“A country where young people are vibrant and optimistic through being supported and encouraged to take up challenges. We are the Government’s ears and eyes so it can better understand the needs and concerns of New Zealand’s young people. Our work involves keeping up to date on key issues affecting young people. We actively seek and promote opportunities for them to contribute to the cultural, social and economic policies and services that affect New Zealand’s development. By listening and responding to the needs of young people, we are always seeking ways to build a better world – for them and New Zealand – a country where young people are valued, nurtured and challenged to realise their full potential” – The vision statement of The Ministry of Youth Development in New Zealand www.myd.govt.nz.
My assessment is that the government of any country would be proud to have such a vision for its young people. This would be further enhanced with a mission to promote youth development through positive youth policies, involving young people in decision making and providing quality youth development programmes. Furthermore, it would be even more rewarding if a regular monitoring process revealed that the youth development strategy led to elements of the vision gradually being played out in reality.
The reality in Barbados is that there is decay in acceptable youth behaviour. There needs to be significant improvement in discipline, politeness, behaviour to adults, understanding of the concept of excellence, respect for law and order and morality to halt the decay. Indeed, the problem is so significant that potential parents today are making deliberate decisions not to bring children into this world because of the exposure to a rapidly deteriorating social environment.
The finger must be pointed to the adults in the society who are charged with the mandate to provide this leadership and example to their children and wards. The government must play its role by establishing youth policies. The private sector, government, the church, service clubs, youth groups and civil society must actively and collectively mount and promote youth development programmes. Failure to provide this leadership and example effectively has put the country at a major disadvantage which is evidenced by a ‘lost generation’ of individuals who have slipped through the youth development net. This ‘lost generation’ delivers a devastating blow to society especially when one comes to grips with the reality that the members of the lost generation themselves will become parents one day, thus escalating the decay. The challenge therefore is to focus on the parents and teachers so that new entrants into this world will have the best that the country can offer.
One hears of many stories: at some schools the children seem to be in charge; mother and daughter fighting in a public place; parents in confrontation with teachers at schools; children bringing weapons to school; drugs being liberally distributed in schools; disgraceful behaviour in public places such as mini buses; failure to extend common courtesies to peers; and lack of polite behaviour extended to adults. The list goes on to include: young cyclists weaving their way and stunt riding between traffic as if the traffic regulations do not apply to them; idling on the block rather than formally seeking to engage in some simple measures of enterprise development; anti-social behaviour and dress; and offensive, immoral behaviour by even primary school aged children. How do we redress this situation?
It seems as though the Ministry of Education, Youth Affairs and Sport prefers to down play the incidents stating that there are only a few ‘bad apples’ who generate enough publicity to make the situation seem worse than it really is. Even if this were so, we are all familiar with the concept of one bad apple spoiling the whole barrel. Unless we identify and remove those bad apples we are courting an escalating problem which appears to be already out of hand. An aggressive solution is needed. Now that we are forced to address a challenging prison situation, we should also be addressing the problem of decaying youth behaviour which in itself will obviously increase the demand for prison facilities in the future.
My solution is to basically set up a compulsory Youth Development Camp for three years for youth between the ages of 14 and 17 who are not engaged in gainful employment or formal educational activity. The objective of this Camp is to instill a measure of discipline and optimum lifestyle behaviour, so that when they are released from the Camp they have an increased chance of becoming good citizens. This, of course, means that there must be a parallel enterprise development activity to create opportunities for graduates of the Camp to be gainfully employed.
We must aspire to become a country where young people are vibrant and optimistic through being supported and encouraged to take up challenges. We must aspire to become a country where young people are valued, nurtured and challenged to realise their full potential. We cannot compromise on the sequence quality, productivity, excellence then competitiveness. The social partners must therefore address the crisis in youth development as a matter of dire urgency.