CHALLENGING THE TRADITIONAL STRATAGIES, RETHINKING HOLISTIC APROACHES.
The present generation of Ghanaian youth face many difficult challenges in their development into adults than ever before. From participation in political violence to armed robbery, and drugs and alcohol abuse to lack of employment in an unforgiving economy.
Obviously, factors affecting the quality of life of our youth and their ability to reach their full potentials are now multifaceted and challenging than in the past. The structural adjustment programs introduced in the last two decades have significantly altered the structure of our economy. Service sector employment, which has increased over the years, has compelled massive influx of youth from the rural areas into towns and cities in search of non-existing jobs.
Rural-Urban migration has also significantly changed the traditional kinship structure that provided nurturance, safe places and mentors young people need to be socially, emotionally, ethically, physically and academically competent. With the breakdown of the traditional family structure or the inability of the traditional family system to act as the agent for the transmission and renewal of socio-cultural values, it is imperative to design youth development programs and education system, which compensates for the erosion of our traditional youth development systems.
This article focuses on shifting the headlines in Ghana from youth problems to youth development. Additionally, this article argues that while possession of skills measured by pen and paper tests and ability to solve intellectual puzzles are rewarding, academic skills alone are not enough- acquisition of full range of competencies such as civic, vocational, emotional, cultural, physical, ethical and social competencies are instrumental for our youth to become independent and productive citizens.
This author calls for a new/renewal of efforts to develop youth programs to complement the formal educational system to enrich the content and the context of learning for our young people. By focusing on academics skills alone as our educational system does, skews resources in one developmental domain. This denies our young people the comprehensive tools/skills they need to develop into productive and disciplined adults.
WHAT IS YOUTH DEVELOPMENT?
Youth development has many been defined in many ways depending on the context and the ideological underpinnings. However, for the purpose of this article, youth development is viewed as a conscious efforts to coordinate, develop and support positive activities that promote the social, emotional, physical, cultural, moral and academic well being of young people.
This definition describes youth development as a process that involves the state, communities, families, schools, religious organizations and the private sector in determined efforts to improve the quality of life of our youth. Again, it recognizes that young people cannot improve their quality of life by themselves. However, through institutions of education, media, government and communities, young people can be supported to acquire the values and competencies they need to succeed in life.
YOUTH DEVELOPMENT STRATEGIES IN GHANA.
The basic approach towards youth development in Ghana has been through economic development. This strategy is premised on the idea that, rapid economic development would foster positive modern behaviour and values in our young people thereby making them productive and disciplined citizens. However, the economic policy and institutional framework for improving the quality of life of young people have failed and public confidence in the ability of the government to find solutions to the problems facing our youth have diminished. For example, the Program of Action to Mitigate the Social Cost of Adjustment (PAMSCAD) introduced by the PNDC government was abandoned because it failed to address the needs of our youth.
The high unemployment rate among our youth and lack of social support system for them continues to put immense pressure on the government to compensate for failures of the economy through direct job creation strategies and other supports, but the magnitude of youth problems are such that they dwarf the resources available to resolve them. For example, the current government seems to be struggling with what to do with the thousands of registered unemployed youth in the country.
Moreover, the idea that economic development would minimize youth problems discounts the fundamental principle of utilitarianism inherent in free market economic model. The basic belief that individuals are the same, independent and free to pursue their economic, political and social happiness outside the influence of the larger society is incongruent with Ghanaian culture and values. Ghanaian cultures promote interdependency and differences. For example, we are tied to our extended families, and communities. We support our nephews, nieces, brothers and sisters in schools and old parents and grandparents etc. we define ourselves according to our religious beliefs, political affiliations, language, tribe and geography.
Additionally, our culture of interdependency has established code of conducts that regulates the relationship between adults and young people. For example, there are unwritten rules about the behaviour limits of young people in the community, what constitutes a normative behaviour, roles and expectations of different age groups. Again, the saying “ it takes a village to raise a child” suggest that there is a communal responsibility bestowed to adults to promote the welfare of young people in our society.
