Putting Young People at the Heart of the Drive to Transform Education

We believe everybody has a right to learn. The upcoming Transforming Education Summit offers a chance for us to redesign our education systems so they are fit for a rapidly evolving 21st century world, but to be truly transformative, it must be shaped and led by children and young people. 

Hello world! 

We are Thaís from Brazil and Alice from Rwanda: the two newest Next Generation Fellows at the United Nations Foundation! Our goal is to ensure that every young person around the world has access to the education they deserve. 

Education has the potential to transform societies and systems. Both of us understand first-hand how a strong education can open doors for people: the education we received helped us to develop an informed perspective of the world around us and empowered us to become agents of change. 

However, the world’s education systems are in desperate need of reform. Over the years, we have seen how much communications, medicine, and transport, for instance, have advanced. Yet most classroom structures and pedagogy have remained the same. This is hindering young people from learning both foundational skills and the broader skills they will need for work and life in the 21st century. For example, few children leave school equipped with entrepreneurship, critical thinking, and adaptability skills. 

All of this was true even in 2019, but the COVID-19 pandemic has thrown these structural flaws into sharper relief. It also served to worsen already glaring inequalities: some children and young people have been able to continue learning throughout the pandemic (though with major adjustments) whilst others have been forced to stop altogether. Thus we are now facing an acute learning emergency on top of what was already a serious learning crisis. 

On the flipside, if we act urgently to address these compounded crises, we can not only help today’s students recover from the pandemic, we could also shape a better future for humanity. Ensuring that students catch up on lost learning from the pandemic will protect them from being haunted by COVID-19 for years to come – it will mean their employability and livelihoods are not affected as badly as some have predicted. Equally, we could use the pandemic as an opportunity to rethink and rebuild our education systems so that they equip students to be creative, resilient, and environmentally conscious. This could – in the long run – catalyze wider societal transformation, allowing us all to live healthier, more peaceful, and dignified lives. 

This type of urgent and effective action, however, will require collective action within and across countries. All stakeholders – including governments, teachers, students, finance and education ministries, and NGOs – will need to come together to truly transform education. Lessons will also need to be shared between countries, especially in the context of rapidly shifting demographics and labor markets. 

This is why the upcoming Transforming Education Summit is so timely. It could provide us with exactly the platform we need for the multilateral system – especially governments, whose investment and leadership are so vital – to come together and set out a roadmap for transforming education. As the Deputy Secretary-General has said, this Summit is a moment for “averting a generational catastrophe and rethinking education systems”. 

That said, we believe the success of this Summit will ultimately depend on the degree to which children and young people are meaningfully included. After all, we are a majority of the world’s students, and many of us are also teachers, parents, and policymakers. Most crucially, we have the biggest stake in the future of education. 

With this in mind, the two of us have taken some steps to start putting children and young people at the forefront of the Transforming Education Summit. 

First, we are mobilizing an Action Group of energetic and determined young people through the Unlock the Future coalition. This group is gearing up to run local and global campaigns in the lead up to the Summit, bringing in diverse networks of young people; they are also committed to holding leaders accountable for commitments made at the Summit, taking advantage of events like the upcoming SDG Summit in 2023. If you would like to join this group, please email us at thais.queiroz@scout.org and alicem@restlessdevelopment.org.

Second, we are collaborating with other youth-led and youth-focused organizations to ensure that young people have a strong and unified presence at the Transforming Education Summit. This includes the SDG4 Youth Group, the Office of the Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, and more. 

Third, to kick start conversations between young people and global leaders, we have put together a paper called ”Putting Young People at the Heart of the Drive to Transform Education”, which sets out why and how leaders should partner with young people for the Transforming Education Summit; and what young people around the world believe needs to be changed about today’s education systems. 

We have already shared this paper with the Deputy Secretary-General and discussed it with the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on Transforming Education – Leonardo Garnier. We now invite you to use the paper to kick start conversations with your local and national education leaders too. 

Thank you for joining us on our journey! 

Thaís and Alice


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