President David A. Granger: Good afternoon to all the awardees. Fellow Guyanese, I am very honoured to be here this evening to preside over this ceremony; for the first time as patron of the President Youth Award: Republic of Guyana.
I am happy too, to be able to congratulate the awardees for their efforts and exertions over the months and we celebrate their awards this evening and we congratulate them on their performance. The class of 2015 has done well and we would like to extend our wishes for their further development and growth in their chosen careers.
As you know, this development scheme began in 1998; 17 years ago, with the aim of providing young people with the opportunities for personal development, wider exposure in their country and for the chance to meet and interact with other young people from other parts of their country while at the same time, committing to community service.
The awardees therefore, must be commended for having passed through one or more of the various levels of the President Youth Award: Republic of Guyana.
It is axiomatic that the future belongs to young people. What this means, is that the youth will inherit the Earth. It is for the youth to grasp the opportunities afforded by this beautiful, bountiful country; the Republic of Guyana.
This award scheme is meant to prepare you for the future:
Youth development must equip young people with the right education, the right attitudes, and the right values if they are to go out into the world and become productive and useful citizens.
Youth development must overcome the challenge of unemployment. Young people are leaving school and are facing great difficulties in securing satisfactory employment.
Youth development, also, must give birth to a new generation of Guyanese entrepreneurs; of leaders, of pioneers, young people who are prepared to explore new avenues and opportunities in our economy.
Youths are the ones with the imagination to innovate, to initiate and to investigate. They are the ones with the interest to communicate, to network, to exchange ideas through the new media. They have the intuition, they have the energy, and they have the passion to propel change to pursue their personal goals. They have the independence to explore and travel.
The President Youth Award: Republic of Guyana does all this for them but it must be engineered to ensure that those who graduate from this scheme are better equipped to create for themselves, employment. The scheme, if it is to make an effective contribution to youth development, cannot ignore the issue of unemployment. The scheme since its inception, 17 years ago, has indeed emphasised a five-part programme:
Volunteering: It’s compulsory to the scheme but in addition to volunteering you undertake service to individuals in their communities of residence.
Physical training: They prove themselves in any area of sport and as we saw this evening; culture, dance and other forms of physical fitness.
Skills development: They acquire skills to develop practical and social skills in keeping with their own personal interests.
Expedition: You go on expeditions; planning, training and competing; adventure in this beautiful country.
At the Gold Level: The highest level, which you saw – at that gold level, participants must do an additional fifth residential section and this involves staying and working away from home for five days doing a form of shared activity. But awardees, as you’ve discovered, these activities are valuable and I am sure that the lessons you’ve learnt over the past months will stay with you the rest of your lives. The friendships you’ve made will endure, the experiences indeed are laudable. They’ve helped, I’m sure, to mould your character but although they are necessary, they are essential qualities for youth development given the changes taking place in the world today, they may not be sufficient.
Guyana is not an island unto itself it faces challenges; it faces challenges on our borders, challenges which have not been resolved for over 50 years; it faces competition from other countries; countries which can produce our traditional commodities – rice, sugar, bauxite, gold, timber, fish in greater quantities and at a lower costs and sometimes with the capability to deliver these commodities to markets around the world more efficiently than we can.
Guyana, equally, cannot expend scarce resources on youth schemes which are not actually benefiting the youth. For example, you remember that 15 years ago we had a scheme called the President Youth Choice Initiative – where is that scheme now? After millions of dollars have been spent, what is there to show for the PYCI?
This must not happen to the PYARG – the President’s Youth Award, but awardees, if Guyana is to survive we must change our approach to youth development. Emphasis must be on education, education and education.
Education is essential in order to provide our young people with the knowledge they need to seek and secure jobs successfully. It is clear, increasingly, however, that while we may be graduating thousands of persons every year from various programmes and from our schools, many have not been able to find satisfactory employment.
I know because I have met some of these young people who have gone across our borders to live and work in Brazil, sometimes very menial jobs, some of them go to Suriname, some of them go to Venezuela, some of them go to the Caribbean.
Many young people who remain here slide into unemployment and idleness and unfortunately, not a few, fall into the criminal justice system and end up in jail. In fact, the Director of Prisons said that three out of four prisoners are youths. This is not a statistic of which I can be proud.
Guyana, further, suffers from high unemployment and school dropout rates; probably every month, 400 or 500 children drop-out of primary and secondary schools in this country. A few years ago the report of the CARICOM Commission on Youth Development called ‘Eye on the future-Invest in Youth Now for the Community Tomorrow that report noted, among other things that the primary education dropout rate was at a staggering height. Joblessness among young people in the Caribbean Community at an average of 23% was higher than many other developed and developing countries.
PYARG’s focus, therefore, has to be one of the types of education that prepares young people for employment. Most particularly, youths must be exposed more intensively to information technology and entrepreneurship to enable them when they graduate to start up their own businesses and become independent.
The job market is increasingly influenced by technology, especially information technology. Modern communications transmit information at the speed of light around the world. What I am saying here, what you are doing here could be broadcast, I’m sure, almost simultaneously ‘live’ in Brooklyn or in Berlin.
Machines are replacing human beings; automatic banking machines have become a substitute for bank tellers. Accounting software has made a number of clerical positions in the accounting departments redundant.
Young people, awardees, in such an environment you must become more entrepreneurial; you must make things; you mustn’t expect jobs to fall in your lap. You have to go out there and make employment. You must be able to create businesses in the areas of services and small-scale manufacturing and agriculture (farming).
The principal objective of our government is the creation of more jobs for young people. We want young people to be inheritors, not just of the future; that is inevitable but we want you to have a good life.
Education, employment and entrepreneurship must be emphasized as a critical aspect of youth development.
Youth schemes like this, the Presidential Youth Award: Republic of Guyana must place greater emphasis on education if it is to satisfy the needs of our large youth population. Every year at Easter time, as you know, over 15,000 young people write our National Grade Six Assessment. What happens to them? For me, I have to find 15,000 jobs every year.
Education will help you therefore, to secure a better future and those who graduate from the PYARG must be able to look forward to employment for satisfactory adult life.
Today, I wish all of you who are graduating from this scheme; from the Bronze, Silver and Gold levels, all success in the future. I ask the Minister within the Ministry of Education to take a careful note of your names and your qualifications and let’s make an effort to see how we can ensure that you fit into the world of work and you do not become unemployed when you leave the scheme.
I look forward to you being exemplars of the great promise that young people hold for Guyana’s future.
I thank you and may God bless you!