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Youth governance

Thursday, March 17, 2011
Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar with dignitaries after she addressed the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association youth forum where she was the feature speaker on Monday at Millbank, Palace of Westminster. AP

 Youth has been defined as persons less than 25 years of age, even under 30 in some jurisdictions. Youth therefore includes children of school age and definitely adolescents at secondary school and those persons eligible to vote in national elections in T&T.

Governance in the context of youth engagement refers to leading, managing, steering, organising, active participating, and decision-making by consensus rather than token consultation or inclusion.

In our society the concepts of “youth voice” and “youth involvement in decision-making” have, by and large, been overshadowed and, indeed, fashioned, by our cultural traditions and mores in which it was widely held that children must be seen and not heard. Adults are the “people who know what’s good for youth” and thus youth must “know their place.” 

While student councils, youth groups/clubs, national youth council and various forms of youth involvement existed for many years, somehow the all embracing concept of youth governance seemed to have eluded us in practice and procedure. Adults seem fearful of giving youth definitive opportunities to take charge of significant projects at home, school and community or even to be part of the consensus process.   

If the skills of citizenship—leadership, informed decision-making, loyalty, patriotism, and care for each other and care of the environment—are to be learned, then youth must be given opportunities to learn these skills. Youth governance is a positive and dynamic way for this to happen.

Over the last five years or so, in Trinidad and Tobago, many strides have been made to foster youth governance at the level of the school, local government, in sport and through programmes such as Junior Achievement, Cadet Force Units, Scouting and Guiding, President’s Medal Programme, student councils, local school boards to mention a few. Many of these programmes are in existence for many years, but there is a resurgence of interest. 

The Organisation of American States (OAS) has partnered with the Ministries of Education, Sport and Youth Affairs and Local Government to host training workshops for teachers, municipal representatives and youth officers in promoting a culture of embracing the concept of youth governance in practical terms.

The measure of success will only be apparent when youth-run projects are highlighted; when youth-run clubs and organisations are able to function independently with only minimal support (interference?) from adults. The idea of trusting that youth are capable is an often difficult pill for adults to swallow.

Even in the home some parents find it challenging (even infra dig) to allow children and adolescents to sit in on family decisions or even have a diverse opinion. How will true leadership and independence develop in the individual if that character trait having and expressing an opinion is somewhat stymied?  

A UNDP publication by Dejana Popic “Perspectives on Youth and Governance” in the Philippines (Bratislava Regional Centre) quoted by Milen Kidane of Unicef (T&T) on July 21, 2010 states: 

“Communities are dependent upon the minds, hearts and hands of their young people and young people are dependent upon the viability, vitality, protection and attention of their community.”

If we accept that this is a reasonable statement, then the question arises: to what extent are we as adults giving our youth the real chances to grow into active leadership roles? 

At the level of the school, how much direct involvement do students through their student councils have in decision-making that affects them eg through the development of school rules, codes of conduct, discipline matrices (including the sanctions that go with them), membership on the local school boards, membership on the school’s management and crisis management committees, planning fun activities, sports days, graduations, student and teacher appreciation days and so on. Is there a democratic election process to student councils and filling of administrative positions in the various clubs in school?

At the level of the community, to what extent are youth allowed to become members of a district youth council; is there such in each local government municipality? The training was given! It is critical that municipalities embrace youth voice and youth participation. 

A great amount of discipline and support for projects can be derived from youth if they are given real opportunities. Pickeral and Morales (2004) made reference to the impact of schools’ and communities’ roles in developing a democratic citizenry. For youth to fully understand their role in the democratic process, they must be trusted by adults to participate in real decision-making, even if it is time consuming initially. Ultimately, these youth will elect a government and even become members of government. How much better prepared would adults be if they are given the exposure as youth.

All too often society sees the negative side of youth because that is deemed more newsworthy the media. Engineering a culture of youth involvement and youth governance is a challenge for all adults in our society. It requires a willingness to recognise youth as persons who have a contribution to make to society; a society which they will inherit. So why not involve them now?

Corporate social responsibility includes the concept of sustainability. When business corporations/organisations invest in youth programmes and projects that build capacity; that foster youth governance and democratic education, a more informed citizenry is developed; a more stable society evolves. A more stable society is more favourable for business growth.

As a nation, we must pay serious attention to how much we care for our youth. If adults truly accept the reality that youth shall inherit the legacy they shall leave, how much more effective, efficient and appreciative youth shall be in the managing of that legacy if they are brought into the fold of governance as youth. 

Adults have to learn to let go of the control mania and indeed, the phobia of youth and their much maligned impetuosity and allow youth that place of importance and active participation. All adults really need do is mentor youth in the fullest sense of the concept. Tokenism has no place in youth governance.  


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