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Things That Matter: Today’s youth; tomorrow’s leaders
By Henry S. Fraser
“Youth is wasted on the young.” – George Bernard Shaw (Famous English playwright)
“I am afraid that the schools will prove the very gates of hell, unless they diligently labour in explaining the Holy Scriptures and engraving them in the heart of the youth.”
– Martin Luther King
The National Youth Programme, passed in the Senate on Wednesday, is like mother’s milk: it’s good, it’s ideal, and no one can disagree with it. And like mother’s milk it’s got a bit of everything, and it’s beautifully packaged! But like a mother with triplets, there just may not be enough to do the job best.
And so, I would like to regard it, after some years of gestation, as still a work in progress. I assume that the many stakeholders, groups and committees will continue to improve and develop the plans and programmes. So I wish to make a few comments and suggestions. In fact there are 10 strategies in the Policy document, and I have 10 points.
First, on core values. In 2000 I gave a keynote speech on Ethics and Human values and I spoke of some of the problems. I commented that we saw them coming but we did nothing – for example, as Senator Chandler said in the Senate, Crop Over and indecency have become virtually synonymous. Will we tackle this problem or stay silent and complicit?
Secondly, on family breakdown. Some 25 years ago Professor George Nicholson organised a conference titled “Children having children”, on the major problems of teenage pregnancies, drugs and violence. The point is that in the 1970s we saw a period of “social liberation”, with many in the media promoting the freedom and right to reject traditions of marriage, sex within marriage, and nuclear families, for free love and single parenthood. Rejection of marriage is still rationalised and justified as an inevitable and acceptable consequence of slave society. But the result is the destruction of family and children.
Thirdly, research shows unequivocally the strong association between unstable families and the tragic consequences of drugs, crime and violence. So family life education is crucial and deserves much more emphasis, along with relationship education and dispute resolution education. We need to teach about love and not just about sex in sex education. Every young person should read “Men are from Mars and Women from Venus” by John Grey, to understand human relationships.
Fourth: Spirituality. I would like to see every school take to heart the quote above by Martin Luther King, and infuse more about spirituality in school. I define health as physical, mental, social and spiritual well-being, and so spirituality must be part of the education process from primary school all the way through school.
Fifth: Sport. I would like to see more emphasis on sport. As a school boy at Lodge, we played games almost every afternoon and in lunch hour. Today the game is a game boy/computer game, and the playing fields have only a passionate few after school. But fitness must be part of the curriculum too, with time in the gym and pride inculcated in health and fitness. And we need more parks and open spaces, in every neighbourhood.
Sixth: Culture, art and crafts. Hobbies should be promoted in school, with clubs and societies – music as at St. Leonards, art and woodwork. They not only make school fun but open new opportunities for life.
Seventh: Self empowerment and personal development are critical elements in a teenager’s progress. Communication skills, speech training, writing skills and leadership skills all mould a positive person.
Eighth: Award systems. The academically inclined win prizes and the best sportsmen win cups, but other skills and achievements, recognised by some schools, can be major motivators. And the strong traditions of scouts, guides and cadets, great character builders, should be given great support.
Ninth: Volunteering is hugely important, but we have lost a lot of the desire to volunteer, and children need role models. I do believe a youth service is most logical. A volunteer approach for the younger children is appropriate, but for school leavers a mandatory period of three, four or six months is appropriate. And one way of achieving both responsibility and significant productivity – a win-win situation – would be to tie a period of youth service to the payment of UWI fees. The youth service period could be served between school leaving and university entrance, and in the first summer vacation after year one. Fees would be paid on proof of completion of each period of service.
An ideal form of youth service, practised in other countries, is in the building trade. It would be a way of both teaching skills and achieving results such as painting buildings or restoring derelict buildings. This is one of the country’s major needs right now, with the embarrassing number of decaying treasures – both government owned as well as abandoned houses and homes of indigent citizens whose pensions can’t maintain their houses.
Finally, the National Youth Policy document should be read by almost everyone. It should be discussed on television. The Ministry needs to make it widely available, and let the public know where it can be obtained. This is a major initiative, with huge potential for our great nation. Today’s youth are tomorrow’s leaders.
Bouquet of the week: To the Business Mentorship pillar of the Barbados Entrepreneurship Foundation (BEF), which has launched it’s a business mentorship matching portal at Barbados Youth Business Trust (BYBT), the best practice, award-winning youth entrepreneurship organization in the Caribbean.
BOUQUET OF THE YEAR!: To President Barack Obama – a victory for truth, integrity and humanity.
(Professor Fraser is Past President of the Barbados National Trust, and past Dean of Medical Sciences, UWI.)