowering them. Going beyond the primary aims of poverty aid, we can offer a new life to millions of children, secure long term solutions, break the cycle of poverty and place us on track to reaching the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.