Readiness is a Human Right

May 14, 2015

In between my first and second years of teaching, I traveled to East Africa to help support two groups of new school teachers: one in the city slums, and the other in a rural village. I was struck by how young and committed each teacher was. They didn’t seem much older than their students. All approached their work with urgency and seriousness, like an emergency room surgeon.

I was well into my trip when I learned why: Many of my African colleagues had recently left college before graduating to teach. Malawi was in the throes of a severe teacher shortage, a consequence of disease and illness. Dozens of young people had responded by leaving college and returning home to teach the kids in their communities.

I was forever changed by my short stay in Malawi. Here were young people who suspended their own ambitions so that the kids in their communities could get a basic education and go to school. Education was seen as a human right. Against a backdrop of intense poverty, this became a matter of life or death, which explained their seriousness and commitment.

Those faces greet me in my office every morning. They sit in frames next to my fifth graders—mostly migrant and immigrant youth living in Phoenix, Arizona—and my high schoolers, who were mostly former dropouts, predominantly African American, trying to survive in the urban core of St. Louis, Missouri.

My office is a room that hums with stories of survival and sacrifice. Young people who struggled for the good life. Malawi teachers, St. Louis teens back to school after having babies or caring for a sick parent, little kids in uniforms whose parents juggled too many jobs or worked the Arizona fields.

Each youth a story, each with the right to be ready—ready for the many demands of life, education, work and community. The right to learn the skills needed to tackle challenges, take on opportunities and be fully human.

What if we could acknowledge the many roads to readiness that youth take from childhood into adulthood—roadblocks, potholes and all—and still guarantee that every youth will make it?

What would it take?

The Readiness Project is The Forum for Youth Investment’s commitment to bring the same freshness and grave urgency demonstrated by the teachers I met in Malawi to all of the spaces and places where youth spend time.

At the Forum, we believe that there are universal abilities that youth must have to meet the demands of adolescence and adulthood. We are convinced that when certain caregiving and professional practices are in play, these abilities can be learned, developed and demonstrated anywhere.

Youth traverse the roads to readiness differently—it depends on where they are going, with whom, the route they’re taking, the roadblocks they face, and of course, the traveling conditions.

So often we use the conditions of the road—or system—that a youth is on to dictate a young person’s route, destination and speed. We fail or forget to find other ways. If the road cannot be improved—at least not as quickly or as much as it needs to be—there are other routes to be mapped and different options, like improving the driver’s skills or the vehicle to handle the terrain.

Join us. Let’s plan and work for a day when readiness is a right for all young people.

stephanie krauss

Stephanie Malia Krauss is a Senior Fellow at The Forum For Youth Investment focusing on issues of youth readiness and competency-based education. She was previously President and chief executive officer of Shearwater Education Foundation.

This article is part of the Right to be Ready blog series, posted under The Readiness Project, a joint effort of The Forum for Youth Investment and SparkAction. Find more blogs and expert views in The Readiness Project Insights section. 

Stephanie Krauss