By Pegah Moulana, youth ambassador for the GEM Report Right to Education campaign
When I was young, my grandfather once told me: â€œEducation will help you to be whoever you want to beâ€�. Looking back 10 years on, I know he was right. As a young girl my family migrated in order to provide us with better life opportunities, which included access to well-functioning schools. We were lucky; access to education played a big part in improving our lives. Education is not there to make our CV look attractive but to help us with self and world awareness.
Having said that, access to education is very unevenly distributed across the world. The disparity is truly felt when you look at places where access to education can easily be taken for granted, and in comparison, places where access and staying in education consists of fighting endless battles.
Access to education still remains a privilege and the main players behind these gaps are the governments. But how can we make governments more accountable for meeting their education commitments? My answer is, we need young people involved.
Young people are key users of the education system, yet also the main victims of its failures. Being illiterate disconnects young people from not only the local but also the global community, and lowers their chance to participate in politics.
Consequently, as a youth activist for education, I call on fellow young people to join this battle with me and hold governments to account for ensuring inclusive, equitable and good-quality education and lifelong learning for all. The key to success is action and as young people we should do the following:
1) Do not settle for less, know your rights!
The first task for young people is to claim their right to education. Young people often are unaware that education is one of their fundament rights and no government has an excuse to neglect that right. This is why I am a youth ambassador for the GEM Reportâ€™s campaign calling for us all to be able to legally claim our right to education. If you havenâ€™t joined already, please sign up!
2) Donâ€™t be afraid to ask questions
Often, many people think that young people are too childish to be part of decision making but they are wrong. If young people are not empowered early on, they will never learn to think critically, understand their surroundings and grow their confidence. As a young person, it is important to question why your government is not doing enough to support education.
3) Get together and make noise: exercise your right to assembly
Young people need to be able to exercise their jurisdictional right to public assembly outlined in Article 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is crucial to allow young people to gather even informally together and brainstorm ways that the education system could be improved, discuss the necessary next steps and who to approach to make their voices heard.
4) Know what you want
If young people get the chance to meet politicians and decision makers, it is essential to know what you want to say and say it quickly. It must be short and snappy. However, if they do ask, be prepared to have a full discussion on areas that could be strengthened and suggest realistic recommendations to avoid scaring them away!
5) Do not be afraid
It is daunting to speak in public and to stand up in front of politicians even when you are talking about issues that you truly care about, but this feeling is normal. As a famous author says, your fear should be big, but your faith should be bigger. Remember your peers who donâ€™t have the educational opportunities you do and speak for them. The next generation depends on us.
So how to get started? Approach the right audience!
- a) Non-governmental organisations
Find out what education- and rights-based organisations are active in your country, approach them about your idea and make sure to stay in touch with them after every stage of your work. If you are lucky they may be able to provide you with space to meet up with other young people, or even grants to initiate activities. Most importantly, they can voice your concern to the rest of the world using their platforms on social media.
- b) Political leaders
Never underestimate the power of any political leader, from a local politician to a head of state. As a first step make sure you develop a list of people you want to influence and ways in which you can contact them. Remember politicians are in their role to ensure development and change for the community that they serve. Thatâ€™s you! They will be the ones who either will vote in favour or against your idea, so get to know them.
- c) The international community
It is understandable to feel that the international community is too distant from your local village, town or city. However, they are closer than you think. The international community consists of UN agencies or their dedicated agencies such as UNESCO which should have regional or national offices located in your capital city. Keep them involved.
- d) Reach out to the other young people
Many young people may not dare voice their concerns until they see someone else doing it, so be sure to reach out to them. This is especially important if they are from a marginalised community or live in hard to access areas. Remember, voicing your opinion to just one person can have a ripple effect and may help create a groundswell of youth education advocates for change.
These are just my tips and suggestions to get you on your way, remember progress depends on us so itâ€™s time to work together!