Our Perspectives

How to enhance the skills of girls, boys and youth | Martín Fuentes


Childs in ZimbabueThe Human Development Report Panama highlighted a number of key socio-emotional skills that must be strengthened by parents and families Photo: UNDP Panama

The 2014 Human Development Report Panama discusses early childhood, youth and formation of life skills. This report examines difficult themes, such as job training, family and education, and whether young people study and/or work.

One obvious way to approach life skills in many countries in the region would be to focus on job training, either because the productive sectors require a permanent supply of qualified personnel or because a country is strongly committed to a knowledge-based economy.

But concern about job training is important but short-sighted; it is more important to train people who are also motivated to work. Indeed, although applied skills are easier to learn, many employers recognize that it is more important to hire individuals who are creative and take initiative, difficult skills to learn.

Therefore, it is important to provide good training in the basic skills of "learning how to learn,” — rather than having a wealth of information, it is more important to know what to look for and where, and to be capable of discerning what is relevant.

However, beyond seeing training as basic building blocks with which to construct something more complex, there are a number of key socio-emotional skills that cannot be strengthened systematically by the education system or in other social environments.

Similarly, the role of the family should not be considered from the perspective of how it fits with an ideal structure, but rather, according to how it fulfils its role of expanding opportunities for young people.

However, there are still some open discussions on the need to change the pedagogical system, and not just add new content and technology. It is necessary to learn to explore and develop critical thinking, and teachers must encourage children to learn on their own.

Many expectations about youth come from adults, and yet youth have a different view of development. In particular, the more educated youth want a different kind of economy and society.  

Therefore, the question is not how youth can adapt, but rather, how the adult world can contribute to their aspirations and ideas, which can help solve many of our current problems.

The high rates of youth who neither study nor work is more connected with our rigid categories of the job market, where domestic work and caregiving are “non-productive” and work flexibility  is seen as unreliable.

Since youth want to follow different paths of education, work, and leisure not contemplated by the educational and employment systems, they always seem to be “outside the system”. We need to provide a diversity of paths in order to develop talent.

In sum, we must remember that what is important in development are individuals and that they have diverse skills. This is an ongoing process that must include aspirations and ideas, and that requires flexible public policies that make it possible to follow a variety of life paths, all equally successful.

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