Melissa Tingey and MacLeans Geo-JaJa, Economist Education
Education is a powerful tool for creating opportunities, eliminating inequalities, and enabling youth to lift themselves out of disadvantages and contribute to community-building. The lack of rights in education which straddles the division of human rights into civil and political, on the one hand, and economic, social and cultural, on the other hand, is a critical detriment to true development of the Global South. Rights in education, in this study, is further conceptualized as combining experiential learning with the opportunity to put knowledge and skills into action with critical thinking, participation, and creativity. This effective method for teaching leadership skills, provides exposure to positive role models and empowers youth to be more than just consumers of the education they receive. Therefore, in order to improve the quality of education in the Global South, we propose that youth leadership with its recognition of the utility in local knowledge, as well as the utility of universal skills and knowledge, be implemented in schools. This will ensure capacity-development and promotion of enlarging opportunities and freedoms in development for sovereignty rights in the Global South (Babacci-Wilhite & Geo-JaJa, 2012; Tomasevski, 2005). We argue for a holistic human rights based framework, instead of a western epistemological values human capital roadmap, which acknowledges the universal value of leadership skills such as creativity and critical thinking. Therefore, this project furthers the conversation on youth leadership education by showing how rights in education integrated into educational curriculum is a necessary step towards improving the functionality and participation of youth in the work force and community development.
We undertook an extensive literature review in order to complete this study. Databases used included those in education and the social sciences including PsychINFO and EBSCOhost among others. Repeated themes were recorded, and psychological studies and theories of leadership were reviewed. Case studies were also included in the review. From such sources, we expanded upon a basic conceptual, youth leadership development model as well as gathered evidence on how application in educational settings could further ensure rights in education for children in developing countries potentially leading to true development.
To begin, we emphasize that youth leadership is a set of competencies and skills that enable young people to lead (Zeldin & Camino, 1999; Edelman et al., 2004). These competencies include self-awareness, collaboration, empathy, and relationship building (Redmond & Dolan, 2014). Other characteristics that have shown up most frequently in the literature when describing effective leadership include problem solving, creativity, innovative thinking, forward looking, supportive, conflict management, delegating, adapting, and critical thinking. We also recognize that leadership is a process through which a set of learned skills and competencies facilitate a process of change (Redmond & Dolan, 2014; Vroom & Jago, 2001). There are hence three main aspects of leadership development: interpersonal, intrapersonal, and practical skill/behavior.
Furthermore, rights in Education focuses on adaptability and relevance in education to meet key challenges of the Global South in realizing true development (Babacci-Wilhite & Geo-JaJa, 2012). Essentially, this rights-based education discourse posits that quality education is a human right. Unfortunately, the lack of rights in and to education is prevalent in most countries. Reasons for this are vast and include the privatization of education (Tomasevski, 2005), decentralization of responsibility of governments to finance and invest in education (Geo-JaJa, 2006), and issues surrounding Structural Adjustment Program conditionalities (Geo-JaJa & Mangum, 2001; Orford, 2001), as well as an overall lack of resources (Sharma, 2013). Yet, we’ve found that in order for true development in the Global South to take place, quality education is key because it fuels local participation by citizens who are then informed and capable citizens (Orford, 2001; Piron, 2002; Matthew, 1997; Tomasevski, 2005; Geo-JaJa, 2006). Hence, the importance of not only rights to education but rights in education—people are the means and end of community transformation and need to be empowered and given the adequate skills to become involved in realizing their own right to development. Thus, youth leadership development in schools is an additional component in quality education and stands as a means to participatory development. What’s more is that the practical skill/behavior of leadership can be taught. Leaders need not be charismatic or brilliant individuals to be successful (Bennis & Biderman, 1997; Bennis & Goldsmith, 2010). Indeed leaders are made rather than born.
In order for successful youth leadership development to come to fruition, we found that two components are especially essential: experiential learning and the right environment. Experiential learning is also known as learning by doing. In order to develop and master these skills, youth need to be provided with opportunities for application in meaningful and authentic ways (Kolb et al., 1971; Hernez-Broome & Hughes, 2004; MacNeill, 2006). They should be given roles as decision makers with real consequences and impact. This can be done within or without the classroom, in after-school sports or clubs, or in community service projects. Alternatively, students may share decision making power with adults. Furthermore, a healthy and safe environment that encourages ventures and accepts risks and failure is vital (Ekvall, 1996; Brendtro,2009). This kind of environment will provide students with adult mentorship and appropriate challenges while encouraging some level of independence, responsibility, and innovation.
Discussion and Conclusion
Youth leadership development incorporated into the educational curriculum and system essentially provides young people an education of transformation and personal growth that directly benefits the overall community as well as their futures. However, these models have yet to be implemented in many school settings in the Global South. Applying these concepts and adapting these models to specific cultures and contexts while utilizing the input of the community is a definite antecedent to success. Furthermore, the same obstacles that deter rights in and to education will no doubt, inhibit a youth leadership development program. Other potential barriers may also arise not covered in this study. In addition, while we emphasize universal skill sets in this study, personality may have an influence on leadership capability. Some students may master these skills better than others. Yet we surmise that the capacity building and skill development accompanied with these programs make for a strong argument for including youth leadership development into the education curriculum/system. Research is still ongoing.
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