Age is just a number: Harnessing the power of youth and data to drive social change

To say that we live in a data-driven era would not be an exaggeration today. Data now plays a critical and expanding role in nearly every facet of society. As its importance grows in all aspects of life, it is imperative to equip youngsters with the skills they would need to leverage data properly and productively to drive change in society. At this point, Franklin Roosevelt’s statement- “We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build the youth for the future”, rings loud, and serves as a clarion call to harness the potential of youth, along with that of data.

Data science encourages students to think beyond the box, which is critical for problem-solving. They can learn to uncover inventive and experimental solutions that cater to a variety of problems. Within this space, the opportunities are huge, as these abilities can be applied to all aspects of human growth, including social, emotional, creative, cognitive, and physical development. The earlier children develop these crucial skills, the better.

While the opportunities within this space are huge, the reality is that data science and its related studies are not yet a formal part of the education system. This is no doubt an intensive learning process, and considering that time in school is limited, out-of-school experiences through structured courses can provide valuable opportunities for young students to assimilate and play with data.

STEMming the gap through corporate NGO collaborations

As a solution, this presents a strong opportunity for corporates from the data management sector, to share their expertise. Through collaboration with experts, STEM, and other related foundations, the two can create programmes that help to bring facts to the table when discussing social issues. For students, working with social issue data that reflects a diverse range of experiences can help them perceive issues from many perspectives. At the same time, with the help of experts in social sciences, psychology, economics, philosophy, finance, civic administration, and even politics, students understand trends that go beyond individual situations, even though social concerns are frequently portrayed in terms of anecdotes or individual occurrences. They can discern bigger patterns that underpin complex social realities by looking at interactions between social factors. When working with statistics on social concerns, even a simple query like "How were these numbers determined?" can lead to a more in-depth conversation about social ideals and disparities, as well as the human decisions and ethical issues involved in gathering the data.

For example- datasets can include measures that are in proportions or rates, such as the number of doctors per 100,000 people in a country. Youth need to dig deeper than the headlines, understand that while there are many more doctors in China than in Costa Rica, there are fewer doctors per person in China. This kind of reasoning is central to understanding both data and how resources are distributed nationally and internationally.

Over the course of time, there are several use cases that validate the need for data-based education to solve problems of social concern. In one particular case, a boy turned his desire to be a doctor into thorough research that used data on doctor availability in various countries to predict where they would have the greatest impact. Another girl’s interest in women's health led her to investigate the link between teen pregnancy rates and female educational status in various countries throughout the world.

Through this, and more, one can witness how leveraging data can deepen kids’ interests and ignite possibly lifetime passions for using data to solve problems.

Catch’em young!

As seen, data and youth are powerful forces to reckon with. Together, the potential to bring about meaningful change is huge, and this is only the beginning. While the world continues to move in a data-driven direction, educating youngsters to be able to comprehend and utilise data is a step towards building a future-ready workforce. At the same time, organisations can also do their bit to enable this change through programmes, and initiatives designed to work with youth. There is a long road ahead, and much change waiting to be brought about, powered by the future of our planet.