EDITORIAL - Mandatory youth service needed
In recent times the idea of establishing a mandatory youth service in this country has again been engaging the attention of persons. Advocating for it have been several social commentators and politicians, who suggest that the time has come for some form of that proposal to be entertained by the powers that be, to help give the youth a firm foundation on which to build their adult lives and to keep them out of trouble.
As he delivered the Astor B. Watts Lunchtime Lecture a few weeks ago, retired secondary school principal, Jeff Broomes, took the concept a step farther, suggesting that there is a need to establish a regime of national service that takes youth, who are so inclined, off the blocks. His proposal, and indeed we support it, is that unless a young person who leaves secondary school is involved in higher education or permanently employed, they should be engaged in a mandatory two-year programme of skill development, academic strengthening and community service.
Mr. Broomes also proposed that there should be a legal provision, which would hold the parents of said children accountable for ensuring that their offspring attend such a programme, and conform to the rules and regulations. Again, we support this call, as parents have a major role to play in helping to fashion the future leaders of this country and they must be answerable for such actions. What we would therefore suggest, is that where the parents fail to ensure that their children enrol in and attend the programme, that they too be mandated to attend a few sessions with their children so that they can have a better appreciation for the initiative.
The fact is none of us can deny the importance of better engaging our young men and women, who may feel disadvantaged or disillusioned on leaving school, so that instead of acting out and falling into the wrong crowds, they can do positive things with their lives. We do not need any more of our young people becoming involved with the criminal element and we feel that if they continue to be exposed to some form of a structured environment, until age 18 or 19, then we have the opportunity to inculcate strong, positive characteristics in our future men and women – our future leaders. In such a programme we can teach them vocational skills, the new wave of the future, and let them volunteer of their time to assist others, for example at the state run medical facilities including the Queen Elizabeth Hospital and the Geriatric Hospital.
In Barbados we find ourselves in a good position already where access to our youth is concerned, as the law already ensures that they attend school until the age of 16. That no doubt ensures that our drop-out rate remains negligible, as the law dictates that the authorities can round them up and ensure they get to the classroom or they can be placed in either of the Government Industrial Schools. But between the ages of 16 and 21 when they enter full adulthood, the systems are failing and those gaps are glaring.
Whether we want to admit it or not, we have too many young people, male and female, leaving the school system without adequate certification or skills, and without either, they will find it even harder in this economic environment to be gainfully employed and are likely to turn to crime to make ends meet.
Therefore, as a society we have to ensure that crime is not their only resort, and that they can feel part of something bigger than them, and are able to make a meaningful contribution to our country.