Trajectories of young people in Jordan from education to employment

(Photo: Envato Elements)
As we start the new year with aspirations and hopes for a better year, there is concern about the hopes and aspirations of young people in a region that is packed with economic and political instabilities. اضافة اعلان

The youth (15 to 29 years old) make about 63 percent of the Jordanian population, according to UNICEF 2020. The figure includes Jordanians  and refugees, mainly Syrian and Palestinian. This segment of population witnesses most unemployment and underemployment rates, especially due to the lockdown caused by the pandemic and downsizing, which, according to the World Bank, increased from 40.6 percent in 2019 to 50 percent in 2020 in Jordan, one of the countries with the highest unemployment rates in the MENA region.

In addition to the economic distress the country has been experiencing, the legal status, and the socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds matter in shaping chances and challenges for each nationality of this generation, as reflected in the study “Youth trajectories from education to employment in the mist of displacement” that was projected in a quantitative report, “The role of youth’s legal status in education and employment in the context of protracted displacement in Jordan and Lebanon” last November, in the documentary “Some of All” and in the exhibition “The River of Life”, held by the youth in December during the Karama Festival for Human Rights.

The academic study, funded by the International Development and Research Centre/Ottawa, was conducted for 18 months in 2019-2020 by a team of researchers from the Centre of Lebanese Studies/Lebanese American University based in Jordan and in Lebanon. In Jordan, the study covered the governorate of Amman, mapping bodies working for youth and with youth: Jordanian nationals, Palestinian refugees (not holders of the Jordanian nationality) and Syrian refugees.

The work aimed to understand how young people mobilise, plan and engage in initiatives in order to shape their trajectories. Institutional, familial or financial limitations did not stop young people in the Amman governorate from exploring venues, through formal and informal education, or formal and informal employment, to prove their agency.

“It is not the kind of work but the income I can secure to become independent,” said an interviewees living in Mowaqar.

“I aspire to work with the municipality and I am waiting for my turn. Meanwhile I am working in the morning as a gardner and in the afternoon as a street vendor of diesel we get from Saudi Arabia.”

The study sought to analyze the effect of the legal statuses of youth on accessing rights, the gender position in social mobility, and the socioeconomic and cultural status in attaining aspirations.

While a high portion of the funding to Jordan is allocated to support education, under the development strategy and the Jordan response plan to the Syrian crisis, in order to accommodate the biggest number of citizens and refugees on equal grounds, little seems to have been done to address the outcome of education amongst graduates and the way their educational attainment affects their choices in the labour market and hence their production.

Beyond limiting the study to figures and how many can attend or opted to drop out of schools because of the “failing system”, the interviews with about 150 young people, refugees and citizens, males and females, from urban, semi-urban, industrial and rural settings, reflected common concerns about their educational attainment due to issues related to the quality of education and their disinterest in the subjects they study, which do not ultimately secure for them employment.

In the “absence of a vision for a better future” as put by an academic at one of the universities in Amman, and of a structured and limited role for youth in effecting change in their societies, education seems to fail to generate qualifications or professions needed for the development of the country.

Although education is an integral component of any response to a refugee crisis, young Syrian refugees talked about the afternoon shift they attend, the short time allocated for each subject and the tired teachers who seem to ignore the importance of educating refugees as part of the development of a nation.

“Our time at school does not exceed three, four hours, where each subject is given in 20 minutes,” told us one young Syrian girl living in an Informal Tented Settlement (ITS) on the airport road.

The limited work opportunities for educated Syrians and Palestinian ex-Gaza refugees demotivate many to pursue secondary school education.

“I became a breadwinner for my family, eight members. While I was distinct at school, back in Homs, now, I do not see any use to be at school, especially that I have a family to feed. Education will not secure an income for me,” said a young Syrian man working in a shop on Jordan University road.

A majority of today’s refugees ends up in informal and precarious work. Although employment has been put on the agenda of Jordan Response Plan, as per the London Syria Conference in 2016, and the Brussels conferences in 2017 and 2018, as a most critical issue to be solved in order to make refugees less dependent on aid and able to create a future for themselves, the way it has been handled was empirical, with only limited opportunities open in sectors like construction, agriculture and some services. This does not hold promise for social inclusion or engagement in development.

This temporal frame of managing the mismatch between education and employment, for both citizens and refugees, in the current stagnant economic conditions was reflected by the youth in the creative productions funded by the Open Society Foundation. In both documentary, co-directed by Ihab Al Khateeb and Sawsan Darwazeh, and exhibition, curated by artist Dana Barkawi, the youth sought to reflect their trajectories, the way they shaped their aspirations despite all impediments and challenges, and how they managed to socially prove themselves.

The writer is lead researcher at the Centre for Lebanese Studies.

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