Dedicated to Mrs. Anesia Dassyne-Nanan
The year 2020 has barged in, and brought with it, a great deal of economic problems that march alongside social troubles. Though, the biggest obstacle it has brought with it, is a perfect combination of social and economic issues: the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has revealed the weaknesses of Trinidad and Tobago’s economy as the disastrous effects of unsustainable practices of the past, are racing towards us.
A sustainable future therefore depends on the actions of the youths, and thus it is critical that they are able to facilitate sustainable change.
How can youths do this?
Youths need to be empowered, through quality education that is aimed at helping to change the behavioral patterns and to not simply be led by monetary incentives, but more so, the incentive of creating an economy that is sustainable, developing and growing.
The role of education in sustainable development
The role of education in sustainable development requires education to be of quality. Listed as goal #4 in the UNDP’s sustainable development goals, the UNDP aims to achieve quality education globally by 2030. This goal has to be determined in its attempt to achieve essential improvements to the quality of education in order to catalyze the transformative learning that we need to even begin creating a sustainable future.
The quality of future we have depends on our ability to learn and change. Our ability to learn and change, needs to be embedded in us through quality education. Quality education has the power to shape our minds from a very young age into exactly what our respective economies require of us for sustainable development. Apart from economic development, quality improvements in education also provide an even more significant boost to economic growth and development, when compared to simply increasing attainment of education.
How can educating the youth bring us closer to sustainable development agenda?
According to a study done by UNESCO, it was estimated that a 12% reduction in global poverty could be achieved merely by ensuring that all children in low-income countries leave school with basic reading skills. This is the equivalent of lifting 171 million people out of poverty which can bring us closer to achieving another SDG goal, which is to end poverty. Note that this is simply education attainment, not quality education attainment.It therefore shows the amount of promise that quality education holds in reshaping our future.
I’d like to specifically focus on two stages in the formal education system that I believe is important for sustainable development, early childhood education and tertiary level education. Science proves that by the age of 5, a child has already developed their general concept of values.
If we want a future world where the sustainable development goals become a reality, we need to give the youngest of our society the opportunity to shape the world that we are living in. If we want to achieve global goals, we need to teach them from the very beginning by giving them the chance to become active global citizens and allowing them to become be a part of the process of creating a sustainable future; empowering them from young.
Most needed in our society, is a shift in our institutional framework, and what better way to do that, than instilling a new type of mindset in the young, and allowing the future to be rooted in a sustainable way of thinking. This type of formal education is necessary for the re-orientation of education that addresses sustainable development. Therefore, it is critical that early childhood education be implemented across the region. For instance, Guyana is in the process of making early childhood education compulsory.
The other aspect of formal education I would like to focus on is education at tertiary level. This level of education is critical for producing students that are able to go out into the world of work with an enhanced capacity of critical thinking and solving. In the context of Trinidad and Tobago for instance, having new ideas and high entrepreneurial spirits to dive specifically into the non-booming tradeable sector to create sustainable jobs will pull the dependency away from a specific sector and is not only going to boost trade competitiveness but simultaneously promote the development of the economy.
Education is a vehicle for an economy to achieve sustainable development but steering the formal education system in a direction towards the non-booming tradeable sector, is a key step in reaching that destination particularly because it will create sustainable jobs. Not only will this create more job opportunities, but it will also tremendously aid in lessening the youth unemployment problem (which stands at nearly 25% in the Caribbean). Lessening the youth unemployment problem also has tremendous potential to increase their standard of living and boost economic development.
While there is no doubt that formal education is critical for sustainable development, we must also note that with it, comes several challenges to the youth as well, such as financing and gender inequality issues which deny youths access to education. And while we focus on having quality education, the question arises, how do we help those youths who gain no access to formal education?
This is where non-formal and informal education steps in. Non-formal education is equally as important as formal education. In fact, it is more flexible, and aids in closing that gap in the inaccessibility of education. Using these types of programmes are essential in economic development in developing countries. Though, what can make it more effective in promoting economic development is having programmes like these tied to or focused on creating opportunities specifically again, in sectors that are non-booming tradeable. Even if these programmes instill basic knowledge or trade skills directed towards the agricultural and manufacturing sector, these people, paired with the other critical thinkers and high entrepreneurial spirits coming out of the formal tertiary level education system can create an environment that is moving towards a sustainable future.