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Arts education, a veritable tool for empowering Nigeria’s young people

By Polly Alakija 
27 May 2022   |   9:49 pm
We often neglect the extent to which the journey to adulthood is long and complex. Today, more than ever before, young people are facing inordinate challenges that render their coming of age more arduous than generations before them. Because of these rising challenges, it has become imperative that we engage more consciously with young people…

We often neglect the extent to which the journey to adulthood is long and complex. Today, more than ever before, young people are facing inordinate challenges that render their coming of age more arduous than generations before them. Because of these rising challenges, it has become imperative that we engage more consciously with young people and pay special attention to providing alternative ways for them to see themselves as shapers of the world instead of on the fringes of it. This call remains ever so pertinent in Nigeria, the giant of Africa which boasts of a population of over 200 million people, the majority of them young and vibrant.

The beauty of the world we live in today is the fact that traditional paths which included formal trades: medicine, law, and engineering are increasingly giving way to careers and ambitions in the arts. For many young people around the world, exploring their creativity is now a viable option and The Duke of Edinburgh’s International Awards program is one of such programs supporting young people. As part of a global initiative to bring The Award to over 2 million young people, the Award has partnered with Five Cowries Arts Education Initiative in Nigeria to use Arts Education as a means of empowerment.

But how does art empower young people? Bell Hooks said, “Regardless of subject matter, form, or content, whether art is overtly political or not, artistic work that emerges from an unfettered imagination affirms the primacy of art as that space of cultural production where we can find the deepest, most intimate understanding of what it means to be free.”Art, the ability to fully express oneself enables deeper freedom that the constraints of traditional education can often stifle.

In Nigeria, where rigidity has arguably made its way into our educational system’s way of life, young people need to be freed to develop their cognitive, soft skills. Art supports empowerment by helping young people learn to collaborate, communicate, think critically and develop creativity–skills that are all essential in the 21st-century workplace. For people who struggle to see the link between art, education, cultural-based learning and empowerment the success of The Duke of Edinburgh’s International Awards and the Five Cowries Arts Education Initiative collaboration can reflect this. Five Cowries Arts Education Initiative has worked tirelessly across Nigerian communities to provide students, their families and their educators with more innovative and creative ways to learn.

The Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award’s shared passion and goal of investing in the infinite potential of young people and their communities were echoed at the 7 March event at Bonham’s in London sponsored by Project HALO. At a time when creating the greatest impact for those with fewer opportunities is often whispered, the impact and footprint of The Award must be highlighted.

In Nigeria alone, the social value created by The Award in 2020 was over £96,000 (52,682,000 Nigerian Naira). In practice, this translates into increased engagement with charitable and community causes, increased social cohesion, improved mental health and wellbeing, and improved employability. The DofE Social Value Report sheds light on its global impact reflecting grand ambitions which are within reach.

Cultural based learning is inclusive and relevant for all, uncovering the marginalized and therefore empowering them. To be marginalised is to be sidelined and devoid of access and opportunities. a reality that young people as a whole are facing–and, young Africans more so. To live in a time where access to information and knowledge is theoretically at your fingertips but technological and societal barriers remain in place keeping them from fully leveraging it. The presence of these challenges and the lack of access to appropriate capacity building initiatives enable the Intaward and Five Cowries Arts Education Initiative to make a difference. The partnership sees the Initiative supporting on two fronts.

Firstly through the community service element of the award where grantees can leverage the online platform and mentoring sessions aimed at empowering the young people to serve as community educators. For the Skills Development element, grantees will engage with and be mentored by professionals across different creative expressions from Nigeria, the continent and beyond. 

Participation in the arts and other creative practices can play a vital role in inspiring young people to define themselves, connect with others and speak out about their experiences. This is the level of confidence we need to give Nigeria’s young people. There are a wealth of dynamic experiences and lived realities that the country’s young people can put their voice to if presented with the right opportunities and outlets. These opportunities go beyond the options many universities and traditional workplaces can provide.

Our young people need to develop soft and entrepreneurial skills to be adaptable and have the entrepreneurial skills needed to be relevant in the unpredictable 21st-century workplace. Five Cowries Arts Education Initiative is among the many well-intentioned organisations working tirelessly to support young people to develop the skills they need for an uncertain future.