The Importance of Adolescence Education in a Globalized World by Dr. Bharti Dogra


Adolescence is a time of transition, where the individual is fuller of doubt than certainty.
Amidst such moments what role do educators play in creating holistic human beings and not fragmented/conflict ridden adults, a pedagogue engages with these fundamental concerns.

 Dr. Bharti  Dogra is Associate Professor, School of Education (SOE), IGNOU.

Adolescence is the period between childhood and adulthood. But finding a useful definition of adolescence is difficult. Biologically it is the time of sexual maturation and the completion of growth. More than mere biology, adolescence is psychologically the period between childhood dependency and being a functionally independent autonomous adult. Theorists have viewed adolescence in different ways; Freud saw adolescence as the period of recapitulation of the childhood Oedipal complex, while Erickson claimed that the struggle between Identity and Role Confusion typified the adolescent stage of development.

Chronological definitions abound and are more pragmatic in allowing us to identify who is or is not an ‘adolescent’. Let us interrogate the concept of adolescence itself, which contrasts and connects—etymologically as well as socially—with adulthood. Adultum is the past participle of the Latin verb adolescere “to grow (up).” The senses of growth, transition, and incompleteness are therefore historically embedded in adolescent, while adult indicates both completion and completeness (cf. Herdt & Leavitt 1998).

The World Health Organization (WHO) considers “adolescence” as the period between 10-19 years of age, which generally encompasses the time from the onset of puberty to legal age of majority. Adolescence in the sociological sense refers to the experience of passing through a phase that lies between childhood and adulthood. The contributions of great anthropologist Margaret Mead, gave us much insight into perspectives on adolescent development in a cultural context. Ruth Benedict’s Theory of Adolescent Transition to Adulthood (1938) provided specification of cultural influence on adolescent development. The sociological and psychological definitions complement each other insofar as they call attention to the principle that an undefined social situation will have a corresponding repercussion in the personality of the individual who goes through it. Erik H. Erikson’s concept of identity crisis has been considered to be of as much relevance to our epoch as the problems of sex seemed to be to Freud’s.

Puberty is the process of physical changes through which a child’s body matures into an adult. ‘Puberty is a universal experience but adolescence is not’. More than mere biology, adolescence is psychologically the period between childhood dependency and being a functionally independent autonomous adult.

Developmental psychology defines adolescence as a ‘transitional phase’. Adolescents need autonomy, freedom where society expects them to adapt to rules. Most of them are sexually mature by this time but society expects them to wait till they get married. Adolescents therefore perceive themselves as ‘adults in waiting’. Conflicts arise because of mismatch between external expectations and internal desires which need to be understood and handled properly by all those who want to help them in smooth transition. In addition to these changes, there are challenges of growing up in a globalized world too.

Growing up Globally

There is a very large cohort of adolescents in the developing world and it is coming of age in a very fast changing world. The countries in the world are connected to each other and changes in technology, education, environment, culture, and politics become pervasive and globally inclusive and make a marked change in the living conditions of adolescents. These changes have lowered the distance between different countries. Changes in technology make travel faster, easier and unnecessary due to growth of electronic communication. Due to changes in politics, it is easier to cross national boundaries and due to shift in economic structure, the flow of goods, services and capital has become a routine thing. Globalization per se is not new but what are new are the speed, scale, scope and complexity of this process.

How are these changes affecting their coming of age? First of all adolescent life is not limited by geographical boundaries. Technology made dissemination of information anywhere, anytime and financial transactions and production networks are organized globally with few hiccups. Transportation makes rich and poor countries accessible to each other and migration across international borders a reality. In the twenty first century, many of these adolescents are growing in a transformed world or in other words growing globally.

Each coin has two sides. Globalization has not only opened doors to opportunities but also posed several threats. It has introduced new international conflicts and problems such as rising inequality, social polarization, and the demise of the nation.

Due to these global forces, the next generation will have to live and work in a transformed world and the choices that today’s young people make or others make on their behalf will facilitate or constrain their success as adults. Old expectations regarding employment or life experiences are not valid any more. Furthermore, the transition to adulthood is no longer just a matter of familial and individual choices but is greatly shaped by global contexts, increased contact across cultures and geographical space, and the repercussions that are associated with multiple and simultaneous events across countries. And the traditional values and norms that informed and influenced these choices in the past may not lead to the best decisions in the changing global context in which adolescents find themselves. Arnett (2002) has argued that young people worldwide now develop a bicultural identity that integrates their local identity with new elements derived from their exposure to and interpretation of global culture.

These changes reach even rural areas and mean both opportunities such as markets, technology and democracy and risk in the form of marginalization. Adolescents need to be prepared for making best out of these changes. This article discusses various global factors affecting transition of adolescents into adults, and role of adolescence education in their successful and smooth transition.

Global factors affecting Adolescent transition

There are various global factors affecting adolescent transition such as technology, demographic profile of adolescents, rapid spread of formal schooling, health, cultural diffusion and ideational change.

