Just this January, the National Cadet Corps Programme (NCCP) was launched at Hope Secondary School, the result of collaboration between the Ministry of Social Cohesion, through the Department of Culture, Youth and Sport, the Ministry of Education and the Guyana Defence Force (GDF).
This did not come as a surprise as President Granger had announced since 2015, and had re-stated on various occasions, that his government was re-establishing the Guyana Youth Corps, first formed on January 1, 1968 and which was then absorbed into the now disbanded Guyana National Service.
Features of this new National Cadet Corps Programme are that it aims to target school-age children, be non-compulsory, and to complement the formal school curriculum in both “academic and adventure training.” Given the very sceptical outlook of some sections of the population since the plan was earlier announced, President Granger had sought to dispel concerns when he said in February 2017, “I want to see a [country] of fuller employment, of greater empowerment, of wider equality and of progress for the young people of this country… I look forward to the establishment of the Guyana Youth Corps when we can move thousands of children out of poverty and into prosperity.”
Moving our youth out of poverty by way of the “fuller employment” of these youth is indeed a laudable ideal. The NCCP intends to make the cadets participate not only in “basic military training that should inculcate the feeling of camaraderie, courage, service and above all, patriotism” as enunciated by Minister Nicolette Henry, but participants will also benefit from instruction and training in, “Guyanese History and Culture; Mentorship and Counselling; Coordination and Dexterity; Navigation Skills; Environmental Awareness; First Aid; Leadership Studies; Communication Skills; Physical Training; Technical Training; Spanish; Portuguese; English; and Mathematics.”
A very high percentage of the population in Guyana are young people. Indeed, roughly 70% of the population is under 40 years of age according to the Bureau of Statistics 2012 population census report, and this statistic is almost certainly still accurate today. This means that any development outlook by government that ignores this statistic and does not plan specifically for our young people will be doomed to failure.
Currently the rate of youth unemployment in Guyana is said to be among the highest in the Caribbean with the Caribbean Development Bank placing it at about 40% in a 2015 report. The high rate of youth involvement in violent crime, suicide, and other anti-social behaviour is an indicator that unemployment might be a factor in the surging criminality among youths in Guyana.
This is not to say that other factors are not at play; we have seen gainfully employed youths who also turned to crime, perhaps through the lure of the kind of cash, fast cars, jewellery and the like portrayed on television by the sports and entertainment stars that they idolize, and encouraged by the anti-hero characters in the movies that proliferate these days and who blur the line between good guys and bad guys, particularly in terms of morality.
But the point is that a comprehensive approach to youth development is definitely needed in this country, and the question is whether or not the NCCP is a sufficient intervention as currently structured.
One of the biggest objections to the set-up of the NCCP (and this was also true of its precursors) is that it has the appearance, at least, of representing an attempt at the militarisation of the state, and this is usually given a political slant given the ethnic foundations of our two most prominent political parties. In itself, the presence of a National Cadet Corps is not at all unusual in many countries. Indeed it can boost a sense of nationalism in the participants who also gain leadership and other skills training (including military training), and in a country like Guyana with its population largely packed into the coastline, it can give rise to a pioneering spirit – the “adventure” component of the programme – as participants traverse parts of our virgin interior.
However, according to David Granger the historian, writing in Stabroek News in 2008, when the original Guyana Youth Corps was established in January 1968, it was aimed directly at out-of-school children between the ages of 15 and 20 years. In this way it was intended to have a direct and immediate impact on the unemployment situation that existed at the time. By contrast, the NCCP is registering children currently a part of the school’s curriculum, which suggests that the benefits of the programme will not be felt along the lines of reducing youth employment, at least not immediately. This approach, however, may be in keeping with a section of the outlook of the National Youth Policy, adopted by the National Assembly in 2016, which identifies youth aged 8 to 14 years old as most vulnerable.
Successive administrations have sought to derive programmes to deliver entrepreneurial training to youth in areas around the country, but there are no clear indicators as to the success or otherwise of these programmes. The government has allocated some $1.7 billion for youth programmes in 2018 including the Youth Innovation Project of Guyana, Youth Entrepreneurial Skills Training, Sustainable Livelihood and Entrepreneurial Development and the Hinterland Employment and Youth Scheme.
However, despite the fanfare with which these projects are launched, and their well-intentioned establishment and important sounding names, without a good feedback reporting mechanism to assess the degree of success or otherwise of these programmes, it is very difficult to determine whether the budgeted funds were effectively utilised. The NCCP may also be an admirable scheme as conceptualised, but all these programmes need to be periodically assessed and analysed for whether or not their objectives as have been publicised have been completely met.