The Arab Knowledge Report 2010/2011, carries on from the 2009 report of the same name and calls for the building of a knowledge society. The report emphasises the need to invest in the region’s youth, starting from early childhood, to enable them to build capacity, confront challenges and to contribute to the achievement of sustainable development throughout the region.
Children aged 15 years or less constitute 45% of the total population of the Arab region whilst young people aged 15-24 years, account for approximately 21%. In line with relevant literature, these figures indicate the potential for a future demographic dividend for the region which if capitalised upon, will further assist economic growth due to the improved ratio of productive workers to child dependents in the population (Ross J, 2004). Nevertheless, in order for a demographic dividend to materialize, the well-being of today’s children, tomorrow’s adults’ needs to be ensured. To become productive members of society individuals need a good start in life which includes, but is not limited to, effective social, emotional, mental and physical development, as well as access to education.
As documented by the report, not all of the necessary components required to achieve this end are present within the region resulting in the following issues for children and youth:
- The illiteracy rate amongst the Arab population aged 15 years and above was 29% in 2007 compared to 16% globally, 20% in developing countries, 9% in Latin America and 7% in East Asia.
- Coverage of children aged 0-6 in early childhood public childcare centres was an estimated 19% in 2010 compared to 41% globally.
- Child well-being, health status and child mortality indicators for the Arab region are far below developed country levels.
- The primary education enrolment rate was 84% in 2007, having increased from 78% in 1999, however net rates reduced in Jordan, Lebanon and Oman during the same period.
- Approximately 67% of young people are enrolled in secondary education in the region with females lagging males by an estimated 5%.
Source: Arab Knowledge Report 2010/2011
The Arab youth were key actors in the Arab Spring, the wave of popular protests that took place in 2010-2011 across the region, calling for change, political reform, social justice and an end to corruption. Their activism revealed deep frustrations as well as the power of this group and contributed to end the reign of long standing leaders in certain countries throughout the region.
In his address to the Global Colloquium of University Presidents at Columbia University, New York City (April 2, 2012), the United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon stated, ‘When we talk about youth, we have to look beyond demographics to why young people are so powerful. Youth are often the first to stand against injustice. Youth is a time of idealism. Young people are a force for transformation’ (United Nations Secretary General, 2012).
The strategy proposed by the report of starting ‘from the ground up’ by building a new base of knowledge for children and youth and, creating foundations for the renewal of society’s knowledge base clearly acknowledges the force of the Arab youth for transformation and articulates the role they should play in the future of the region. In doing so it sets the region in good stead to convert its young demographic into a demographic dividend.
Additionally, it provides a strong guide for how the region may progress as well as a comprehensive methodology for measuring progress in the area of child well-being.
Ross J, 2004, Understanding the Demographic Dividend, http://www.policyproject.com/pubs/generalreport/Demo_Div.pdf
United Nations Secretary General, New York, 2 April 2012 - UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's keynote address to the Global Colloquium of University Presidents at Columbia University [as prepared for delivery] http://www.un.org/sg/statements/index.asp?nid=5971