Honestly, I get a bit uncomfortable speaking about what we call “youth issues”. I don’t think I have any right to stand up here and speak on things that you all know and understand much better than I do.
Actually, it should be people like you speaking, and people like me listening. So, today, I will limit myself to talking about some trends and challenges. And I will put forward some ideas for the future-all of which have come directly from the young people I have met along the way during my mandate as President of the General Assembly. And in doing so, I will make three main points.
Well, first I want to admit that youths face challenges that my generation did not have to worry about. Almost 80 million young people, across the world, are out of work. Young people are now three times more likely to be unemployed than adults.
And that doesn’t cover those who do have jobs, but still live in poverty. And in fact, young people are 6 percent more likely to be poor, even when working, than their adult counterparts.
Another challenge lies in education. It is tempting to think that we have won that battle, because more and more children are in school. But if we look past the numbers, to the quality, things don’t look so great. Often, education is outdated-and of poor quality. It does not always respond to the trends in the world outside the classroom. This can leave children and young people without the tools they need for the life ahead.
Also, third-level education is still out of reach for many. While some young people worry about passing or failing their college examinations, others worry about ever getting the chance to do either.
And crippling student loans come with a burden that is far too heavy for young shoulders to carry.
Moreover, inequality and discrimination are still major hurdles. We all seem to be talking about diversity. But are we seeing it, on the ground?
Or that the same doors will be open to everyone-no matter their race, religion, background or sexual orientation? If we can, we are, I’m afraid, either blind or lying.
Now, as my second point, I want to look at how they are set to grow—unless we act. Just look at the trends around population growth. Our demands for water, food, energy and living space are already pushing the planet to the brink. And they will only get worse, as the population grows.
Another example is Artificial Intelligence. Whatever you think about Artificial Intelligence, it is not hard to see why there are some concerns. There might even be a temptation to ask: with so many people already out of work, what chance will we have, when we have to compete with robots?
Let’s face it: robots are stiff competition. They can work 50 times as fast as us. They don’t get stuck in traffic jams, on their way to work. They don’t need sick days. They don’t ask for raises! So, things could, indeed, go further downhill, if we don’t act.
Firstly, we must do more to include young people in the making and implementing of policies. Three years ago, world leaders signed up to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Together, they were one of the most ambitious promises ever made to humanity. And, if we want to achieve them, we need to do more to include young people.
Secondly, we need to seriously invest in skills and education. We need to raise the bar. We need to go beyond the numbers and look at the kind of education and skills that young people need. We are past the point where traditional subjects, like mathematics, history or science, are enough, on their own.
Thirdly, while the biggest burden lies on the leaders, the donors and the policy-makers, we also need youths. You are living the realities. You are experiencing the challenges on a daily basis. You have the ideas and solutions, to solve them. And you have more tools than any other generation in history to make your voices heard and hold your leaders to account. n