What can be done to secure a brighter future for today’s youth? That’s one of the questions representatives and organisations from across the world will be debating this week at the Youth Summit.
In the Caribbean, high levels of HIV/AIDS prevalence, crime, violence, teenage pregnancy and unemployment are threatening the future of the region’s youth.
What’s more, despite significant advances in extending primary and secondary education, there is a worry that an intense focus on core subjects such as English, Mathematics and Science are failing students later in life. More specifically, they are not being sufficiently equipped with the life skills to make personal and social decisions outside of the classroom which could most affect their future.
"We want that when [our children] are pressured negatively that they can use coping skills, that they can use resiliency skills, that they can communicate their feelings," explains Guidance Counselor Margaret Grant (Barbados). "If you have a child that is just a bookworm, who’s getting all As but they don’t know how to deal with someone who is putting drugs at them, what do you have? A failure."
Learning life skills
One way to combat this is a new curriculum that has been developed to help young people across the Caribbean learn key life skills. Now available in all CARICOM countries, Health and Family Life Education (HFLE) classes providing students with support and training in four core areas:
- Sexuality and Sexual Health
- Self and Interpersonal Relationships
- Managing the Environment (social, psychosocial, psychological, physical, cyberspace, economic)
- Appropriate Eating and Fitness.
And it’s a syllabus which is already reaping the rewards with schools where the class has been incorporated into the curriculum, already making progress in reducing combating social problems among their student body. Balcombe Drive Primary and Junior High School is one such example. The school sits on the boundary between rival drugs gangs in St Andrew, Jamaica and has been teaching life skill classes to all grades for 14 years.
"[The school] sits on 4 lines of demarcation with gang warfare," explains the school’s HFLE teacher, Loretta Sewell Drummond. "Yet to date, in 14 years, we have only lost one student to gangs. [...] This school can boast that after 14 years we have had no critical incidents and a huge portion of it is because of this HFLE programme."
But despite these successes, regionally there is limited appreciation of the value of the classes within the education sector. Consequently, classes are often not timetabled, timetabled but not taught or taught by untrained teachers.