Equity Case Study: Jordan - Pilot initiative prepares Jordanian adolescents for a better future
Although quantitative access to education has been achieved with a primary school enrolment ratio of 97 per cent for both girls and boys and a secondary school enrolment ratio of 87 per cent for males and 90 per cent for females , the challenge facing Jordan is the necessity of reorienting education to human capital development.
By Abhijit Shanker
24 February 2012 - Mustaqbali (meaning “My Future” in Arabic) is a pilot initiative that was launched by UNICEF and Save the Children in 2009 to provide increased opportunities for adolescents between 15 and 18 years of age, to learn and develop skills that will ultimately enable them to improve their livelihood opportunities and household economic security.
Now in its fourth round of implementation and with the increased organizational focus on equity, the programme exposes young people in the most marginalized communities, such as the Palestinian refugee camps, to the real demands of the labor market and helps them gain essential skills to compete in the workforce and adapt to its needs.
Acquiring skills that allow young people to explore their career options, negotiate their decisions with their parents and make informed decisions about their future are all key outcomes indicated by the young people who participated in the project. Other UNICEF partners, in addition to Save the Children, included the Higher Council for Youth, UNRWA, and private sector organizations. The positive impact of the initiative has led UNICEF and the Jordanian government to consider scaling up the programme at a national level.
Jordan’s population is young; 33.5 per cent of Jordanians are between 10 to 24 years of age. Although quantitative access to education has been achieved with a primary school enrolment ratio of 97 per cent for both girls and boys and a secondary school enrolment ratio of 87 per cent for males and 90 per cent for females , the challenge facing Jordan is the necessity of reorienting education to human capital development.
Today there is a mismatch between the skills demanded by the labor market and those possessed by graduating students. This mismatch needs to be addressed to ensure that the youth are ready to compete in the labor market within Jordan and elsewhere. Youth unemployment reached 27 per cent in 2009 - more than double Jordan’s total unemployment rate of 12 per cent. Recent regional political developments were in large part driven by active young people advocating for political reforms, thus highlighting their power as agents of change and the need for a sharpened and holistic focus on developing the human capital of young people.
As a component of the UNICEF Jordan Adolescent Empowerment and Participation Programme, the Mustaqbali initiative aims at providing career preparedness programmes for young people, especially the most marginalized groups, to equip them with essential skills and knowledge, improve their employment opportunities and make them fit for the demands of the labor market.
Strategy & Implementation
Mustaqbali invests in building the capacity of local social workers and volunteers to deliver a comprehensive programme of career exploration and preparedness activities for adolescents at youth and women’s centers. In particular, adolescents living in most disadvantaged communities like the Palestinian refugee camps are targeted in an effort to improve their livelihood opportunities and household economic security. A team of trainers and mobilizers with support from the Local Administrative Committee of the refugee camps took on the task to mobilize their communities, advocate for the programme’s concept and objectives and raise the level of interest among targeted groups. Interested adolescents submit their applications, which are screened and vetted through a selection process based on agreed criteria focusing on identifying the most at-risk adolescents. Once the adolescents are selected they attend different training sessions spanning an average time period of 25 days.
The duration and timing are always flexible in response to the special needs of the participant group. The programme includes the following components:
- Community Mobilization: Communicating messages through parents, influential figures such as Imams, entrepreneurs and business leaders proved a dynamic approach for engaging young people. This approach also proved effective at gaining and mobilizing parental support for youth participation in capacity-building activities, a key factor for acceptance in communities where most decisions are made or influenced by parents.
- Career Counseling: Thematic discussion sessions enabled adolescents to raise critical issues related to making academic and career decisions, exploring their aptitudes and interests, identifying sources of information and learning how to negotiate with their family members.
- Financial and Market Literacy: Financial and market literacy sessions introduced the concepts of savings, access to credit and other financial services options as means to economic empowerment, especially for young people interested in self-employment and small business activities as a future means of livelihood.
- Youth Livelihood Mapping (YLM): Designed to introduce adolescents to livelihood possibilities and work opportunities in their local communities, YLM empowered young people to gather, organize and analyze career opportunities through a “learning by doing” labor market-mapping training and activity designed to help them gain insight into labor market opportunities and needs in their vicinity.
