Older Barbadians are hindering youth development by not stepping away from leadership positions and becoming guides to the next generation. The island’s education system is also not responding to evolving youth ambitions.
These views emerged as the agreed opinions among most of the speakers at a recent YMCA forum where those present contemplated the means by which society could go about Empowering Youth, Building a Better Barbados.
Held at the Y’s Pinfold Street home, the exchange of ideas was led off by a panel comprising Shaka O’Neal, director of the YMCA; Curtis Cave, president of the Young Democrats; Cleviston Hunte, director of Youth Affairs; Lionel Weekes, retired Permanent Secretary; and Corey Layne, a youth leader who also doubled as moderator.
Speaking from the floor after the panellists’ initial contributions, Gail Springer, a mother who said that she had been a youth upstart for 25 years, said that the problem and challenge lay in the attitude within the Barbadian leadership.
“We don’t like to release power. So you have older people in a lot of organizations … in all areas of Barbados, who do not know when it is time to exit and become a mentor,” she said, adding that Barbados needs to embrace changes for the next 50 years of nationhood.
“And in order to do that, you have to use the experience of the people coming through that [era] and transition that to mentoring the people going forward to the next 50 years.”
But, she pointed out, “we have not recognized how to do that”.
Springer said “that is the problem in Barbados in every single organization. This is why you have Girl Guides on the decline; [Boy] Scouts on the decline. You have YMCA trying to rebuild itself”.
Panelist Layne jumped in with support at this point stating that it is indeed ‘a Barbados problem’.
He spoke of growing up in the scouts movement and hearing leaders saying they were anxious to move on, but “they are the reason I have to be on the side lines now because they refused to move…and we’re talking about empowering youth”.
He proceeded to relate the experiences of himself and other youth leaders who today still find themselves out of national leadership positions.
Layne said that in the position of prime minister of the Barbados Youth Parliament, and as vice-president of the Barbados Youth Development Council, he and colleagues had travelled across the Caribbean region establishing similar youth parliaments and councils in the neighbouring islands.
He said that the young persons from those neighbouring territories have now risen to national leadership. “A lot of those people are now in parliament in their country, a lot of those people are in leading positions.”
Layne did not however give the young people of today a full pass. He said the question for many of them is “how much they are willing to sacrifice to get to the promised land?”
He related how with zero help from governmental agencies, his 20-acre Nature Fun Ranch for at risk youth was set up mainly through personal sacrifice.
“A lot of young people sitting and waiting for somebody to give them, to help them,” Layne said, adding that the exuberance and energy of youth mean “that you got to plough through. You cannot wait… Nobody is going to step aside and let you get through. You got to make it happen”.
Youth Director Hunte said, “leadership is not only at one level. People have to show leadership where they are at.” “In order to move on, you have to be recognised as someone who has the competence by the way you act,” he added.
Hunte cautioned against comparison of youth achievement in Barbados with some other regional territories. “In a lot of the islands, young people come to the fore very early because when you look at academic qualifications, the pool is a lot smaller than it is in Barbados.”
Former PS Weekes said an issue is that many leaders do not return to their roots to offer guidance. “A lot of us, when we graduate from the village and go on into the heights and so and so forth, we do not go back and pay the dues that we should pay in our villages.”
Speaking as an individual and not a YMCA leader, O’Neal observed “that whole issue of mentorship and positivity” is absent in secondary schools. He spoke of young men being mostly affected to the point “that we were sometimes discouraged”.
A recent UWI graduate in the audience related his observation that more women are coming out of Cave Hill than men.
Curtis Cave countered that the 2017 Samuel Jackman Prescod Institute of Technology appeared to be bucking that trend with men outnumbering women.
He said this might be pointing to the male educational preference.
“It depends as a society what do we want. Do we want our males to be forced to go into medicine, accounts … if they want to go to SJPI and study, let us put more respect into that and fund more money into SJPI because we understand the worth of our young men, not force them into areas that they don’t want.”
Contributing from the floor, Raven-Lauren Bramble said, “we always say that the children fall through the system, but … my interpretation is that they fall through the cracks because they are not interested”.
She argued that the school system insists young people have to await entry into tertiary institutions before taking up the vocation they want, yet that is the point at which fees are required.
“If I want to be a singer , I got to go to BCC which means my mother has to look for extra funds to send me to do that. If I want to be an artist ,I have to go to university or one of those places for which my mother may not have the funding. Then what do I do? There is no one to support me, encourage me so I fall through the cracks”
She said the usual complaint from the youth is ‘my mother couldn’t afford to send me there, so I didn’t do anything with my talent’. For this reason, she asked why not begin vocational training in secondary school where education is free.
She recalled being in school with girls who wanted to do hair dressing and bakery but in secondary school, “you get one hour for baking, but you got a three-hour maths class… you have longer periods in the thing that they are not interested in”.
Another floor contributor Jamila Walton said that Barbados’ education system is no longer serving young people from the point of its failure to embrace change at the primary level.
She said that children should be taught the basics of technical needs such as coding from young, otherwise they will be disinterested in current demands of technology studies upon entering secondary school because the challenges of adopting to this new style of education are too great.
“To empower the youth is to reform… especially primary school education because that seems to be the lacking point in the children going forward and being productive and well-rounded in Barbados.
“Things have changed and the system has not upgraded with the passage of time,” she said.
The YMCA-sponsored discussion may yet prove an eye-opener because instead of the discussion following the usual path of orating only on what young people should do, contributors pointed to what might be inflexible social, leadership and education attitudes that are inhibiting the development of young people on this island.