42 percent of the world’s 7 billion people were born after 1990; 26 percent are children of the 21st century. Of those born after 1990, 1.8 billion live in countries where the official language is not English, and even in countries where it is, it is not the first language. Many of those countries are part of the developing world: either rapidly emerging markets like China, India, Brazil, Indonesia, and Vietnam, or low-income countries striving to climb the ladder of economic development.
It is the urgent priority of governments and non-government organization around the world to ensure that the surging population of global youth has economic opportunities and upward
It is the urgent priority of governments and non-government organization around the world to ensure that the surging population of global youth has economic opportunities and upward mobility. The alternatives of poverty, unemployment and exploitation contribute to political instability and violence, whereas sustainable development through knowledge work, alternative energy, clean manufacturing and other emerging technologies can help improve life on the planet for the rising generation and those to come.
The spread of information networks and mobile devices offers a path forward. Businesses based on information, software, data and services do not require the kind of capital investment, resources or infrastructure as agriculture, manufacturing or resource extractive industries. This creates opportunities for local entrepreneurs and foreign investors to build new, high-value businesses based on talent and knowledge, which generate needed economic opportunities and can serve as an example of positive development.
In his 2010 book Young World Rising: How Youth, Technology and Entrepreneurship are Changing the World from the Bottom Up, author and futurist Rob Salkowitz offered examples of information-age entrepreneurs from Asia, Latin America, Africa and Europe building thriving organizations of different sizes and purposes, from a non-profit to retrain Nigerian cyber-scammers as legitimate IT developers, to a multinational IT services company founded by a 13-year old in a cyber-café in India.
One thread that united those stories, and thousands more around the world, is English. Whether young people around the world want to start their own businesses that connect to global markets, complete their educations at some of the world’s top universities, or make themselves employable by multinational companies, English language proficiency is the key.
Some of this falls on the educational system. However, the conversational English taught in secondary schools is not sufficient for high-value business and technical environments. Stephanie Caragos, the founder and CEO of the Syntactics, Inc. an IT services firm based the southern islands of the Philippines, founded a non-profit training enterprise alongside her commercial business to train local youth to fill the high-skill, high-paid jobs her business was creating because the local schools did not provide sufficient education in key areas. One main focus was polishing the English language skills of her workforce to international levels.
At a much larger scale, Infosys, the global technology and consulting firm based in India, has invested millions of dollars to construct a state-of-the-art campus in Mysore to provide 8 months of additional training for its incoming workforce, even though many hold advanced engineering degrees. Developing the skills to exchange ideas with English-speaking colleagues, clients and partners around the world is a major area of focus.
This is the case even though English is a primary language of instruction in both India and the Philippines; the example also applies to parts of Africa with Anglophone heritage. It is, of course, even more true in regions where English is not generally used, or even frequently encountered, such as China, Southeast Asia, North Africa, the Middle East and Latin America.
The kind of language skills necessary to succeed in the global economy are different, and must be taught differently than basic secondary school pedagogy allows. They must be taught in a way that can scale broadly beyond the country’s economic elite.
The kind of language skills necessary to succeed in the global economy are different, and must be taught differently than basic secondary school pedagogy allows. They must be taught in a way that can scale broadly beyond the country’s economic elite. The areas of the world with the greatest concentrations of young people tend to be those with the fewest resources and profound gaps between wealth and poverty.
English language skills may not solve all the problems facing the parts of the world with the largest youthful populations, but English gives talented young people from those places an opportunity to participate in the global knowledge economy, share ideas around economic and social development, and give themselves options for the future.
By midcentury, global population will peak at around 9.7 billion mostly young, and mostly concentrated in cities in resource-poor geographies. Most will be connected to information networks, but will require the ability to communicate across borders and cultures. From a demographic perspective, laying the basis for that communication through the adoption of global English as a standard medium of exchange can turn loose the potential of those young minds to solve the daunting problems they will face.
United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division. 2015. World Population Prospects: The 2015 Revision, Key Findings and Advance Tables. Working Paper No. ESA/P/ https://esa.un.org/unpd/wpp/Publications/Files/Key_Findings_WPP_2015.pdf. 16 December 2016
Central Intelligence Agency. 2016. The World Factbook. https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/fields/2098.html. 16 December 2016
Lewis, M. Paul, Gary F. Simons, and Charles D. Fennig (eds.). 2016. Ethnologue: Languages of the World, Nineteenth edition. Dallas, Texas: SIL International. Online version: http://www.ethnologue.com. 17 December 2016.
The World Bank. 2016. GDP Ranking Table. http://data.worldbank.org/data-catalog/GDP-ranking-table. 17 December 2016.
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