- Internships: On-the-job opportunities for adolescents enable them to gain work experience in private sector enterprises, where they perform a series of planned activities or fulfill learning objectives. At the beginning of the internships, young people receive the opportunity to explore various careers in a work place. Later they have the opportunity to participate in a one-on-one relationship with a workplace mentor who provides hands-on learning in his/her area of expertise.
Throughout the Mustaqbali process, adolescent participants play a role in assessing the effectiveness of the programme through self-administered pre- and post-activity evaluation forms. The success of the programme is also reflected in a high retention rate of 95 per cent.
Progress & Results
The project has reached approximately 430 adolescents of which 50 per cent are girls. Adolescents who participated in the Mustaqbali activities said the project had a positive impact on their self-confidence, personality and self-discovery for future career decisions. In a pre-test for the programme, 46 per cent of the young people could identify two desired skills that would enable them to find a job; after completing Mustaqbali that percentage had risen to 84 per cent. They reported gaining skills that help them to negotiate with their parents and influence their communities. Having the opportunity to participate in internships in various settings also allowed them to improve their understanding of the work environment and its responsibilities. In addition, their knowledge about information sources for various occupations has increased from 58 per cent in the pre-test to 91 per cent in the post-test. As a result of UNICEF’s increased organizational focus on equity, the Mustaqbali programme in 2010 was extended to out-of-school children to provide them with the learning opportunities and to adolescents who were at risk of dropping out. Young male adolescents benefited tremendously from this training opportunity.
The career preparedness workshops were tailored to the special needs of school dropouts, maintained convenient training hours for those who work, and included referral mechanisms to informal literacy classes or school re-enrollment. Those participants who could not return to school for other reasons (e.g., learning difficulties, a dire economic situation, long dropout period, etc.) often considered starting up micro-economic or other income-generating activities.
After completing the programme, participants at risk of dropping out of school considered continuing their studying with a better understanding of themselves and their interests, and an increased capacity to choose a career path. This project also helped build the capacity of participating outreach workers who provided programming services by equipping them with skills and experience in planning and implementing youth employability programmes.
- Limited participation from fathers in the parental awareness sessions presented a major challenge to the project, given fathers’ role as the primary decision maker in the family.
- Community mobilization efforts need to make special effort to address this issue and engage fathers in the process.The novelty of the Mustaqbali approach presented difficulties in the search for business leaders and organizations willing to offer youth internships. Advocacy with business leaders was needed to convince them of the programme’s mutual benefits and to ensure that they provide appropriate learning opportunities.
- Face-to-face meetings with the business leaders and formal expressions of gratitude facilitated this effort.
Equipping adolescents with appropriate skills and career search tools leads directly to improvements in their level of participation in society and provides necessary foresight and planning capabilities to manage their career paths. The Mustaqbali project encouraged adolescents’ engagement in community life and offered realistic expectations for thinking about and planning their future, addressing challenges, identifying opportunities and building on available resources in their communities.
Furthermore, the project pioneered a successful cooperation model among adolescents, parents, service providers and business leaders and made it possible for the community to view adolescents as a positive resource rather than as a problem or burden. The continuous mobilization process undertaken before and during the project positively influenced the community to engage in project activities and opened new communication channels between adolescents and their parents.
Finally, the increased parental awareness of and participation in adolescents’ career planning that resulted from the programme’s mobilization activities generated support and momentum for its implementation.
This project combined various strategies to involve adolescents and their parents, community members and business owners in a programme that aims to facilitate a better future for young people based on building their capacity to address the challenges they will face. Not only does this project allow young people to discover their interests and understand available economic opportunities, but it also addresses existing norms within the society regarding their employability potential.
The Mustaqbali project addresses a priority issue not available in the education system, namely young people’s employability. This project can showcase programmes that respond to this challenge, a topic of growing interest in government, especially as part of the education reform project being undertaken by the Ministry of Education. The resources that have been developed and tested for this project will serve as a reference for government.
Based on the lessons learned, plans are being developed with UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East) to expand the project in Palestinian refugee camps at two levels: 1) by integrating it within additional women’s centers that address high unemployment rates and focus on adolescent drop-outs, and 2) by implementing the project in UNRWA schools with a focus on adolescents who are at risk of dropping out.