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Invest in you(th)
M. Nasir Jawed
Published in The Saudi Gazette on 16 - 03 - 2011

Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser Al Missned, the Chairperson of the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development, calls for focusing on the problems adolescents face today in the Middle East and North African region, which according to her, are experiencing an “unprecedented youth bulge”.
“The region will have 65-percent of its population under the age of 24, in the next 10 years,” Sheikha Mozah said while outlining her perspective in ‘The State of the World's Children 2011: Adolescence – An age of opportunity', which was released by the UNICEF last month.
In the backdrop of youth anger currently raging in parts of the North Africa and Middle East, the UNESCO report focusing on the untapped potential of the emerging generation holds significance as it attempts to “realize the rights of adolescents”, “global challenges facing the youth” of the world and the need to “invest in adolescents”.
“In the Middle East and North Africa region, these are particularly serious in the areas of education and future employment,” says Mozah, who is also the UNESCO Special Envoy for Basic and Higher Education.
In her panel report, “Releasing the potential of adolescents: Education reform in the Middle East and North Africa region”, Mozah said, “The region has a rapidly growing labour force, and both unemployment and underemployment are major concerns for young people trying to provide for themselves and their families.”
“By the time a 13-year-old today turns 23, as many as 100 million jobs will be needed to accommodate these rising numbers. That means creating 6.5 million jobs per year,” she observed.
The Gulf countries have experienced a surge of wealth during recent decades, yet it “has not been entirely beneficial for our young people.”
According to the UNESCO envoy, many adolescents have grown accustomed to a materialistic lifestyle that distracts them from reaching their full potential.
Likewise, she said, the seduction of consumerism traps adolescents in an endless quest for possessions and encourages them to disregard their role as citizens responsible for community involvement and positive self-development. Moreover, the labour market cannot support the current youth bulge, impeding young people's ability to achieve financial independence. Unable to find work, they extend their studies, in turn delaying marriage and parenthood.
It is alarming, she acknowledged, that the youth in the region are consumers rather than producers and which she blamed on the education system in Arab countries.
The education system in the region is “partly responsible for the soaring unemployment rate, because it focuses more on granting diplomas than on effectively training students in practical skills.”
“It does not prepare young people for the global job market, as it neither encourages versatility nor enables them to apply a diverse set of abilities across a number of disciplines. In today's rapidly changing technological world, young people need to learn critical thinking, writing skills and flexibility – areas virtually absent from our curricula at present. If we do not reform our current practice and aim to transform today's adolescents into creative, productive and diligent contributors, our economies will not be able to compete globally.”
Architect of an initiative called Silatech – to help generate new jobs and opportunities for young people in the Arab world – Mozah said, “My work with the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations inspired me to launch Silatech, a regional youth initiative whose name derives from the Arabic term ‘your connection'.”
Sheikha Mozah, the wife of the Emir of the State of Qatar, said that the initiative, particularly active in the Gulf countries, “aims to partner young people with leaders, corporations and organizations globally to promote opportunities for innovation and enterprise. In order to release the potential of the next workforce – adolescents – we must ensure that their education properly prepares them for a career.”
“Adolescents represent a tremendous asset for our future, and this historic opportunity to empower them and help them flourish must not be missed. If we do not invest in this generation, I believe that the devastating cycle of unemployment will continue.”


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