The Youth Corps…hope for the future

Young people are this country’s future; It cannot be otherwise. It is the older generation’s obligation to ensure that the young population receives the best possible preparation to inherit this nation.

Guyana is a blessed nation indeed. It is the biggest and, potentially, most bountiful country in the Caribbean. It possesses extensive land, rivers, sea space, biodiversity, agriculture, fisheries, forests, mineral resources and, most valuable of all, a diverse population of descendants of people from the continents of the Americas, Africa, Asia and Europe.

We have a youthful population – Youth are our main resource, our richest resource. Half of our people are below the age of 24. One in every five Guyanese is between the ages of 15 and 24.

Population and potential
Guyana, if it is to fulfill its destiny as a land of opportunity and prosperity, must harness the potential of its majority – its young people. This country will falter if its youth flounders; it will remain poor and undeveloped as long as its youth remain undeveloped.
The launch of the Guyana Youth Corps today is a signal to our young people that their efforts at self-advancement will be supported fully by the state.

The energy of young people is evident everywhere. Their enthusiasm and exuberance cannot be restrained or repressed. The Corps will amplify their talents and expand the opportunities for self-actualisation.
Young people today face a future of hope and happiness. The challenges they face may be difficult but should not be discouraging or daunting.

We acknowledged that the dropout rates from primary and secondary schools; the migration rate of university graduates; the rate of teenage pregnancies and the rate of youth incarceration – with more than 500 young people within our prisons and correctional institutions – These rates must be reduced and if possible, eliminated.

It is against this background that the Government promulgated a draft National Youth Policy aimed at restoring hope to young people by facilitating their meaningful mobilisation and organisation. The ‘Policy’ explains Government’s vision as:

… a nation in which young people are united, educated, trained, safe, happy, healthy and integrally involved in the decision-making processes, while enjoying equality of opportunity and equal access to the resources of our country and are politically, economically and socially empowered.

This vision emphasises the four cornerstones of our national youth policy – education, equality, empowerment and employment. The good life will be unattainable unless young people enjoy greater equality, have access to better education, are provided with expanded employment opportunities and are empowered to make decisions which determine their future.

Education is the first pillar on which the Youth Corps will be built. Education is the foundation of achievement and the bedrock of a good life.
Prospects for self-development will be precluded until and unless young people are provided with the knowledge, skills and values which are necessary for them to become productive citizens and which enable them to provide adequately for themselves and their families. There have been many challenges in the public education system but they are being resolved:

– nine out of ten primary-school children, in some administrative regions, fail English and Mathematics at the National Grade Six Assessment

– the entry level examination into secondary school;

– one in every three of the more than 12,000 students who sit the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) examinations each year, fail English and more than five out of ten fail Mathematics; and

– only 2,380 or 28.3 per cent of the 8,430 public school students who wrote the CSEC examinations in 2015 earned passes in five or more subjects, including Mathematics and English; the secondary school matriculation rate is low.

Young people will succeed only if the performance of the public education system is improved, the matriculation rate is increased and the primary and secondary school dropout rate is reduced. Young people who drop out of school will find it difficult to find gainful and lawful employment.

Your Government is making interventions to reduce absenteeism and attrition and improve educational attainment. The Public Education Transport Service (PETS – known popularly as the 3 Bs Initiative) – which provides free transportation by bus, boats and with bicycles – is making it easier for children to attend school. Teacher training is being improved through investments in better laboratories at the Cyril Potter College of Education and through the One Laptop per Teacher Initiative. Students are enjoying increased access to the internet and to ICT laboratories.

Young people will benefit from an efficient public education system as a result of these and other interventions. These improvements are necessary but not sufficient.

The Youth Corps is needed to help those students who fail or who leave the formal education system but are unprepared or underequipped for the world of work.

Equality is the second pillar on which the Youth Corps will be built. Education and the promotion of equality go hand-in hand. Education is the great equalizer. The opportunities that it unlocks reduce poverty and inequality.

Everyone desires and deserves a good life. Why should young people in the Cuyuni and Rupununi not expect similar educational opportunities to those in the Corentyne and Demerara?

