From 6-10 May 2014, governments and more than 800 young people from all over the world gathered for the World Conference on Youth 2014 in Colombo, Sri Lanka, to discuss their priorities for the post-2015 development agenda.
By Antonia Wulff
This was the third ever World Conference on Youth to be held and the first one to place governments and youth on an equal footing in the negotiations on an outcome document. Considering the timing of the event, the post-2015 agenda was the obvious focus of the discussions and education was of course one of the priority themes addressed.
Roundtables and thematic workshops were held over the three days, where representatives of youth, governments and the UN system exchanged views on the issues, challenges and priorities for the future. In the case of education, one of the most popular workshops held during the conference, more than 100 workshop participants identified the consistent under- prioritisation and under-financing of education as major challenges in achieving education for all. Over three days of discussions specifically on education, participants also highlighted the lack of access to as well as quality of education, and education systems overly focused on exams, as problems in this thematic area.
The workshops allowed the youth delegates to feed directly into the negotiations on the outcome document and among the demands from the education workshop were calls for qualified teachers, safe and inclusive learning environments, and a broader notion of quality that includes life skills and active citizenship, sex education, and education for human rights and sustainable development. All of these elements were ultimately included in the Colombo Declaration, the outcome document of the event.
The Declaration includes a number of Education International’s priorities for an education agenda beyond 2015, such as the importance of ensuring that teachers are qualified and that “learning outcomes…match the demands of active citizenship” rather than the labour market. The conference showed once again that quality education is a priority for young people all over the world, resonating with EI’s priorities.
In view of the situation concerning the abduction of school girls in Nigeria, safe schools emerged as a priority in a number of workshops and this was reflected both in the final Declaration and in various demonstrations and initiatives that took place during the conference.
The Colombo Declaration will be one of the inputs to the next report of the UN Secretary General on the post-2015 agenda, expected to be released in October this year. However, the disappointingly low number of governments that participated in the World Conference on Youth 2014 may weaken the impact of the Declaration as a whole.
As the post-2015 process continues, the UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, Ahmed Alhendawi, has launched a crowdsourcing platform that will allow youth to share their priorities for development beyond 2015. The Youth Advocacy Group of the Global Education First Initiative will moderate the discussion on education and you can contribute to the discussions here.
Antonia Wulff, a Coordinator in the Education and Employment unit of Education International, participated in the World Conference on Youth 2014 as an expert speaker and as a facilitator of the education workshop.