Over the last two months, the Alliance for Excellent Education has released national, state, and metro area data showing the economic impact of cutting the high school dropout rate in half in the United States. In mid-May, the Alliance will release new data showing the economic impact that students of color could have on national and state economies were they provided access to better educational opportunities.
The Alliance is not the only organization making the link between improved educational outcomes and economic gains and the United States is not the only country that could benefit by tapping the unrealized potential of its young people.
With almost one-quarter of our young people unemployed and losing hope every day, creating opportunity has never been so urgent. But right now, we are letting them down. We are letting them down in ill-equipped classrooms with untrained teachers; we are letting them down with outmoded curriculums already obsolete in the modern marketplace; we are letting them down when they seek our advice and practical measures; and we are letting them down when we fail to expose them, at an early age, to the entrepreneurial spirit and potential of the private sector.
Those words, which could have easily been President Obama describing the challenges facing so many American students, actually come from Her Majesty Queen Rania Al Abdullah of Jordan.
Queen Rania’s words appear in Education for Employment: Realizing Arab Youth Potential, a new report from the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and the Islamic Development Bank that calls for urgent action to tackle the unemployment challenges faced by young people of the Arab World. Queen Rania is the honorary chair of the Education for Employment or e4e initiative.
While some countries such as China and the United States are growing older, the Arab World is comparatively younger. Whereas 20 percent of the population in the United States is under age fifteen and 21 percent is between fifteen and twenty nine, approximately one-third of the population in the Arab World is under the age of fifteen and another third is between the ages of fifteen and twenty-nine.
As these young people come of age, they will add pressure to an already stressed labor market in the Arab World. According to the report, the Middle East suffers from the highest youth unemployment in the world at more than 25 percent; female youth unemployment is even higher at more than 30 percent. The report estimates that the economic loss of youth unemployment exceeds $40–$50 billion annually across the Arab World.
These low unemployment figures do not include people who are not looking for jobs. According to the report, the region’s labor force participation rate, 35 percent, is among the lowest in the world and falls far below the global average of 52 percent.
Similar to the United States, part of the unemployment problem is due to a lack of qualified workers. The report finds that private employers in the Arab World say that two-thirds of new graduates are unprepared for the challenges of the workplace. As a result, more than half of employers must provide substantial training for their new hires. Students are also aware of this problem, with only one-third saying that their education prepares them for the job market.
According to the report, the region’s employable population will grow dramatically over the next ten years. This growth, it argues, presents an “enormous window of opportunity for entrepreneurial energy, creativity, and economic activity.” However, it also notes the potential for enormous risk. “High levels of unemployment create high levels of suffering and discontent,” the report reads. “Letting unemployment rise to even higher levels is therefore not a viable option. However, creating the required number of jobs required will not be easy.” The report finds that maintaining current unemployment rates will require the region to create an extra 35–40 million jobs.
Although the problems the region faces are similar to those faced in the United States, the report takes a different approach to solving them, perhaps due to the large role played by the IFC in developing the report. The IFC is the largest global development institution focused on the private sector in developing countries. So whereas a report describing the educational challenges in the United States would likely focus on the role of federal, state, and local governments, Education for Employment’s main concern is “[unleashing] the full potential of the private sector.” Specifically, it explores how private stakeholders can contribute to meeting needs and identifies the “necessary conditions for success” that governments could set through regulatory policies and transparency to expand private sector involvement.
To learn more about the e4e initiative or to download the report, visit http://e4earabyouth.com/.