The Youth Corps will contribute to eradicating the worst forms of inequality, including geographic, gender and racial inequality. The disparities in opportunity between the coastland and the hinterland and between urban and rural areas must be reduced and, eventually, eliminated if we are really to create one nation; a nation of equal people.

The gender gap must be closed by ensuring that girls and boys are given equal access to education and training. Economic development and social equity cannot be nurtured in an environment of inequality.

Everyone must have access to education. Universal primary education is a well-established entitlement.

Schooling becomes a powerful equalizer when opportunities for quality education and training are accessible by the entire population. Educational opportunities open prospects for upward mobility to disadvantaged and vulnerable groups.

Schooling and training should be organised to increase the participation of children from poor, remote, vulnerable and disadvantaged groups thereby making education more inclusive. 

This campus at Kuru-Kuru will foster greater inclusiveness among students from all regions of the country. The development of teaching and training techniques and curricula will inculcate respect for the law, respect for others and correct conduct within the system and society.

Efforts to close the gender gap in education are particularly important. The need to ensure equal access to education for boys and girls, additionally, can help to break the intergenerational transmission of poverty in which poor parents produce children who, themselves, are poor.
Your Government, already, is creating a fairer, friendlier framework for ensuring greater equality. It is doing so by providing improved access to public services – business registration, immigration, legal services, public education, public health, public information, public infrastructure, public security, public telecommunications, electricity and water.

Youth Corps graduates, eventually, will contribute to the extension and improvement of public services to communities on the coastland and hinterland in which they live. They could help to eliminate poverty and reduce income inequalities in the country at large.
The country needs youth more than ever. Our economy is about to experience high levels of economic growth with the advent of petroleum production next year. The development of a diversified economy will expand opportunities and generate increased employment. It will demand, however, more skilled individuals.

The Youth Corps could contribute to national development by augmenting the repertoire and repository of skills in every sector. There will be need, always, for persons imbued with self-confidence, self-discipline and self-esteem.
Communities need youth more than ever. Local democracy is revitalizing our villages. The development of these communities requires resourceful young people to propel agriculture, businesses, services and industries.

Equal opportunities must be provided for our young people by giving them the chance to be educated, especially in scientific and technological fields in addition to the traditional arts.

The country needs youths to be educated as agriculturalists, biologists, botanists and zoologists to help expand food production; as engineers to build aerodromes, bridges and highways and to help to develop bio-mass, hydro-, solar and wind sources of energy; as geologists to develop our bauxite, gold, manganese and quarrying resources and as entrepreneurs to be engaged in business, manufacturing, shipbuilding and other industrial pursuits.
The Youth Corps training courses will emphasise technical proficiency and practical skills most useful both to the students and their communities.

Empowerment is the third pillar on which the Corps will be built. The Corps will encourage its students to play a greater role in decision-making. The reintroduction of local government elections of which we have had two in four years evinced a surge in youth involvement in local democracy. Young candidates contested and campaigned in local government elections in 2016 and 2018.

The United Nations World Programme of Action for Youth to the Year 2000 stated:
…the capacity for progress of our societies is based, among other elements, on the capacity to incorporate the contribution and responsibility of youth in the building and designing of the future. In addition to their intellectual contribution and their ability to mobilise support, they bring unique perspectives that need to be taken into account.

Young professionals and entrepreneurs are being consulted in the fashioning of our annual Budgets. Young people’s opinions and interests are taken into consideration in the development of Government policies.

The Corps will expose students to programmes which have already started and are being supported by your Government. These are aimed to providing young people with the skills, mentorship and entrepreneurial training and seed capital for income generation, including self-employment.

These projects complement the technical and vocational instruction training initiatives taking place across the country through Ministry of Eand include:

– Sustainable Livelihoods and Entrepreneurial Development (SLED);

– Hinterland Employment and Youth Service (HEYS); and the

– Youth Innovation Project of Guyana (YIPoG).

The Corps will help to augment recreational and sports facilities and playgrounds across the country and support the arts, cultural and sporting activities which are catalysing the creativity and rich talents of our young people.

Employment is the cornerstone of the Guyana Youth Corps. Young people, despite governmental initiatives, still face challenges, the greatest of which is unemployment. Unemployment erodes the potential of our young people.

