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Jaevion Nelson: Wanted: change in thinking among our graduates

Published:Thursday | September 3, 2015 | 9:00 AM

Unemployment rates among young people, females especially, are particularly and consistently high. Many of our old schoolmates are underemployed and earning barely enough to survive as they sit and plot how to leave the country, and many of them are unable to meet their monthly obligation to the Students' Loan Bureau.

The situation is quite dismal despite bouts of hope every once in a while. But this doesn't seem to concern or bother many college and university students until it's close to graduation or after they have actually graduated and realise how difficult it is to find a job; and if they are lucky, are forced to do troubleshooting in a call centre. You would think the state of the economy and the low probability to find a (desirable?) job are new phenomena the way they behave. Well, perhaps it is for many of them since they refused to watch, listen or read the news while they were a student.

It would be so wonderful if the Students' Union and Guild of Students at the University of Technology and University of the West Indies (UWI) would surprise us and launch an individual or joint apolitical initiative focused on reducing apathy and promoting good governance and democratic participation among their con-stituents. A great many of us continue to be concerned and discontented by the indifference to national issues that so many of our young people (those at tertiary institutions especially) display.

We are waiting with bated breath for a sort of revolutionary thinking and action from them; something that will suggest to us that there is more to them than their ability to read for a degree or plan a fantastic party. We are hoping that they can inspire some hope that our future is in good hands.

But I don't suppose we should or can have such high hopes and expectation. The head of the most prominent student groups are usually, like many of our constituencies, based on (party?) affiliation, popularity and charisma, and not necessarily their track record and plans to advocate for better policies, and a more suitable learning environment and academic programme. On top of that, it certainly doesn't help that students do not hold them accountable - well, as long as they put on good parties, one has nothing to worry about really. That seems to be the measure of success these days.

I encourage the student guilds/unions at our colleges and universities to embark on a multifaceted campaign on their respective campuses that seeks to:

- raise awareness about some of the critical issues like unemploy-ment, underemployment, and crime and violence bombarding our young people;

- raise awareness about issues such as good governance and how they affect national development, particularly along the lines of Vision 2030 to make Jamaica a developed country;

- challenge the heads of insti-tutions to develop more rigorous and attractive programmes that will do more than produce rote learners; and

- promote democratic parti-cipation among students, including and especially around enumerating and voting in an election.

We have to recognise that we are at a critical time in our history and that we can't address our problems by dancing around them and pretending 'everything irie' until it affects us directly. Students especially need to recognise the responsibilities they have, the power they have and the fierce urgency with which they must begin to use their agency to hold our leaders accountable.

In addition, we need to use our knowledge and creativity to harness our potential and find ways to address some of our challenges. Young people like Jermaine Henry, through his business venture, AgroCentral, and Dr Dewayne Stennett, a lecturer at UWI who is doing vaccination research, are doing that. But more of us need to do the same. We have to find more opportunities and create them where they don't exist.

Let us recognise as young people that we are critical to the process of development and that we have an important role to play in making this a better place for our children, and our children's children. We have to 'move toward a radically transformed vision of ourselves and of our capacities for changing our lives'.

- Jaevion Nelson is a youth development, HIV and human rights advocate. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and jaevion@gmail.com.