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'Harnessing the Demographic Dividend Through Investment of the Youth" African Union

Written by Sarah Agunda

I once met a young teenage mother 2 years ago.  By now she should be 16years old.  Her baby's father 16 years then. They were having an argument about whose turn it is to take care of their 5 month old daughter. Her cry could barely be heard. I picked up the girl, she went silent, stared into my eyes and smiled. With the neighbor's help I managed to access some warm milk, fed the child and put her to sleep at the paternal grandfather's house. Meanwhile, a friend to the young father was busy reigning blows, kicks and insults at the young mother.I sat the couple down for a little chat. The young mother started, "Nimechoka kumchunga huyu mtoto wako kila saa. Na wewe unashinda ukifanywa pombe na marafiki zako.  Leo ni siku yangu ya kunywa na marafiki zangu." (I am tired of taking care of your child while you go drinking alcohol with your friends all the time. It's my time to go have a drink with my friends.) The young father responded, "Wewe ndio mama.  Kuchunga mtoto ni kazi yako.  Na nilikutana kwa bar,  nitakupa kichali cha mbwa." (You are the mother. It is your job to take care of that child.  If I find you in the bar,  I will beat you thoroughly).After a long chat with the both of them, I let them go and sat with the baby at the boy's parents house waiting for his parents to come back.Moral of the story is,  this young couple are just teenagers. They are still learning to cope with puberty. They are in Primary school and both living with their parents. They know nothing about raising children let alone being married.  They have no income whatsoever.I, then began to wonder: What if the education system in Kenya offered sex education from a tender age? What if they had a support system for young parents as they continue pursuing their education?African Union defines this year's theme as the economic benefit arising from significant increase in the ratio of working age verses young dependants.What does this mean for the youth here in Kenya? Design with Ease

In Kenya,  most youth are unemployed at approximately 17.3% according to a World Bank report.  The World Bank report also says mass unemployment continues to deny Kenya the opportunity to put its growing labour force to productive use, thereby “denying the economy the demographic dividend from majority young population”. This can be partly attributed to the low literacy levels.

Kenya has invested in free primary education. This has enabled many Kenyans to enrol for formal education. According to Education for All Global Monitoring Report between 1999 and 2010, pre-primary gross enrolment ratio increased by 9% while the primary net enrolment ratio increased by 11%.Despite the above progress, millions are still denied the chance to go to school. Kenya is the ninth highest country in Africa with a high number of children out of school. This can be alleged to the retrogressive cultural practices among other reasons. For example young boys are forced out of school to go herd cows,  girls drop out of school due to the forced marriages, some of the parents have a negative attitude towards formal education etcSecond, primary education is not sufficient to ensure that all children can learn the basics yet Secondary school still remains unreachable to the poor as they can't afford the school fees. According to the same Education for All Global Monitoring Report, young men aged 15-29 years who had left school after six years, 6% were illiterate and 26% semi-literate. For young women it was worse with 9% being illiterate and 30% semi-literate after being in school for six years.Third,  progress in education is not reaching the marginalized communities. In 2008, 55% of poor girls and 43% of poor boys living in North-Eastern province had never been to school. This is, however, an improvement since 2003, when 71% of poor girls and 56% of poor boys  had never been to school.  During the 29th GIMAC summit in Addis Ababa, some solutions were generated by the youth. Firstly,  the marginalized communities can receive education  by increasing the number of teachers to this areas.  Use of ICT via remote access to geo-satellites. Investment in non formal education systems especially for those who are re-entering the education system. Creation of innovation hubs. Introduction of entrepreneurship courses in the education system. Increasing opportunities for women in science, technology, engineering and maths.Secondly,  investment in education for the youth can be achieved through getting rid of retrogressive cultural practices. Changing the mindset of their parents towards formal education. Provision of sanitary towels for young girls in school.  Pregnant young girls should be allowed to attend school. Introduction of day care facilities within education institutions. Creation of awareness of the impact of negative cultural practices. Mentoring programs should be introduced at all levels of education.Fourth, providing the youth with an opportunity to participate in creation of policies governing education. Holding the government accountable to implement the said policies.  The government should improve or create new institutions offering specialised education to disabled persons in each county. Governments should ensure that education policies are gender sensitive. The government should increase the national education budget.Last but not final, children in school should be in good nutrition for example providing children with a balanced diet while in school,  to enable them to perform optimally.  Students should be offered access medical services. Creation of awareness on various chronic illnesses and disabilities in order to address the issue of stigma. Provision of sex education in schools.I conclude with powerful words from Nelson Mandela,  "education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world."

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