The ingenuity, resolve and enthusiasm of young leaders is vital for sustainable development. Over 1000 youth leaders from over 100 countries gathered at the 2018 Winter Youth Assembly at the United Nations on February 12-14. The theme, Innovation and Collaboration for the Sustainable World, invited youth from around the globe to develop creative solutions to shape a better world and help achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. The global education goal, SDG 4, was front and center of many of the discussions during this assembly. The youth version of the Global Education Monitoring Report was distributed widely to the participants, and they were called on to lend their voices to ensure that governments uphold the right to education for all citizens.
Priyadarshani Joshi led a panel discussion on the 2017/8 GEM Report on accountability. She was joined by Munira Khalif, 2017-2018 United States Youth Observer to the United Nations, and Chris Gannon, Vice President of the United States Student Association, who shared their motivations for engaging with education issues. They discussed their perspectives on the important role youth and students can play in holding governments accountable for providing inclusive, equitable quality education for all.
“As the largest youth population in history, there is power in our numbers, our raised voices, and our collective push towards change. We need not wait until tomorrow to tackle the issues of today. We are the change makers we have been waiting for” stated Munira.
Featuring excerpts from the GEM Report’s Right to Education Campaign, the discussion focused on the importance of youth activism and organized student unions to voice collective concerns and also offered delegates the chance to develop their knowledge of social media activism and hone their talents in advocacy and organizing from experienced student activists.
“Education is a human right, and we have a collective responsibility to promote worldwide access to education. Ensuring educational accessibility requires constant vigilance. We must encourage and empower students to lead this fight.” said panelist Chris Gannon as he closed the event.
On the second day, over 50 delegates joined a workshop on gender equality and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Priyadarshani highlighted the GEM Report’s gender equality perspective, noting issues with gender parity in education, boys’ disengagement and poverty constraints. She articulated the needs and challenges of gender equality and education in terms of employment and work, political participation and leadership, and health and well-being.
The workshop then broke out into groups, where participants assumed the roles of policy makers, funding agencies and youth representatives to address gender equality challenges. They were asked to highlight priority changes that would help achieve gender equality in society. The groups reported back with some significant, important arguments in support of education’s role for improving gender equality around the world.
“Gender equality can be viewed as a pyramid that has education at its basis and builds on top of that. For instance, mothers who can educate children” remarked youth delegate Caitlan Sussman. “It is very important to change mindsets in developing and also in developed countries – the idea that men are above women. That change starts with education. The 10 of us in this group were discussing this and found that not a single one of us had received one lecture on gender equality that we are having now. So, we think that we need to include boys and girls. Roll out a universal curriculum to get everyone on the same page on gender equality, early” concluded another.
Another delegate mentioned the responsibility of young people to educate their elders on gender equality. And finally, a delegate highlighted the need to focus on women in positions of importance: “We need to bring them to the communities and schools. So they can say – even though you may not be learning about me in school, I do exist. Once they see that mirror reflected, they will know that the sky is the limit.”
In the closing ceremony, delivered at the UN General Assembly to all youth delegates, Priyadarshani highlighted the inspirational engagement of youth in the past two days. She mentioned how all of the evidence had shown that education has the potential to transform individuals and societies, but then noted the challenges in providing education. She noted the fact that aid to basic education is stagnating and argued that the commitments made in 2015 were not translating fast enough to actions. She called on the youth in attendance to share their thoughts and observations on government attempts to uphold the right to education and to join the GEM Report campaign. She also called on the youth, at the individual level, to “not just become experts in their own area but also gain the ability to understand complex situations and look at economic, social and environmental issues simultaneously” to improve the world they inherited.