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“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” and “ensure that all learners acquire knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development”: The commitments made under SDG targets 4.4. and 4.7. seem straightforward. But are they?


Major challenges remain: Which skills are relevant for ‘employment, decent jobs and entrepreneurship’ and ‘sustainable development’? How can education and training ensure that young people acquire these skills? UNESCO's World Youth Skills Day 2019 is a perfect occasion to explore these questions and propose some answers in our latest technical brief: ‘Enhancing adolescent wellbeing, learning and opportunities’.

Breadth of skills for wellbeing, further learning and employment

With today’s adolescents and youth accounting for a quarter of the world’s population, and 1 in 7 youth looking for work, SDG target 4.4. is spot on in putting young people and their employment opportunities high on the international agenda. Adolescence is a transformational phase of human life. The changes that boys and girls undergo at this stage substantially shape their wellbeing and their capability to positively engage in work, leisure, family life and society later in life (VVOB, 2018a).


Achieving the SDG 4 targets requires smart investment that impacts children in the earliest life stages. Quality early childhood education is crucial to improve children’s cognitive and non-cognitive skills and to lay the foundations for future learning and opportunity (Brookings, 2016). Learning through play is a particularly effective way to foster a breadth of skills from early childhood onwards (VVOB, 2018b).

“In the 21st century, both literacy and numeracy remain key skills. They are emphasised as the major goals of educational systems across the globe, and viewed as primary means to open doors for children to participate effectively in society. However, in what is referred to as the ‘Information Age’ or ‘knowledge economy’, we need to apply a broader suite of skills for learning, work, and life.”Brookings, 2016

Providing a breadth of skills remains key at higher levels of education as well. Building on strong foundations laid in early childhood and primary education, secondary education – whether general, technical or vocational – should aim at developing higher order cognitive skills. These include critical thinking, dealing with unstructured problems or complex decisions, as well as building relevant STEM and technical skills and non-cognitive skills such as collaboration, self-reliance, creativity, adaptability, and so on (World Bank, 2018). This is all the more true in contexts where secondary education and training is (becoming) a springboard for young people to enter the world of work.


Importantly, a broad skillset also positions youth to make informed, independent decisions about their lives (PSIPSE, 2019). It is equally necessary to solve some of the world’s most urgent social problems.

Well-prepared teachers and school leaders are key

Looking at policy documents and curricula, the formal education and training systems of almost all of VVOB’s partner countries acknowledge and include a broad range of skills (Brookings, online). In most cases, however, realising this commitment remains a challenge. Teachers and school leaders are responsible for implementation of these systems, yet have themselves been trained in systems that still valued content and knowledge accumulation over a broad set of skills.


That is where VVOB comes in. In Cambodia, the DR Congo, Ecuador, Rwanda, Suriname and Uganda, VVOB works alongside the ministries of education to ensure teachers and school leaders in general secondary education and technical and vocational education and training (TVET) can rely on a solid support system to make the necessary transitions and implement the policies there where they matter most: the classroom.


VVOB has documented its expertise and experience in the technical brief ‘Enhancing adolescent wellbeing, learning and opportunities’, the fourth in a larger series of ‘Putting SDG 4 into practice’. The brief:

  • further explores the critical difference quality secondary education makes for adolescents, especially for adolescent girls and other vulnerable groups,
  • explains VVOB's three priority dimensions of action (see below) for quality secondary education,
  • shares how VVOB puts this approach into practice in the above-mentioned countries, as each experiences their own context-specific challenges and opportunities.