The Arab world is mired in educational crises. Poor levels of basic skills acquisition at primary and secondary school are thought to contribute to meager employment prospects in the region, according to the Arab World Learning Barometer report published by the Center for Universal Education at the Brookings Institution last month. Essentially, many employers require skills that job-seekers lack. Clear gender disparities reveal additional barriers to accessing employment for females. Amongst Palestinians, youth unemployment stands at 38.8%, painting an unequivocally bleak picture. Youth labor force participation is 41.6% for males, and just 8.4% amongst females (Arab World Learning Barometer), and nearly half of all graduates are unemployed, according to the Sharek Youth Forum’s 2013 report, The Status of Youth in Palestine. When deficient standards of education and concomitant skills gaps meet an insufficient number of employment opportunities for a growing working-age population, a doubly compromising dilemma ensues for job-seekers. As the Brookings report asserts, education deserves to be consistently prioritized. Investing in education today generates exponential benefits in the future.
Fortunately there are numerous people and organizations working to curb this growing issue, including Tomorrow’s Youth Organization which is the grateful recipient of a grant from the generous Abdul Hameed Shoman Foundation (AHSF). Tomorrow’s Youth Organization will scale existing youth employment and early childhood development programing through intensive research and consultation conducted by Columbia University. AHSF’s contribution comes in line with its Employment and Innovation pillar and will provide 500 youth educational leadership opportunities through innovation and learning. This funding has also been allocated to the International Internship Program, with interns currently delivering their fourth week of Professional Competency and Conversational English classes to students of An Najah National University, in Nablus.
Whilst the students at An Najah are fortunate to receive full education, they still lack knowledge and experience to prepare them for the professional world, hence the value of the Professional Competency and Conversational English classes. After short oral pre-assessments, students were divided into beginner, intermediate and advanced English level groups. Four different groups at each level receive two fifty-minute classes each week. Sessions are interactive, with plenty of plenary and small group discussions. Interns’ curricula feature core career-related material, including building a CV, interview skills and networking. Much of the content thus far has engaged students in discerning, evaluating and ‘merchandising’ their skills; processes which clearly reveal the value of extracurricular activity, vacation or part-time employment and volunteer work to the creation and consolidation of a marketable portfolio of hard and soft skills.
Students need no introduction to the myriad challenges awaiting them after graduation. We seek to impress upon these young people that they can, and indeed must, take every career-related variable that is within their control, and work proactively to reconfigure the odds.
-TYO Interns, Celia and Laura