Sat | Dec 3, 2016

Editorial: Engaging the youth

Published:Saturday | April 11, 2015 | 12:00 AM

The historic visit of US President Barack Obama to Jamaica is a subject that we will return to from time to time over the next several days as Jamaicans savour the satisfaction of having hosted such a powerful politician on our soil.

Today, we zoom in on two aspects of the short but significant visit and point to some lessons that could be learnt. The first relates to Mr Obama's focus on youth. It is usual that visiting heads engage with their political equals, which quite often includes closed-door meetings and a possible address to parliamentarians and other officials.

But this president seems to have sought out the youth. Mr Obama appeared very comfortable in his engagement with those who participated in the youth forum at the University of the West Indies. He was animated, thoughtful, and humorous - all at the same time.

There is a message in this for political leaders. The clear message is that policymakers should recognise and involve the youth in decision making because of the measurable benefits they can offer to the future development of their country. To involve young adults in decision making is bound to lead to a more effective and suitable approach to development.

The questions posed by the participants indicate that they are very much interested in politics and how the decisions made in high places will affect their future. So we hope that there will be deliberate efforts to consider new and creative ways to engage our youth in governance and provide them with opportunities to effectively participate in decision-making and the political process.

But the increased involvement of the youth can only come with education. By staying in school and focusing on their education, they will be able to acquire the skill levels and leadership development that will allow them to become active participants in the development process.

We also took note of the fact that in taking questions from the audience, President Obama resorted to a kind of gender-equality system in that he fielded questions alternately from both sexes. Hopefully, the significance of that choice is not lost on our male population that has been underperforming for many years.

According to recent statistics gathered from scholarly studies, females are performing better at all levels and in many disciplines that were once dominated by men. And in this very simple way, Mr Obama could be seen to be drawing attention to the worrying decline of male, relative to female, academic performance in Jamaica and the wider Caribbean.

It's tempting to believe that persons like President Obama had fame and fortune handed to him on a silver platter. However, his life tells an entirely different story. He is a living example of the dizzying heights to which one can climb by surmounting the hardships and challenges of life, including that of having an absentee father.

Our failing boys could learn some great lessons from the life of the 44th president of the United States of America.