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Launching the GAGE Special Issue on adolescent skills to address global challenges

© Nathalie Bertrams / GAGE 2020

This week, ODI’s Gender and Adolescence Global Evidence (GAGE) research consortium is excited to launch its special issue in the journal Development Policy Review (DPR). The special issue brings together researchers and practitioners from diverse geographies and organizations, including GAGE, the EdTech Hub, the Center for Universal Education at Brookings, the Mastercard Foundation, Build Up, and others. Each of the six articles offers evidence on one common theme: how education or training can prepare adolescents living in lower- and middle-income countries with the skills needed to overcome today’s global challenges. The articles include:

  1. A green skills framework for climate action, climate empowerment, and climate justice (Kwauk & Casey, 2022)
  2. User perspectives on digital literacy as a response to misinformation (Diepeveen & Pinet, 2022)
  3. EdTech for Ugandan girls: Affordances of different technologies for girls’ secondary education during the Covid-19 pandemic (Damani et al., 2022)
  4. Disrupted education trajectories: Exploring the effects of Covid-19 on adolescent learning and priorities for “building back better” education systems in Ethiopia (Jones et al., 2021)
  5. Improving pathways for girls and disadvantaged youth through secondary education and into work: Evidence and reflections from practice (Baxter et al., 2022)
  6. Teaching and learning for life skills development: Insights from Rwanda’s 12+ programme for adolescent girls (D’Angelo et al., 2022)

What global challenges? The articles in this special issue explore a range of issues, from climate change and global warming (Kwauk & Casey, 2022), to fake news (Diepeveen & Pinet, 2022), and the COVID-19 pandemic (Damani et al., 2022; Jones et al., 2021). All of the articles also address – albeit subtly – one of the largest problems of all: child poverty. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly 1 in 2 children all over the world were living in multidimensional poverty, defined based on their access (or lack thereof) to education, health, nutrition, water and sanitation, and housing services; the pandemic has pushed an additional 150 million children into this category, raising the figure from 47% to 56% of all children globally (UNICEF, 2020). The editorial to the special issue provides further headline statistics on these diverse challenges, as well as a brief summary of each of the articles. Some challenges, however, are not addressed in the articles of the special issue. Forced displacement, conflict and violence, for example, are several worth noting.

Who are the adolescents? Adolescence is a critical developmental stage for young people. It is during their adolescence that many girls and boys develop an identity for themselves and determine what is right from wrong. The GAGE consortium focuses particularly on adolescents because it is during this phase of life that gender norms often shape how boys and girls perceive the world around them, their decisions, and behaviours. GAGE uses an intersectional approach – addressing gender, age, poverty, as well as other areas of marginalization including urban/rural household locations, displacement/refugee status, or the experiences of young mothers and fathers. Following these same principles, the articles in this special issue explore adolescents in all their diversity, from pregnant adolescent girls (Baxter et al., 2022) to adolescents with disabilities (Jones et al., 2021) to adolescents from diverse linguistic or ethnic backgrounds (Damani et al., 2022).

Which skills? The authors of the six articles explore how governments and formal education systems, as well as nonformal education providers can support adolescents in developing skills that are relevant and necessary to build resilience and overcome the challenges they face in their communities. This includes skill in foundational literacy and numeracy, soft skills such as critical thinking, creativity, confidence, and teamwork, as well as hard skills, such as those that are technical and/or vocational in nature, digital literacy, and entrepreneurship. Kwauk and Casey’s (2022) article on “green skills” provides a framework for understanding adolescent skills across a continuum from instrumental to transformative. While Baxter et al. (2022) explore what education systems can do to better support learners in developing these skills, Damani et al. (2022) and Jones et al. (2021) provide more of a school-level perspective, particularly in the context of COVID-19. Moving from formal to nonformal education, D’Angelo et al. (2022) then provide a close-up look at the Rwanda 12+ project, an adolescent girls’ development programme that aimed to equip participants with skills in sexual and reproductive health, voice and agency. Addressing anything from financing models, (re)entry pathways, curriculum, and pedagogy, the articles complement each other to cover a range of considerations for educational policy and programming.

Before diving into the special issue, we invite you to read its editorial, which provides a more comprehensive introduction to the six articles, and the common thread that brings them together: education and training to develop resilience now and for the future. Resilience, defined by UNICEF (2022) as the ability “to anticipate, prevent, withstand, manage and overcome cumulative stresses and shocks.” It is something that adolescents, as individuals, can and do develop, often even in the absence of opportunities or structures to support them. Adolescents are resilient, capable, and – as we see more and more today – agents of change in the communities in which they live. But resilience also transcends the individual – it is something that systems, communities, and households must also build. The COVID-19 pandemic has made it painstakingly clear that the world was not ready to confront a global pandemic, much less while keeping the needs of the most marginalized young people at the forefront of policy response plans and decision-making processes. We must do better. This GAGE special issue begins to explore how.