From left, Executive Secretary, Nigerian Academy of Science (NAS), Dr Oladoyin Odubanjo; NAS President, Professor Oyewale Tomori; keynote speaker, Professor Alfred Adegoke; Professor Akinyinka Omigbodun; Academic Secretary, Biological Sciences, NAS, Professor Temitayo Shokunbi and Academic Secretary, Physical Sciences, NAS, Professor Domingo Okorie, at a media roundatable held in Lagos, recently.That the youth are the future of the nation is a popular clich often paid lip service to by politicians and government officials, but the statement remains, nonetheless, true.Statistics have it that the youth forms 70 per cent of the nation, yet they are faced with poor or non-existent access to functional education, including vocational education, and high unemployment rates. Apart from the Boko Haram onslaught, young people are exposed to myriad of conflicts in different parts of the country.Degenerating societal values and weakening family ties have combined to leave them vulnerable to adverse sexual and reproductive health outcomes, including gender-based sexual violence. More than 60 per cent of them live below the poverty line.A vibrant young population in Nigeria seems to be an endangered species of sorts, and this, according to Professor Oyewale Tomori, President of the Nigerian Academy of Science (NAS), whose mandate includes facilitating the use of new knowledge in the solution of major problems of national interest, prompted NAS to embark on a Needs Assessment Survey in Ekiti and Nasarawa States that will assist in developing action plans to address social development and reproductive health issues of youths. The project was done with support from Ford Foundation.Startling findings from this project were made known to the public at a recent media roundtable held in Lagos.Professor Akinyinka Omigbodun of NAS, presented the Needs Assessment Survey Findings for both states.According to the report presented, in Ekiti State, three senatorial districts of Ekiti North, Ekiti South and Ekiti Central were visited, wherein interactions with youths in secondary schools, and out of school youths in communities, as well as science teachers, were held.Most of the youths in the study, about 70 per cent, were below 19 years. 84.7 per cent of these youths identified education as their basic social development need. 3.2 per cent said they needed vocational training, while 6.2 per cent and 3.9 per cent identified employment and access to micro-credit as their basic social needs, respectively. Their expectation was mostly on government to meet these needs, above their parents.A significant 12 per cent said they were into substance abuse, mostly alcohol. In reproductive health matters, school teachers were found to be the main source of information on sex matters. However, the youths, according to the survey, largely said they preferred to have gotten such information from within their families. Risky sexual behaviour among youths and experiences leading to adverse outcomes of reproductive health were common. Knowledge of HIV transmission was high but did not seem to influence their practices.Professor Omigbodun said that with 34 per cent enrolment in schools, the survey findings gave a science teacher'science student ratio of 1:8, only 17 per cent of schools had adequate laboratory space and equipment, 75 per cent had a 'library' but these were considered inadequate, while many schools lack chairs and tables, having no shelves or empty shelves and 67 per cent of the schools did not have a computer laboratory or facility.Nasarawa State, according to the assessment, 40 per cent of students in JS1 and JS2 were between 15 and 19, indicating high age of school enrollment in the state.Similar to Ekiti State, the youths in the survey acknowledged education to be their basic social development need, and most of them felt that not enough was being done to meet this need.According to the report, teachers were the commonest source of information for students on many issues like reproductive health and sexuality education.Many of these teachers were found to be lacking training in Family Life Health Education (FLHE) and Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) prevention and control measures.Yet the report noted that students preferred this information to come from mothers and other family members.Infrastructure for social development were minimal or non-existent in schools, even as risky sexual behaviours among these youths and experiences leading to unplanned pregnancies, abortion and unwillingness to go for HIV testing were prevalent, according to the report.The Science Academy proposed that states should establish mechanisms to obtain appropriate data on school enrolment and other parameters, especially private schools, provide ICT facilities to encourage computer based learning; science laboratories and libraries with relevant materials, to enhance reading and learning.'Vocational training facilities should be provided in schools. Need for increased awareness and enlightenment on risky sexual behaviour and effects of substance abuse should be done through school health programmes. The use of peer educators should be emphasised in schools.'Opportunities to encourage parental and religious involvement in addressing/educating youths on reproductive health matters should be explored,' NAS stated.Dr Oladoyin Odubanjo, in his remarks, said the media had an active role to play in mobilising stakeholders to action on these issues.Earlier in the event while delivering his keynote address titled, 'An Emerging Crisis: Social Development and Reproductive Health Issues of Youth in Nigeria,' Professor Alfred Adegoke of the Faculty of Education, University of Ilorin, said: 'The huge population of young people in Nigeria makes them central to the country's social, political and economic development. Young people are not a monolithic group ' no one size fits all. There is no 'magic bullet' approach, multiple messages through multiple modalities are needed.'Meeting their needs is a major continuing public policy challenge, which calls for constant re-thinking of policies, re-assessment of priorities, commitment of adequate financial resources and effective implementation of programmes. Click here to read full news..