Are Sustainable Development Goals an answer to the NEETs challenge?

The Effectiveness Lab continues to harp on the subject of NEETs (not in education employment or training), and the challenge they pause for nation states, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa. In this NEETs discourse, education and learning and the policy agenda that accompanies them, have been front-and-centre concerns.

Can the SDG's end the generations of NEETs?

Can the SDG’s end the generations of NEETs?

In this particular blog, we look at NEETs from yet another lens – development. The Effectiveness Lab returns to a subject close to the heart of its principal – development and its failings. We know how ‘sensitive’ development friends are on matters related to criticising their hard work, moreover, work that is often done in dangerous environments. We in development can be a precarious lot; that survives despite our industry uncertainty and the many unproven promises that we make to the worlds of both rich and poor.

Let us all get this right from the word go: when we challenge the efficacy of development, it is not our intention to present a cynical dismissal of the development professional’s promise of wonderland for the poor people.

To the contrary, we are ‘friendly’ sceptics that simply want good for development. We, just like you, appreciate that development brings so much good to the world. However, development cannot continue to bring good, in pretty much ineffective and inefficient ways.

Development and you all associated with it, have to learn to think, and with effortless rigour:

  • ‘value for money.’
  • ’sustainability.’
  • ‘little talk and more action.’
  • ‘more boldness in accepting +throwing away what we know doesn’t work.’
  • and in doing all the above, seamlessly become effective and efficient at what we do.

The Effectiveness lab’s hypothesis this week: NEETs is fundamentally a development problem:

The world has recently agreed a ‘new’ set of global development goals, that will apparently see out extreme poverty by 2030 – they have been aptly named SUSTAINABLE development goals

While we know that nation-states and their governments are responsible for employing the citizens of a nation, youth or not, development and government are bedfellows when it comes to matters development. Therefore, development has as much responsibility for addressing NEETs as governments. The supranational nature of development may indeed be an avenue for the development industry to regain its credibility – however, credibility shall only come if development value-chains embrace effectiveness and efficiency principles, and deliver on the promises they make.

Can development deliver on the NEETs challenge?

We ought to pause for a moment and ask what in this audacious SDG framework, addresses the NEETs challenge.

SDG 4: “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all” partly addresses the NEETs challenge. It is encouraging that Life Long Learning (LLL) has finally made it to the development goal lexicon. The presence of LLL in the SDG framework is an indirect and long overdue recognition that education is the ‘glue’ that holds all other development goals on to this SDG ‘board’.

Education cuts across all the other goals. Without LLL SDG’s like health, growth and employment, sustainable consumption and production, as well as climate change will fail from te start. How could the world dream of sustainable development without recognising the ‘glue’ role of education in development? Well done UN!

Apparently, the Incheon Declaration commits UNESCO to lead and coordinate Education 2030;  it’s a historic commitment to transform thousands of lives of those that are poor, through the new vision for education.

“We know the power of education to eradicate poverty, transform lives and make breakthroughs on all the Sustainable Development Goals,” said UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova in her opening address on that occasion.

In all fairness to UNESCO and other stakeholders, they fought and defended the cause of sustainable education and the result is SDG 4 with targets that if implemented well, should alleviate NEETs related problems.

Amongst the many SDG 4 targets, the five below will go far in resolving the NEETs challenge:

  1. By 2030, ensure equal access for all women and men to affordable and quality technical, vocational and tertiary education, including university
  2. By 2030, substantially increase the number of youth and adults who have relevant skills, including technical and vocational skills, for employment, decent jobs and entrepreneurship
  3. By 2030, eliminate gender disparities in education and ensure equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for the vulnerable, including persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples and children in vulnerable situations
  4. By 2030, ensure that all youth and a substantial proportion of adults, both men and women, achieve literacy and numeracy
  5. By 2030, ensure that all learners acquire the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, including, among others, through education for sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles, human rights, gender equality, promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence, global citizenship and appreciation of cultural diversity and culture’s contribution to sustainable development

While happy especially for the clear emphasis on vocational skills, we at the Effectiveness Lab are concerned about the lack of focus on STEM, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa.  Can you imagine Sub-Saharan Africa solving the NEETs challenge without a deliberate focus on the teaching of science?

If the assumption in SDG 4 is that skills development is to enable countries especially in Sub-Saharan Africa to provide relevant skills for their domestic markets, then vocational skills development may be just about enough. However, if the aim is to provide relevant skills for national, regional, and global markets as we think the case should be, then vocational skills development alone is not enough.

Where is the STEM agenda in this SDG framework?

Takeaway: It is true that we do have a much more practical and relevant SDG on education – however, the Effectiveness Lab is worried that without a viable STEM agenda for Sub-Saharan Africa, in fifteen years time (2030), we may still have the NEETs challenge and enduring poverty. Has development yet again, got it wrong from the word go?

Categories: Strategy

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4 replies

  1. Apollo, thank you for provoking our thoughts once again. It is a no-brainer that NEETs, in particular and people in general need greater scientific and technological literacy than ever before to function in today’s society and economy. STEM skills make for a better ‘potential employee base.’ Currently in Africa, most STEM jobs are performed by or outsourced to multinationals from China, India and the US.

    However, let us also bear in mind that a broad general education helps foster critical thinking and creativity. Exposure to a variety of fields produces synergy and cross fertilisation. Yes, science and technology are crucial components of this education, but so are languages and humanities. Innovation is not simply a technical matter but rather one of understanding how people and societies work, what they need and want. An ‘ideal’ employee in the 21 century, will be equipped with skills to make cheaper computer chips and also constantly re-imagine how computers and other new technologies interact with human beings. That was Steve Jobs.


    • Christine thanks for reading the blog – indeed, the soft skills are ‘very’ needed! Someone reminded the other day that 21st Century Education is about the 4C’s: communication – critical thinking – creativity – & collaboration.

      If we deliver the 4C’s: then your issue of the ‘soft’ side of the future employer/ee is addressed



  2. Whilst SDG clearly emphasis on vocational skills, in most of african countries vocational skills is consindered as an option for those who fail Primary & Secondary education.


    • Justin – thanks for your comment + reading the blog.

      It is for that reason that I advocate a clear focus on the SCIENCES too – STEM. So that we provide for the youth that don’t go far with their education, but also provide ‘education relevance’ for those that go on to other tertiary institutions and universities. The latter mostly do arts now and that has to change


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