Innlegg om ungdom og utdanning

Statssekretær Jens Frølich Holtes innlegg på seminaret “Skills for young people for the 21st century: policy implications across sectors and gender”. - et samarbeid mellom Brookings Institution, Christian Michelsen Institute (CMI) og Universitetet i Oslo.

Thank you very much for inviting me to this seminar on skills for young people for the 21st century. I would like to thank the Brookings Institution and Christian Michelsen Institute (CMI) for publishing the report Life skills in non-formal contexts for adolescent girls in developing countries.

The report helps to fill an important knowledge gap on the role of non-formal life skills education for young girls. It gives clear recommendations as to how we can increase the impact of life skills education, better target the most marginalised, and improve sustainability.

I also believe that the report’s findings provide a good starting point for discussing skills for the 21st century in general, which is the topic of today’s seminar.

Ever since the ‘Education for All’ agenda in the 1990s, the international education community has emphasised that academic knowledge must be supplemented by what are known as ‘life skills’.

As the Brookings/CMI report points out, there is no universally accepted definition of ‘life skills’, but in common usage they include decision-making, problem-solving, critical thinking, communication, self-esteem, cooperation and the ability to use new technology. These skills are increasingly important for success in a rapidly changing, digital society.

To ensure that young women and men develop robust life skills is a priority not only in the Norwegian Government’s development policy, but also in our domestic education policy. The Norwegian Education Act states that the purpose of education ‘is to open doors to the future and to the world’. It is clear that much more than academic skills, such as literacy and numeracy, are required to deliver on this promise.

I would like to focus on three main points here today.

The first is the importance of transferable skills, in the context of accelerated technological change and future employment prospects.

Many jobs that exist today will be lost due to automation, and many young people will work in professions that have not yet been invented. They are also more likely to change jobs – and work tasks – much more frequently than their parents’ generation.

We have to move away from educating people for specific jobs and tasks to equipping them with the ability to seize lifelong learning opportunities. Life skills are crucial in this regard.

In 2016, the Government of Norway launched a new initiative to support technical and vocational education and training in developing countries. This has resulted in nine projects under the Building Skills for Jobs programme, as well as support for demand-driven technical and vocational education under the SOGA programme that promotes employment in Eastern Africa.

Partnerships between education institutions and private sector actors have been a cornerstone of our efforts, which have resulted in documented and transferable skills for young people in several developing countries.

Since 2016, the SOGA programme has trained and secured sustainable employment for 6 200 people in Tanzania, Mozambique, Kenya and Uganda. 37 % of these people are women, and 28 % are young people aged between 15 and 24.

What have we learned so far? The first finding is that academic and technical skills alone are insufficient in securing sustainable employment for young people. Besides gaps in technical capabilities, the private sector frequently highlights a lack of soft skills and of work readiness skills as a major problem when hiring candidates.

They are basically saying that if candidates show up for work and have abilities and a willingness to learn, then they can teach them the rest. In a time where specific technical skills become outdated faster than before, the ability to learn and master new skills becomes more important. The fact that SDG 4 on quality education not only focuses on school-based education, but also on lifelong learning opportunities for all is a recognition of this fact.

My second point is that we must increase our efforts to ensure that programmes reach the most marginalised.

Norway supports non-formal life skills education through our national, international and local NGO partners in the global South. Most non-formal life skills programmes are run by NGOs. These organisations are in a unique position to deliver on the promise of education to children and adolescents who are out of school or belong to vulnerable groups.

Among NGOs, our largest recipients of Norwegian aid to education are Save the Children and the Norwegian Refugee Council; both have included life skills as a central element in their education portfolios. In addition to these partners, NGOs such as BRAC and CAMFED have a strong emphasis on life-skills learning, with a view to enabling marginalised girls to continue to secondary school and complete their secondary education.

The Brookings/CMI report maps 103 non-formal life skills programmes in Lebanon, Tanzania and Ethiopia. According to the report, there is little evidence that programmes prioritised marginalised groups.

Previous evaluations of Norwegian education support have indicated that our support does not always reach the most marginalised. In the light of this, we obviously need to communicate our emphasis on vulnerable and marginalised groups more clearly to all our partners.

Norway is a strong advocate of the ‘Leave no one behind’ agenda. What constitutes a vulnerable group varies across countries, and consequently, so do the specific life-skills needs of these groups.

In order to ensure that programmes respond to local needs and are able to identify and include the most marginalised, it is crucial that our implementing partners on the ground are flexible. We will continue to work with our partners to further strengthen our efforts to address vulnerability and exclusion.

Our goal is a formal school system that provides quality education for everyone – regardless of gender, socio-economic background or disability.

I am pleased to see that the Brookings/CMI report recommends that we facilitate the transfer of experience between non-formal education providers and the formal school system, to promote more profound change, at system level, for girls.

Norway supports this work through Unicef, which received almost 800 million Norwegian kroner earmarked for education in 2017. Unicef assists ministries of education around the world in developing national skills frameworks that promote life skills-based education.

Unicef is to scale up its support for life skills programming, which is a vital precondition for achieving SDG 4 on quality education and lifelong learning opportunities for all.

The third and final point I would like to focus on is the role of skills education within development in a broader sense – and its limitations.

The Brookings/CMI report shows that participants experience greater gains and a greater impact on specific cognitive skills, general health skills and interpersonal skills in areas in which they have a high degree of control. But often this sense of control is lacking, due to social structures and norms. There is a limit to what can be achieved through skills development alone, without addressing social structures that disadvantage girls and young women.

If arranged marriage is the norm, there is a limit to what education on gender rights and life skills can do to alter girls’ and young women’s freedom to choose whether to marry, and if so who to marry.

As part of a larger effort to ensure that girls stay in school and continue to secondary education, Norway is increasing its support for comprehensive sexuality education by providing 20 million Norwegian kroner in earmarked support to UNESCO. The aim is to equip children and adolescents with the skills, knowledge and attitudes they need to transform discriminatory norms, pursue equality and promote health-seeking behaviour. But is this enough on its own?

Skills education is no ‘magic bullet’ that can be used to break all barriers to girls’ participation in society. But skills education can boost girls’ self-esteem, develop their capabilities and consequently help them make better decisions within the scope of action that they have. We need to work on multiple levels: we must both support the development of skills and address the structural barriers that limit girls’ and young women’s scope of action and agency.

In order to maximise the impact of our efforts, we need more knowledge about the outcomes of skills training, and we need advice on how support for skills development can best be integrated into wider development initiatives.

We need to understand which skills are most critical to educational and labour market success and the interplay between them. We need new tools for assessing key 21st century skills such as innovation, problem-solving and collaboration, and for understanding the  kinds of learning environment in which they prosper.

But we must also keep in mind that these skills are not easily defined or measured – and perhaps not even easily taught. In other words – there are more than enough interesting research questions to be tackled in the years ahead. And I promise that we are eager to hear your insights and advice.

I would like to round off by thanking the Brookings Institution, CMI and the University of Oslo for arranging this event. This seminar marks an important step towards a more evidence-based approach to promoting the skills needed for addressing the challenges of the 21st century. It is also an important step towards delivering on our promise of providing education that opens doors to the future and to the world.

Thank you.