Thus, the narrow focus of economic development with its core principle of utilitarianism that promotes atomistic society in an isolated marketplace in pursuit of individual happiness alienates our youth and the most vulnerable members of our society who do not possess the resources they need to pursue their interest. Consumerism, individualism and harsh economic conditions have compelled our youth to prematurely fend for themselves. As disconnected members of society, our young people have become rebellious and conditioned by their circumstances; they tend to engage in deviant activities such as armed robberies, drugs, alcoholism, violence and prostitution
It is now crucial to recognize that our youth are social beings, who want to be connected to their communities, connected to caring adults, be supported, accepted and nurtured. In view of this, it is imperative we design comprehensive youth development programs to compensate for the break down of our social and economic structures to meet the needs of our youth.
Another youth development approach in Ghana is the provision of formal education to our young people. Education is also crucially important to eradicate poverty, to provide the manpower needs of the country and for socio-economic advancement. The structured and formal education system also prepares our youth with the skills they need for employment and independence.
Nevertheless, Education as a youth development strategy is premised on the assumption that, as long as the school is able to direct the youth and be a magnet for their attention, the youth is presumable able to move into adulthood with minimal antisocial activities. However, evidence on the ground is contrary to this assumption. According to World Bank Report in 2000 cited by Rev. Charles Gyan-Duah, 200,000 students graduate from the Junior Secondary School every year in Ghana with only 30% gaining admission to Senior Secondary School. Again the report suggest that, of 72,000 students that graduate from Senior Secondary School each year, only 25% find space in post-secondary institution (Chronicle, Thursday April 10, 2003, Vol. 3 # 45).
What happens to the young people who are unable to find employment or continue their education? Our system has no programs in place to address the needs of vast majority of our young people. With no youth programs in place to encourage, motivate, direct and channel the energies of our young people into productive and healthy activities, the devil finds work for their idle hand as they engage in deviant activities such as violence and unhealthy lifestyle such as alcoholism, drugs etc.
Another important inadequacy of school system as a youth development strategy is that, education system in Ghana is a middle class institution. For example, the language of instruction in our schools is English. Unfortunately in Ghana, one’s ability to speak fluent English is equated with intelligence and sophistication. As a result, children from illiterate families with limited exposure to English language who may struggle in class because of the language barrier may find their experience misinterpreted by an inexperienced middle class teacher as an academic incompetence and punished.
Since academic competence and performance determine the commitment and attachment to school, a child that is stigmatized as incompetent by peers and teachers and often punished by ignorant teachers will ultimately loose interest in school and drop out of school.
With no infrastructure and programs in place to address the experiences and needs of our young people who drop out of school, they end up frustrated, hopeless, angry, disgruntled and eager to get even with our society for letting them down.
Similarly, education as a youth development strategy in Ghana is based on the assumption that, a young person simultaneously completes his/her education, finds employment and becomes a productive citizen. However, given the harsh economic condition in the country, majority of our young people complete their education without employment. With the young person no longer tied to school, the young person become in one-sense adult; yet, being unemployment and depending on family and friends for livelihood, the young person remains in another sense child. The ability to enjoy adult privileges without being responsible for rent, clothes, food etc generate incredible freedoms for the young person caught in this situation. Lack of experience, guidance, mentors and caring families makes it easier for many young people in this situation to participate in antisocial behaviors.
From the foregone analysis, it is obvious that what is needed now is an explicit framework for improving the quality of life of our young people through institutional rearrangement to contribute to, rather than diminish the opportunities our young people need to succeed in life. Again, we have to recognize that solid intellectual development and skills acquisition must be coordinated with attainment of emotional, ethical, physical civic and social competencies to enable our youth build their internal resources and skills they need to cope with pressures that might lead them into antisocial behaviors.
Thus, Youth Programs such as national service programs, intercultural exchanges, community development projects, peer counseling, mentorship, employment programs, volunteering, internships, youth leadership activities, vocational training etc will equip our young people with the requisite skills they need to function in our brutal economy. Again, when young people are supported by society, and are provided with the social, economic, cultural, educational tools they need to succeed, they would have a sense of community membership rather than the feeling of alienations.
