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Raising the Youth Voice in Africa for Education

June 2024

Georgia Brown

Learning & Impact Officer

Sub-Saharan Africa contains the largest youth population in the world with 70% under the age of 30 (UN, 2024), and lack of education access and learning poverty remain key issues. With 87% of children in Africa unable to read and understand a simple sentence (World Bank, June 2022) and 98 million children and youth still out of school (UNESCO, 2024) there is an immediate need for decisive action. Africa is facing an annual education financing gap of more than 40% (UNICEF, June 2024), and if we fail to change this picture it may be catastrophic for the future of the world’s economy. One out of three working age people will be African by 2075 (World Bank, 2023) so we need to improve access to, and quality of education, for all children, now. The affordable non-state sector is already educated a significant portion of children within SSA, and with greater engagement with governments and education donors it can strengthen is capabilities to contribute to building more resilient education systems. 

While youth voices are prominent in areas such as climate, there doesn’t seem to be a strong youth voice within education, both in Africa and globally. While education-related challenges are best understood by the youth, the question is, what are the barriers to youth engagement in advocating for improved education? At IDP Foundation, we are focused on learners and child-centered empowerment and therefore want more opportunities for local youth to influence policy planning and dialogue, and other global education stakeholders. Earlier this year we spoke to alumni from the IDP Rising Schools Program (IDPRSP) to hear their thoughts on education and why a youth voice around education-related challenges in Ghana is underrepresented. This is what we learnt from our conversation with them – 

  • “Although students may be facing education challenges, they do not speak up as they think it is the norm.” Our alumni shared that the reason why youth are sometimes not motivated to speak up is due to cultural stigmas and perceptions that elders do not value the opinions of the youth, even regarding issues that directly impact them, so youth do not feel it’s appropriate to speak up.  
  • Our alumni shared that in Ghana in some radio and TV stations had hosted sessions for youth to be part of discussions on issues that impact them, however, they have been few and far between. Their feeling was that platforms for the youth to engage in conversations and decision-making don’t really exist at local or national levels, even when the issues directly affect them such as learning in school. Although conversations around education access and quality are trending at the government level, current youth campaigns in Ghana mainly focus on reproductive rights and national service. 
  • When talking about how to raise youth engagement in discussions around education-related challenges there was consensus amongst our alumni the need for increased awareness among youth that their voice can have an impact. “The first step must be to create awareness and present the issue as a problem that needs attention – this will motivate the youth to care and want to act.” They identified social media as the most accessible way to mobilize, raise awareness, and build a strong youth voice, “social media should be used to educate and help youth understand we shouldn’t just accept the way it is and that we should speak up…once this voice is mobilized this can be taken out into the public sphere.” 

 While there hasn’t been a huge youth movement around education, it is obvious the youth are passionate about education. For youth to engage in local and global conversations around education they need to be invited to the table, firstly within the school setting, then with local actors and organizations, as well as the press, so that national government and global payers must pay attention. To facilitate this, foundations like IDPF can listen and learn, using our combined convening power to create those kick-starter platforms. Earlier this year, we invited our alumni, they also participated in a panel with education stakeholders, Ghana National Association of Private Schools (GNAPS) and the National Schools Inspectorate Authority (NaSIA), about the important role of low-fee private schools in delivering education.  


On a positive note, we are seeing a global trend toward prioritizing youth voices. For the first time the African Union’s theme of the year is Education, with recognition that “Africa’s Future is Youth-Led” and calls for the facilitation and strengthening of platforms for youth participation in decision-making at all levels. At the 37th AU Summit earlier this year, the Commissioner of the African Union Department of Education, Science, Technology, and Innovation, H.E. Professor Mohamed Belhocine, emphasized that “youth must not only be beneficiaries of quality education but also partners in building resilient education systems”. With the launch of their new advocacy campaignWorld Leaders: It’s Time to Let #YouthLead” earlier this year, the UN Youth Office has also called for greater youth representation in decision-making roles across both public and private sectors. In its campaign letter, the UN Youth Office called for leaders and institutions to include young people in roles where their voices can be heard, warning that a common future might be at stake if this fails to be done.  

IDPF are only at the beginning of our journey toward actively focusing on including youth in our learning, while helping strengthen their voice. While we are at the listening and learning stage of this journey, we would like to hear from others on how they engage youth, or how they would like to. If your organization engages with youth through your work we’d love to know about the successes and challenges you have faced. 


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