Generation MDGs: How Youth are Pushing to Reach the MDGs and Shaping the Post-2015 Framework

While the next set of global development goals are being debated around the world, those who actually will be responsible for achieving them are also voicing their concerns. As reports are being drafted, working groups assembled and high-level panels convened, we shouldn’t forget that it is today’s young people who will be tasked with carrying out the next development agenda.

Time and again young people identify education as a primary concern and as a response to the myriad of development challenges we face. And more and more we are hearing that it isn’t just any education that is important, but one that imparts the necessary skills, values and competencies to develop productive, healthy and engaged global citizens. Through a series of youth consultations led in part by Restless Development, a global youth-led development agency, youth have outlined their priorities for the next development framework. In a summary report following online and in-person consultations with over 700 youth, there was resounding agreement that learning outcomes must be included in the post-2015 agenda and all young people “should have the right to be educated and literate, and have access to quality services that support that right. Access to nonformal education (such as youth clubs and youth groups) is also particularly important for young people’s growth and development.” Restless Development is also empowering young people with tools to conduct their own post-2015 consultations with other youth and providing a platform for young people to voice their priorities at each of the U.N. secretary general’s High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Agenda’s meetings.

As part of the official U.N. process to feed into the next set of goals, Genwa Samhat and Chernor Bah, two members of the U.N. secretary-general’s Global Education First Initiative’s Youth Advocacy Group, were invited to the U.N. Post-2015 Thematic Consultation on Education held in Dakar, Senegal. At the meeting, stakeholders from across the education sector came together to articulate priorities for education in the next development framework.

Genwa and Chernor brought a valuable youth perspective to the meeting by outlining the world they want to emerge as a result of the post-2015 framework. They also reminded participants of the world that children and youth live in now. Genwa, who grew up in Lebanon, spoke candidly to the discrimination millions of girls face, saying “I live in a world where I am defined not by who I am, but by my association with men: as a sister, a daughter, and ultimately the expectation that I will become someone’s wife.” She has borne personal witness to the many barriers to girls’ education – one of her friends was forced to drop out of school and marry at the young age of 15 and now has three children to care for. Similarly, discrimination due to disability, race, class and sexual orientation deny many in her country the opportunities to study, work and fulfill their potential.

Chernor grew up in war torn Sierra Leone, where he stated that “simply being born in a poor country…could be an intrinsic disadvantage with limited opportunities to access education and hence limited opportunities in life. It’s a world where the advent of conflict…often means that schools are burned, teachers run away and hope of a better life through education is dashed.”

Speaking on behalf of the thousands of young people who have contributed to the post-2015 discussions they declared, “Young people want a world where location of birth is not a permanent life sentence, where everyone – irrespective of their circumstances – has access to that fundamental human right of good quality education. Young people also want a world where girls have the same opportunities as boys, where they are not forced into marriage but given the chance to have an identity and fulfill their dreams. It has to be a world where no form of discrimination is allowed to stand.”

In addition to participating in the global education meeting, youth have been engaged throughout the post-2015 process. On the United Nation’s World We Want platform, which housed 11 thematic e-discussions, young people contributed to, and even moderated, many of the conversations. In particular, they emphasized the need to improve education governance, address corruption and recognize the role a quality education can play in fostering global citizenship. Nina Tchangoue, a member of the Youth Advocacy Group, wrote: “learning should be linked to global issues that will develop the interest of youth to become engaged global citizens.” Similarly, according to the recent results of the My World survey, a global survey of more than 560,000 people from 194 countries, respondents under the age of 25 voiced “a good education” as their number one priority.

Youth representatives around the world are urging the United Nations, governments and education policymakers to move beyond a focus on access to schooling to include a commitment to children’s learning outcomes as well. They are encouraging policymakers to strive for a world where schooling and the lessons learned outside the classroom equip young people with the skills needed to be active global citizens, skills that go beyond reading and writing, such as critical thinking, technological literacy and comprehensive sexual education.

Upholding the Promises Made to all Children at the Millennium

While young people around the world have been participating in the post-2015 discussions, they have also made it clear that the next set of goals will hold little legitimacy if the global community does not honor its original commitments made in 2000.

One effort to ensure we don’t forsake the initial set of promises was a series of Learning for All Ministerial meetings held in Washington, DC in April. National leaders from seven countries – which are home collectively to half of the world’s out-of-school population – and development partners identified concrete steps to urgently deliver real results for the millions of out-of-school primary-aged children. Thanks to a commitment to meaningful youth participation by the meetings co-hosts, U.N. Special Envoy for Global Education Gordon Brown, World Bank President Jim Kim and U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, young people were included in many of the high level discussions and chosen to speak as experts on numerous panels. David Crone, a youth representative from Plan UK, spoke alongside World Bank and civil society experts about the marginalization and lack of opportunities young women in particular face in staying in school and learning. Similarly, Sumaya Saluja, another member of the Youth Advocacy Group, spoke on a Brookings panel about the critical role that youth can play in tackling challenges in the education system in India. Brookings also spoke with two of the members, Joseph Munyambanza from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Anna Susarenco from Moldova, about their personal stories and commitments to education for all.

One of the most valuable parts of having youth leaders at the Learning for All Ministerial meetings was that, alongside their expertise, they brought an untarnished belief that real progress is possible. The Youth Advocacy Group was given the last word in a morning of events convened by the U.N. special envoy for Global Education and they reminded the policymakers in attendance that they will be held accountable for the commitments made that week: “We can only hope that these past three days have been as empowering and inspiring for you as they have been for us. And do not think for even a moment that we have not been monitoring the outcomes and what has been said, because we have, and not to scare you, but you will be held accountable, because our progress depends solely on everyone’s willingness and ability to commit to what they said they would do. Nothing is more depressing than progress hindered because of inaction.” The Youth Advocacy Group and young people worldwide are committed to doing their part to achieve the current Millennium Development Goals and design a next set of development goals that reflect the rights, needs and desires of the generation that will be at the helm of implementing them.