YOUTH PROGRAMS IN GHANA.
Since independence, the state, political parties, religious organizations, communities and schools have attempted to develop youth organizations such as the Young Pioneers, Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) Young Christian Students, Boys Scouts, youth wing of various political parties, Ashanti Youth Organization, Wenchi Youth Organization etc to promote the interest and the well being of our youth.
However, these organizations are fragmented and strictly defined to meet narrow objectives. For example, youth wing in churches are designed to instill moral discipline in the youth and to attract families into the church. Youth wings in political parties are aimed at attracting young people into a political cause and to canvass for political support. Community Youth organizations like Wenchi Youth Organization have become interest groups engage in political fights to either destool a chief or get rid of District Chief Executive. National Youth Council remains oblivion to millions of young people in the country because it is not well funded and its activities do not affect overwhelming majority of our youth.
What is required is Youth Development Strategy based on mobilization of resources through a partnership with the private sector to build and strengthen local and national youth infrastructures to resolve the crisis facing our youth. Youth infrastructures such as Youth Centers, Skills Centre’s, and Volunteer Programs in the state institutions, Cultural Exchanges, and Civic Duties etc would assist our young people to learn employment, skills, social skills, and emotional maturity to become healthy and productive adults.
The establishment of social program requires the development of relevant legislation, administrative support and delivery system. In essence, the government must set up youth centers across the country staffed with social workers, youth counselors, special needs teachers, equipped with computers and games to deliver programs that support our youth in their endeavour to grow and develop as healthy adults. These centers would provide alternative education for students that have difficulty with the mainstream education system. The center would also provide counseling, health information like HIV/AIDS to high-risk youths, juvenile offenders, run-away youth and homeless youth.
By providing these programs to support vocational training, emotional needs and career counseling etc for our youth, our young people to live responsible within their communities. The centres would also help our youth learn about positive social interaction with their peers and adults, help them identify their role models and prevent antisocial behaviors.
Skills Centres would help the unemployed youth facing barriers to employment develop extensive skills and work experience they need to succeed in the labour market. For example, the government could pass a legislation that would compel all state institutions like the Hospitals, District Assemblies etc to recruit student volunteers to enhance the educational and employment skills of our youth. The private sector could also be encouraged to participate in similar activities. Volunteer employment would help our youth develop competencies such as responsibility, desire to succeed and personal recognition, expand their knowledge, increase their communication and negotiation skills.
CULTURAL EXCHANGE PROGRAMS.
This would also enable our youth to travel across the country to learn about other regions, cultures and, tribes and help their social integration. This would not only foster healthy cultural understanding but also enhance tribal tolerance and peaceful existence as a nation.
Many Ghanaians recognizes that youth problems in the country are numerous and complicated. Yet, they have become accustomed to seeing the hopelessness, the hunger, anger and the frustration written on the faces of our young people that they are desensitized and no longer pays attention to their solutions.
And despite the rhetoric about improving the well being of our youth, the state also remains indifference through acts of commission and omission to address to needs of our young people.
What is required now is plan of action to shift the policy fragmentation to policy coordination and to erect new youth development structures, build new partnerships to address the problems inhibiting our youth’s ability to reach their full potentials. Policy objectives must not be expressed in general policy language, but in specific and precise language as to what, how, where and when services would be delivered.
There is certainly a widespread conception in the popular and the scholarly mind alike that, the problems facing our youth can only be resolved upon attainment of economic and social advancement. While the attraction of such a construct is valid and legitimate, it pushes some simple and immediate solutions that can be implemented into the periphery waiting for economic miracle to happen. However, lest no forget, the devil finds work for the idle hands and a word to the wise is enough.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR. KWAME ATTAKORAH ABREFAH (B.A. HONS. YORK UNIVERSITY, MSW, UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO). Regional Social Worker. NT, Canada. Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.