Find positive ways to keep youth busy
By the end of this week, another 4 000-plus Barbadian youth will reach the end of their secondary school tenure. For some this will be just a brief pause on a well planned path to a long-identified career choice.
For many more, however, it will be the start of a prolonged period of uncertainty, to which there would have been myriad contributing factors over many years.
The state of the economy and the pressure it has imposed on many households will, without doubt, have an impact on immediate plans for further education. And whether or not they want to believe it, the Government’s policy decision in relation to higher education costs being passed on upfront to those who will benefit from an education at the University of the West Indies will also play a role.
In addition, the failure of too many households to ensure their offspring understand the importance and value of a sound and continuing education to the setting and the attainment of credible goals has also to be factored in.
We would not wish to suggest that the absence of immediate employment opportunities and the constriction of higher education avenues as a result of Government policies will result in any mass creation of criminals, but the recent disclosure of a key CARICOM crime watch agency ought not to be ignored in this equation.
According to former Jamaica Commissioner of Police Francis Forbes, who now heads the Trinidad-based Caricom Implementation Agency For Crime and Security (IMPACS), the rapid increase in illegal guns and gang membership across the CARICOM region should be “more than a cause for concern”.
He disclosed that between 2006 and 2013, law enforcement agencies recovered 16 162 illegal firearms in 11 countries, and gang membership was now estimated to be not less than 35 000 and growing. In these same countries, last year alone there were 2 143 homicides, with 1 885 illegal guns being seized.
We raise these two issues together because we do believe there is a clear relationship between lawlessness in any community and the idleness of its youth. It would be hard not to anticipate an increase in the probability of that idleness among this coming batch of school leavers, given the state of our economy.
This is not a matter to be ignored. While Government is duty-bound to run a tight ship financially, given its scarce resources, it has to be creative in coming up with programmes to occupy our youth. There will be the usual knee-jerk reaction of “We have increased admissions at the Barbados Community College and Samuel Jackman Prescod Polytechnic” – but a few hundred places, if they are able to manage that, will not cut it when dealing with 4 000-plus school leavers.
Our underused secondary school plant must become activity hubs after 5 p.m.; our community centres and sports facilities must be teeming with activity to engage our youth meaningfully and constructively; and community groups and recognised community leaders, including past educators, must be brought on board.
There may even be merit in creating a branch of the Barbados Youth Service for ambitious school leavers who achieved good results at CXC, but who are not yet ready for higher education, and who are unlikely to find employment at this time.
We ought not to wait until the horse has bolted to close the barn door; not when we are so aware of “cause and effect”, particularly since we have seen the mistakes of some of our neighbours.