by Rafael Contreras
When she was only 17 years old, Malala Yousafzai was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. By age 15, Liza Yaroshenko was already a renowned activist for the rights of HIV-positive individuals in her native Ukraine. By 22, Camilo Jimenez had founded the ECOPUNTOS initiative to work towards a greener Colombia through recycling. The world is full of countless examples of the huge potential that young people have to be agents of change. After all, if there’s something special about youth is their ability to alter the status quo and spread their messages through media like social network, arts, and sports. However, if their efforts are to be truly maximized, young people must be supported by an education that empowers them and opens up spaces for their active participation.
In the context of International Youth Day, this August 12th the United Nations has called for young people to be seen as key actors in eradicating poverty and achieving sustainable production and consumption. It is therefore worth asking: how do we provide youth in Latin America and the Caribbean the tools they need to exploit their potential and work toward a sustainable future?
One of the key ways in which we can support youth is by ensuring that the education they receive is relevant and connected to their daily experiences. This is particularly urgent when we consider that 1 out of every 2 students in the region drops out of high school. The solution to this problem begins with guaranteeing that the knowledge and abilities that youth acquire during their time in school allow them not only to score a good grade on a test or finish a class project, but also to navigate a world which is consistently more and more demanding of young citizens. Only if we are able to align education systems with the realities of communities, societies and countries, will we be able to empower youth to use their energy to find innovative solutions to the challenges that lie ahead for the region.
This education for the future should also transmit a clear message about the responsibility that young people have, as the next generation of Earth’s inhabitants, to protect our planet. That is why Rise Up, the IDB’s climate change education initiative promotes concrete actions aimed at protecting our countries’ resources. By downloading and accessing Rise Up’s materials, we are able to transform schools, homes and entire communities into a launching platform for projects that take advantage of both young people and adults to work together to protect the environment.
Taking part in initiatives like Rise Up is an excellent way to open up opportunities for youth to play a leading role. But things don’t end there. We encourage you to go on social media and promote youth initiatives. To organize a concert for community members. To write an op-ed or a song. Every single action matters when it comes to empowering youth to imagine and start working for the Latin America and the Caribbean of the following decades.