Saturday, June 6, 2009

The young & the bold

For a variety of reasons, many young people reject politics and activism. Many prioritize financial security and/or personal gain over social or civic responsibility. Some young people do participate in activism or student government, yet do so to develop their own careers rather than to improve their communities. Other young people do not participate in activism at all because it does not offer the promise of high salaries or prestige and might even result in blacklisting or exclusion from government positions. The very word “politics” is dirty in some countries, as it is strongly associated with corruption and deception. In many countries, violent secessionist or extremist groups, corrupt governments, or the military offer more money, power, and privilege to young people than do peace and democracy movements

Many modern cities, with increasingly large percentages of populations, lack true public spaces where diverse young people can gather and exchange ideas. Our societies have lost the traditional spaces and structure in which young people used to interact with each other and with community leaders, developing their sense of community and social responsibility. Standard education in our country focuses more on an individual being able to reproduce what is in the books at the final examination at the end of the year than on technical skills or more importantly, critical thought. Exclusion has made many youth into consumers of pop culture, goods, and ideas, rather than producers, and into objects rather than subjects.

Working with young people requires focus on the paradigms of today’s youth. Experienced leaders cannot expect the younger generation to be motivated by the same concerns that motivated them when they were young, or see the priorities and meaning of political action in the same way. Instead, we must explore ways to create spaces and incentives for youth to set our own priorities and develop our own organizations/councils, which builds civic consciousness in young people by stimulating them to draw connections between their personal concerns and the larger issues within our great nation and set our own priorities for taking action and providing them with the skills and opportunity to design and execute their own community service projects.

Young people are our nation’s greatest asset. Leaders around the world have found that by giving youth a voice in shaping decisions that affect their lives, governments can craft smarter policies and solutions to key youth issues. Furthermore, young people who are involved in positive activities are less likely to abuse alcohol or drugs, commit crimes, become pregnant or engage in other risky behaviour.

Many other countries are discovering that when they set up youth councils and offer other meaningful leadership opportunities, young people want to be involved and will recruit their peers to join them. Youth councils are a popular and powerful way to promote young people’s participation in local government, helping them:
1. Learn firsthand about how government works;
2. Gain leadership experience and new skills, such as public speaking and working in teams;
3. Develop a sense of responsibility, belonging, confidence and empowerment; and
4. Realize that their voices matter and that they can improve their community.

Young adults are an "unclaimed constituency," who will not come to us but, instead, we must go to them, take their concerns seriously and look for solutions that will be meaningful to them immediately instead of asking for their votes on vague promises of the future. This includes young workers, young professionals and young families. All of the members have the interest of their community at heart and will work hard to affect the democratic process.

Knowledge is power. As the world moves forward and computer knowledge has become the essence of society, we need computer education in every school, thereby not only exposing our youth to unlimited knowledge but also creating a strong foundation for a future IT industry.

Night schools are another key in helping the youth of today. As more and more emphasis is put on educational qualification, we, as a responsible society, must give our people a second chance. Night schools will give the working youth, who dropped out of schools because of their immaturity or who at that time, did not recognize the value of education or because of family complications, an opportunity to change their own positions in life.

We need a commitment from our government to provide internships in offices to class 12 students so that they gain first-hand knowledge and working experience, so that they can better decide on their future careers.

Leaders may come and go but let us today create a strong foundation for our youth, so that they become responsible leaders of a dynamic Bhutan tomorrow.

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