Today is World Youth Skills Day! #WYSD

Young people are almost three times more likely to be unemployed than adults and continuously exposed to lower quality of jobs, greater labor market inequalities, and longer and more insecure school-to-work transitions. In addition, women are more likely to be underemployed and under-paid, and to undertake part-time jobs or work under temporary contracts.

That is why education and training are key determinants of success in the labor market. But unfortunately, existing systems are failing to address the learning needs of many young people, and surveys of learning outcomes and skills show that a large number of youth have low levels of achievement in basic literacy and numeracy. Skills and jobs for youth feature prominently in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and SDG target 4.4 calls for a substantial increase in the number of youth and adults who have relevant skills.

#EYLeaders Firuz Yogbekov of Tajikistan, 21 and Jose Alejandro Rodriguez of Panama, 20, are working to share skills that they have acquired with the youth in their countries who are not part of the most prestigious schools. Firuz is a third-year university student and president of the debate club Face-to-Face and English debate league coordinator at the Law Clinic in Russian Tajik Slavonic University in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. He uses debate as a platform to discuss and address issues that may seem taboo in Tajikistan. Such topics as the spread of violent extremism, domestic violence, and economic expansion among the poorest populations in the country are tackled.

Debating is a valuable skill that can better prepare young people not just for public speaking but for critical thinking as well as confidence. Debaters prove to be better at interviews and networking. But the benefits of debating are not limited to the skills built while students are speaking—the preparation for competition teaches critical thinking and research skills, as well.  As F. Scott Fitzgerald once said, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” Debate also requires students to research their ideas and support them with evidence, teaching them to conduct research and assess sources.  

The College Board recently revamped the SAT test to focus more on exactly the sorts of skills debate teaches.  As the New York Times explained, students taking the new version of the test must write “a critical response to a specific argument” based on analysis rather than personal experience.  Debaters are used to responding to unfamiliar arguments in time-sensitive situations; thinking critically about a written passage on the SAT is not so different from responding to an opponent’s argument in a debate round.  Debaters likewise outscore non-debaters on every section of the ACT.  

As a volunteer with Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) for the past two and a half years, Firuz has led debate workshops in three of Tajikistan’s four regions. This platform has helped develop over 50 young debate trainers in argumentation, public speaking, and critical analytical thinking. In 2017, Firuz was one of the coordinators of a Debate Camp Project, where he trained 80 students in debate skills. Today, over 800 students have completed these debate seminars.

Former President Barack Obama said, “[Science] is more than a school subject, or the periodic table, or the properties of waves. It is an approach to the world, a critical way to understand and explore and engage with the world, and then have the capacity to change that world…”

José Rodríguez sees it as just that and so much more. Although science and math is his focus, he believes that education, in general, is the true key to economic and social equality. As one of the directors of Ayundiga!, an educational platform that provides free mathematics, physics and other science lessons through simple and entertaining videos, José has helped improve the quality of education, not only in Panama, but throughout Latin America. Ayundiga!’s YouTube channel has over 6,000,000 views. As a social worker, José has visited remote communities, as well as “red zones” with high levels of crime, to help children from indigenous communities understand science and math as part of the Star Panama Program—an educational empowerment system he has been involved with since its creation, coaching students to use education to attain economic advantages. The Fulbright Engagement Innovation Fund selected star Panama as a winner under the “Empowering women and girls” category. José is an active member of the United Youth for Education—a local group that advocates making education a national priority in Panama.

What skills do you possess? What skills could you share with others?

#WYSD #EYLeaders