The Power And Potential Of Youth
14 June, 2017
June 16 is Youth Day in South Africa, a poignant reminder of the power and potential of youth as changemakers in society; a role that we as South Africans have perhaps not given enough credit to, supported or included as an integral part of the solution to our country’s most pressing issues.
Globally youth between 10 to 24 years old make up a quarter of the world’s population, the largest youth generation in history. In South Africa, over 66% of the population is under the age of 35. Youth are quite literally our nation’s future – future leaders, problem solvers and teachers.
Globally and in South Africa, youth are growing up in a landscape that demands they see the world differently. They are more connected, more innovative, and more determined to see a significant change in their communities. They’re also likely to live life a little differently than previous generations; the result of new technology, contemporary schools of thought and an unstable economic climate.
Of the many obstacles facing South Africa’s young people, unemployment and unemployability are perhaps the most pernicious. According to Statistics South Africa, youth aged 15 – 34 make up the bulk of the unemployed in South Africa. Two-thirds of youth do not have jobs, despite being willing, able and actively seeking employment. A lack of education, skills and previous work experience have also resulted in low levels of employability, which means that many of the jobs that are available are not suitable for youth.
South Africa’s youth are also inheriting a country that’s buckling under the weight of poverty and inequality, a significant challenge to the promise of democracy. Credit downgrades and a technical recession present a further challenge to employment creation and adds to the problems South Africa’s youth have to face.
In the midst of these crippling challenges, however, we must recognise the power and potential of our youth. We believe young people are significant assets in our communities, agents of change who can make a significant headway in overcoming many of South Africa’s challenges.
We have seen this unfold already in our Literacy Tutor Programme, a programme that trains unemployed youth to provide primary school learners with one-on-one reading help and literacy support in township schools. In the midst of scarce resources, crowded classrooms and ill-equipped teachers, our Literacy Tutors are making a tangible difference to literacy levels in schools, families and communities.
Recent research indicates that 58% of Grade 4 learners in South Africa cannot read for meaning, while 29% are completely illiterate. Sadly, being unable to read hinders children from learning, and as a result they fall further and further behind at school. Unable to engage, it comes as no surprise that 50% of learners drop out of school before Grade 8.
In step our Literacy Tutors, literate young people who lack work experience but who have the skill and time to work within under-resourced township schools. Our Literacy Tutors provide learners with the dedicated one-on-one attention that teachers are unable to provide to build literacy skills and a love of reading.
What’s in it for them? Over the year-long programme, Literacy Tutors gain valuable work experience as professionals in a position of responsibility and leadership, building job readiness and increasing their opportunity to secure future employment. Not only that, they’re giving back in a way that radically changes the trajectory of a child’s life, uplifts their community and addresses a direct need that teachers and schools are unable to meet.
It’s more than time for our young people to be seen not us the unemployable or the unskilled, but as assets in their communities. They possess literacy skills that many children and adults from their communities desperately need. Instead of looking to outside sources to provide for their needs, communities can look to the young men and women living alongside them, young people with the power and potential to direct a positive course for South Africa’s future.
As Restless Development states, “If we unleash the power of young people to change our world, every generation will benefit. There are more young people in the world than ever before. Their time to lead is now.” We couldn’t agree more!