Time to invest in adolescent well-being


For adolescents to harness their full potential as they grow up, they need a safe and supportive environment, knowledge and skills to stay healthy, and the opportunity to claim their rights outlined in the World Programme of Action for Youth and the United Nations Youth Strategy. Yet, even before Covid-19, adolescents and young adults faced multiple challenges to their well-being including social injustice and inequalities, insufficient social protection, inadequate mental health, poor sexual and reproductive health and inability to exercise their rights resulting in unintended pregnancies, HIV and all forms of malnutrition.  

Schools have the potential to make a vital contribution to adolescent well-being, with important dividends now and into the future. But as schools reopen and attempt to return to normal following many months of disruption, are they paying enough attention to learner well-being?

UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay, alongside other leaders and prominent voices, has made a strong call for action on adolescent well-being. In a letter published in the globally renowned health journal, BMJ - Uniting for adolescents during Covid-19 and beyond - they argue that as a global community, we have paid insufficient attention to adolescent well-being and the importance of the transition to young adulthood. The letter invites decision makers and other stakeholders to join them in the call for action, recognising the multiple factors that influence well-being, and calling for more investment.

This call for action will be in focus at a side event at the ECOSOC Youth Forum, ‘Uniting for adolescents during COVID-19’. This event features a virtual dialogue between young people and Ministers of Education and Youth discussing long-term priority solutions to improve adolescent well-being in the context of Covid-19 recovery. Education is high on the agenda, aiming to convince leaders in the education sector to make learner well-being a firm priority into the future, with sure payoffs in terms of health and learning outcomes.

Vibeke Jensen, Director of UNESCO’s Division for Peace and Sustainable Development said the role of education, long recognised as a powerful determinant of wellbeing, cannot be underestimated. “Quality education can provide learners with social, psychological, and critical thinking skills, which are linked with improved well-being, Ms Jensen said.

“As schools continue their important work helping students catch up on lost learning following school closures, we would also like to see them prioritise the well-being of students. This includes continuing to deliver health education, as well as ensuring that schools provide support and referral for all learners, especially those who may have experienced violence, or physical or mental health challenges.”

Young people themselves are quick to point to the value of education in promoting well-being. In a recent global consultation of adolescents and young people (aged 13-29), participants noted the role of schools in providing opportunities to form connections and support networks, providing explicit guidance and information on what to expect during adolescence and preparing them for future relationships, work and adulthood.


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