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MENAFN - Jordan Times - 23/09/2012

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(MENAFN - Jordan Times) Go to any Arab city, walk the main street and one thing will strike you: How young the people are!

This will be a fleeting observation, but it reveals the defining feature of Arab societies. Over 60 per cent of people in the Arab Mediterranean region are under 30. By 2020, the number of young people in the region may well reach 100 million.

What potential, one might think. How much energy, intelligence and enthusiasm there must be in all these young people! The future belongs to them.

But there is also a darker side. Arab countries top the world's youth unemployment statistics. University graduates cannot find jobs. At least 30 million young people work in informal, poor-quality jobs earning subsistence wages.

On average, only one woman in four is in the workforce - the world's lowest rate. The education investment drains national budgets without many returns.

It is clear that if there is no change, if no solutions are proposed, this positive energy will be wasted. The results will be poverty, exclusion, instability, which will affect not only the region but also Europe.

So, how can we make sure this youthful promise is delivered?

Jordan, unhurt by the instability experienced by its neighbours, can play a stabilising role in the Arab Mediterranean region by fostering moderation and partnership. And even if there is still some way to go, Jordan's model of gradual and inclusive reform may well seem an attractive example for other countries to follow.

It is therefore no surprise that Jordan will play host to several ministers of education and employment from the region and the EU, who will convene here on September 25-27. They, and dozens of experts and senior officials, are coming at the invitation of the European Training Foundation to discuss the challenges and policy options for tackling youth employment.

The high-level officials who will gather here know well that there is no panacea, no quick fix. But they strongly believe that part of the solution lies in education and training.

Young Arab people need relevant skills for jobs and life in a modern society. Young people's employability must be enhanced. Women's gains in education must be translated into success in the labour market. Education policy making must open up to cooperation with civil society and social partners.

How can this be done? This is what we hope to find out at the conference. One thing is certain: tackling the triangle of school-work-society is crucial for the success of any democratic transition.

The EU has reviewed its Partnership for Democracy and Shared Prosperity with its southern neighbours. We stand ready to assist the countries that decide to go further along the path of deeper democracy. We have also substantially increased the funds available for support reforms.

The writer is the head of EU delegation in Jordan. She contributed this article to The Jordan Times.


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