We all agree that the economic crisis has affected nearly every country in the world and has had a negative impact on the well-being of youths, but like many Guyanese I have doubts that the world economic crisis is the reason for the state of youths in Guyana. I believe that unless the authorities address the problems of employment and education in particular, the crisis facing youths will remain unresolved and possibly worsen.
Comprehensive data on the situation of youths in Guyana is not available, but in the context of a high incidence of poverty and the adverse social impact of economic restructuring, there is increasing concern that large sections of youth have become ‘marginalised,’ or are ‘excluded’ from education, well-paid jobs and even access to the status of ‘adulthood.’
It is not surprisingly that many young people who are affected by poverty and unemployment, claim that the education system has no relevance to their lives. There is little incentive for young people to study, as is evident in the proportion of them who drop out of school because of lack of interest, or turn to income-generating in the interior especially.
Education is the primary means of preparing young people for the future. But in its present form, the education system is going through a crisis. The last decade has witnessed a deterioration in the public schools in terms of quality, infrastructure, teachers and student morale. Anticipating that education might help their children progress, many parents, including single mothers, have gone to great lengths to send their children to school. For them, education means a well-paid job, a big house, a car and other fringe benefits. But nowadays attending school no longer holds hope for employment or a better future. Not surprisingly, in some focus group discussions, young people have perceived formal education as useless to their future livelihoods.
The perceived uselessness of education appears to arise from two main factors. First, there is the growing problem of youth unemployment. More and more young people are failing to find jobs in a largely stagnant formal sector. Indeed, young people, see their friends, brothers, sisters and cousins who complete school before them staying for long periods at home without gainful or productive employment.
Second there is the type of education that the students receive. The education system does not equip young people with the skills necessary to compete in the labour market. Neither does it prepare them to be self-employed. It is largely geared towards providing basic literacy and numeracy skills for the formal labour market, but does not adequately prepare the learners to face the practical realities of their environment.
It is difficult to provide accurate statistics on youth unemployment in developing countries in general and Guyana in particular, which makes it difficult to assess the scope of the problem. Nonetheless, estimates from a decade ago indicate that in urban Guyana unemployment affects between 29 to 39 per cent of the work force (ILO, 1999).
Given the lack of employment opportunities in the formal sector, young people are compelled to engage in casual work or find unorthodox sources of making a living, mostly of a criminal nature. It is sad that the formulation and implementation of many youth programmes seem to be prompted by a sense of moral panic, because of the way young people have responded to shrinking income and opportunities; these are interpreted in pathological terms by the authorities. In the absence of a definite youth policy, it is difficult to find a framework within which youth employment needs can be properly assessed or institutional support for youth employment programmes provided.
The overall situation for young people in Guyana remains very uncertain and uneven. There is need both for initiating more support structures for socially isolated and excluded young people, especially urban youths, and strengthening existing ones.
There needs to be improvement in the basic education system, and not just in technical education and vocational training.
There must be a transformation so that young people can acquire the relevant quality skills that could help them master their lives and contribute to socio-economic development in the country. This change has to occur at all levels of learning, from primary school up to university.
Given the fluidity of the socio-economic situation, there is a great need for the next Government of Guyana to empower youth economically and socially by doing the following: improving the policy environment; improving the access of young people to credit; providing business development services to youth; and promoting institutional and enterprise networking.