Youth Discuss Education Needs, Facing Roots of Extremism

Youth participants at a high-level event exchanged ideas, needs and concerns regarding education and employment, as well as how to prevent radicalization of youth. The Youth Dialogue organized by UN General Assembly (UNGA) President Miroslav Lajcak aimed to galvanize the efforts of many global alliances and initiatives that are empowering young people. The event featured a performance by singer Emmanuel Kelly.

The dialogue took place on 30 May 2018, at UN Headquarters in New York, US. Lajcak told participants that despite the UN’s many forums, interactions and dialogues, young people still feel that they are excluded from the table, and that when they speak, people are not listening. Noting that reaching youth is essential for achieving the SDGs, he said he seeks their input on: access to and quality education; barriers to employment; and radicalization and the risk of extremism.

Pita Taufatofua, an Olympic athlete from Tonga, said the world needs youth to become superheroes, and the formula for doing so has two parts: the ability to deal with failure and pain; and dreaming big. He emphasized that the most important thing is life is not triumph but the struggle of becoming a superhero. “To reach our mountains, we need to walk through the fear of our valleys, but there is no fear when we all walk together,” he added.

Mari Malek, model, DJ and founder of the non-profit ‘Stand for Education’ in South Sudan, called for quality education for girls and all children, especially in micro-finance, sports, arts, theater and youth leadership. Shamoy Hajare, founder of the Jamaica School for Social Entrepreneurship, noted a “gap” in education, as sustainable development is not taught in schools. He called for research to contextualize local approaches to education, as the skills required in Jamaica might be different from those needed in the Maldives.

Jayathma Wickramanayake, the UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, called for rethinking current approaches to education in order to face the future of work. She also stressed the need to put the spotlight on young people who act positively rather negatively, and she reminded participants, “we are the SDG generation.” Jamira Burley, Global Business Coalition for Education, highlighted the need to ensure that circumstances do not define the outcomes of young people and educate young people in the skills needed for the future.

Mohamed Sidibay, peace activist, Global Partnership for Education, who was a child soldier in Sierra Leone until the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) registered him in school, stressed that children on the move have a voice, and that “brain drain” is about the people on the margins, who do not have the opportunities they desire. Joy Bishara, student at Southeastern University, Florida, US, who was among the Chibok girls who were kidnapped, said violent extremism can be prevented by women raising their children to respect others.

Sinisa Vukovic, Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), US, highlighted a danger of people choosing media and social media channels that reaffirm their ideas. The lessened communication among groups represented by various media can lead to polarization and radicalization, he said.

Farea Al-Muslimi, co-founder and chairman of Sanaa Center for Strategic Studies, Yemen, said that when a very intelligent person has no other way to channel their intelligence, they can fall into extremist groups. He said the members of Boko Haram and other extremist groups have in common a feeling of marginalization. He pointed out that social media can highlight a problem, but doing something about it requires political will and depends on governments.

In the ensuing discussions, participants discussed barriers to youth participation in decision-making processes, the need for capacity building and peace-building programmes for youth, the importance of entrepreneurship, and the need to connect education with the job market, among other issues. [Youth Dialogue Webpage] [Event Concept Note] [UN Press Release] [UNGA President’s Remarks]