5 February 2013

Gambia: Professionalising Youth Development - the Role of Higher Education

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The field of youth development is evolving, with growing attention being paid to the professional development opportunities afforded to those who work with and on behalf of young people. Formal coursework for youth workers must be relevant and useful and meet the needs of diverse audiences, including both front-line workers and the managers and directors of youth development programmes.

When certificates, credentials, and degrees are offered through institutions of higher education, youth development professionals can acquire learning that is formally recognised. The emergence of these higher education programmes could lead to a more formal educational structure for youth development workers, similar to that for public school teachers. Such programmes often help participants understand the needs of young people.They also teach programme development, implementation, management, and evaluation. Although the availability of educational opportunities in higher education have increased, the field still faces many challenges.

Educational opportunities for youth development workers

The field of youth development continues to evolve with all the opportunities, challenges, and obstacles that accompany the evolution of a new discipline. Over the past fifteen years, there has been increased public and private investment in community-based programmes for youth to provide opportunities that support the positive development of young people. Youth development is a broad field with many constituencies in grassroots community organisations, in state and national youth-serving organisations, and at colleges and universities. The field of youth development must identify and support multiple pathways for youth development professionals to access a comprehensive and systematic range of educational opportunities to prepare them to meet the needs of young people successfully.

Comprehensive educational opportunities help move youth development workers to the point where they are acknowledged as experts and recognised as professionals. In fact, youth development professionals are community builders, working on behalf of youth development. The goal of the youth development professionals is to create positive adults who can contribute to the advancement of their families, communities, and society. Such a lofty vision deserves equally high-quality training.

As the youth development field evolves, degree programmes are beginning to focus strictly on this field. Traditionally, those who wanted to work in this field had to take courses in numerous departments. For example, they would take child development courses in the psychology department, management courses at the business school, and evaluation courses at the school of education.

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