Role of Technology

Technology has made rapid communication and interconnectedness possible for people including adolescents. Adolescents from middle class and elite families are able to harness the potential of globalization due to their ability to buy computers while other adolescents lag behind due to dearth of resources. Labour market is continuously changing due to technological changes and such market favours those with more education. The changing labour market demands adolescents with computer skills and knowledge for high profile positions. Internet along with other media brings adolescents together and forms a ‘global youth culture’.

Increase in Adolescent Population in Developing Countries

The globalization coincides with very large population of adolescents in developing countries such as India. In general, large cohorts of young people mean that many developing countries can expect a substantial increase in the supply of labor over the next several decades. This can have both advantages and disadvantages to the local economy. In some Asian settings, this temporarily favorable age structure of the population, often referred to as a country’s demographic bonus, has been credited as being a major factor in enabling sustained economic growth. At the same time, a disproportionately high proportion of young adults in a population also come with its own set of challenges. Too many young people (particularly men) with not enough to do can be a recipe for disaster. Historical data suggest that cycles of rebellion and military or civil conflict tend to coincide with periods when young people comprise a usually large proportion of the population.

Spread of Formal Schooling

In the last few decades, there has been an enormous increase in enrollment, attendance, retention and achievement of elementary school students especially girls even in poorest countries. This has resulted in lowering social inequality and improving economic development. Educational sector has become more concerned towards efficiency and accountability in delivery of educational services. Education is viewed as critical to improving many aspects of the transition of adolescents to adulthood and quality of life.

Health of Adolescents (HIV/AIDS Threat)

Improvements in health and survival have ensured for a great many more infants and children the opportunity to enjoy life into adolescence and beyond. These improvements, moreover, have meant that these children have developed better cognitively as well as in terms of physical health. Furthermore, the fertility transition, which is in process in most of the developing world, means that many young people are growing up with fewer siblings and in smaller households. Although due to reduction in Infant Mortality Rate (IMR) and Under 5 Mortality Rate (UMR), adolescents are comparatively healthier lot but still in Sub-Saharan African countries, the greatest threat to adolescent health relates to HIV/AIDS pandemic. Adolescence is a time when many people first engage in sexual activity, potentially increasing their risk of unplanned pregnancy and unsafe abortion as well as of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV/ AIDS. Delays in the age of marriage, however, have not resulted in a decline in the age at first sex; quite to the contrary, in most countries it appears that because of delays in the age of marriage there has been no change or a delay in the percent having first sex before the age of 18. However, even in places where there has been no decline in the age of first sex, sex may have become riskier than in the past because of the heightened risks associated with the AIDS epidemic in places where it has been growing.

For young women in the developing world, maternal mortality and the negative consequences of pregnancy, abortion, and childbearing continue to represent a considerable proportion of their health burden, despite declines in the percentage having births as children. Because adolescents who give birth early tend to be rural, less well educated, and poor, early pregnancy and childbearing can pose significant health risks. There is some evidence that in recent years, the service environment for childbirth has improved somewhat. The proportion of pregnant women who are attended by a professional at their delivery showed some small gains from 1985 to 1996 (WHO, 1997).

Cultural Diffusion and Ideational Change

Young people’s frames of reference are influenced on one hand by traditional cultural norms and values passed on to them from their parents, family members, teachers and other members of the community, and on the other hand by new and emergent ideas, beliefs, and ideologies that are brought about by the global age in which they live and spread transnationally. Global change, including access to Western and other international media, markets, and youth culture on one hand and the spread of transnational religious movements on the other, are potentially important new elements shaping the contemporary lives of young people in their local context.

In the light of some of the global factors discussed above and needs and problems of adolescents due to physical, physiological, psychological changes taking place in their bodies, an educational intervention called ‘adolescence education’ is initiated and implemented for young school population.

Importance of Adolescence Education (AE)

Adolescence education needs to be imparted to adolescents for smooth and successful transition as adults. The adolescence education is an educational intervention for imparting information, providing encouragement and support, clarification of doubts and myths so that adolescents can make sense of their world and grow as productive members of the society. Adolescence education must provide information related to

  • Good mental and physical health, including reproductive health, and the knowledge and means to sustain health during adulthood;
  • An appropriate stock of human and social capital to enable an individual to be a productive adult member of society;
  • The acquisition of pro-social values and the ability to contribute to the collective well-being as citizen and community participant;
  • Adequate preparation for the assumption of adult social roles and obligations, including the roles of spouse or partner, parent, and household and family manager;
  • The capability to make choices through the acquisition of a sense of self and a sense of personal competence;
  • And a sense of general well-being.

Adolescent-adult transition is not marked by traditional rites of passage such as circumcision or marriage or solely with the acquisition of skills that will enable adolescents to become more productive as adults, but more fundamentally about the enhancement of capabilities that will allow them “to lead lives they have reason to value and to enhance the substantive choices they have” (Sen, 1997:1959).


  1. I like the piece very much. This is an issue of critical concern. This kind of article needs to appear frequently. I request the author to write more about this issue.


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