Youth unemployment averaged more than 20 per cent between 2007 and 2017, according to the International Labour Organization. Youth unemployment, as at December 2017, stood at 22.9 per cent. One in every three young persons, between the ages of 15 and 24, is not in education, employment or in training (NEET). This is an unacceptable situation.

School-leavers with poor literacy and numeracy skills are at a disadvantage. They will be ill-equipped to be integrated into an increasingly knowledge-based workforce.

The National Employment Report Guyana, published by the International Labour Organization, observed that young people suffer most owing to the fact that school-leavers are inexperienced and have a long wait before they find their first job.

The Corps will provide the re-training needed to improve the ‘marketability’ of those school graduates who do not leave school with satisfactory qualifications and to make easier the transition between school and the workforce.
Employment, so essential to human development:

– increases incomes which generate sustainable livelihoods and helps people to escape from the clutches of poverty;

– improves everyone’s standard of living and quality of life thereby enhancing their well-being.

Youth unemployment has led to a haemorrhaging of precious human resources. Young people, unable to find employment, are inclined to migrate in search of more satisfying economic opportunities. The Youth Corps will reverse this trend.

Youth unemployment incurs social and personal costs and, also, is associated with anti-social behaviour, crime, gender inequality, poverty and social exclusion. It affects personal health and nutrition and self-esteem and contributes to domestic instability.

The Corps will help to reverse the adverse economic, human and social effects of youth unemployment.

Patchwork responses to youth unemployment cannot provide satisfactory employment for the more than 12,500 secondary school students who leave school each year.

An initiative to strengthen the pillars of youth education, equality, empowerment and employment is urgent and imperative.

Youth Corps
The principal motivating factors for the establishment of the Guyana Youth Corps are the promotion of education, the reduction inequality and unemployment and the expansion of employment opportunities for our young people.

The Youth Corps is an initiative and institution aimed at ensuring that our young people are equipped with the knowledge, skills and attitudes to become productive citizens and at providing for themselves and their families while enhancing national and community development.

The Guyana Youth Corps was inaugurated on the 1st January 1968 by the Government of the day. It was based on the report of Robert. F Landor, a United Nations consultant who was commissioned to examine the problem of poverty and vocational education in the mid-1960s in the aftermath of the worst spate of communal violence of the immediate pre-Independence period.

Landor’s report – entitled “Problems of unemployed youth: youth corps” – proposed the establishment of a youth corps to help reverse the high rate of youth unemployment which prevailed at that time.

The idea of a youth corps to promote education for employment, therefore, is more than fifty years old. It has been tried and tested. During the first seven years of the original Guyana Youth Corps’ existence from 1968 to 1975, 1,200 young persons were trained mainly in agricultural and industrial skills.

The new Corps that is being established now because of its value to youth development will:

– equip young people with the skills – including the agricultural and industrial skills – necessary for economic modernization and diversification and for them to become productive citizens; rich, wealthy and happy citizens;

– ensure a smooth transition from school to the workplace and develop a cadre of skilled young persons who can contribute to the development of their communities;

– enable higher educational attainment for school-leavers by placing greater emphasis on academic and practical knowledge and on-the- job training.

The Corps is designed for young people who are no longer in the formal public education system. It is a voluntary not compulsory, centralized institution open to school graduates and other youth interested in enhancing their knowledge, skills and attitudes.

Kuru-Kuru will become a residential campus in which young people could receive training. It is not a branch of military service.
The Corps reflects Government’s emphasis on consolidating its youth initiatives so as have a stronger focus on employment and job creation.
The Corps, in this regard, is expected to standardise instruction in other disparate programmes such as the Youth Entrepreneurial Skills Training (YEST) scheme and the Hinterland Entrepreneurship Youth Service (HEYS) to enable graduates to achieve a uniform and universally accepted standard of training.

The Corps demonstrates Government’s commitment to young people’s livelihood and happiness. We recognize their worth and we are ensuring that young people will be provided with the opportunities to be the best that they can be, and they want to be.

Young people are the nation’s future. It cannot be otherwise. Young people, through the Guyana Youth Corps can now emerge from the shadows of despondency. Determination will replace desperation. They can look forward to a bright future and aim at enjoying a good life in the land of their birth. Ώ.

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