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Youth’s Role in Shaping Jamaica’s Future Underscored

Young people play a pivotal role as architects of the future, says President of the Senate, Hon. Tom Tavares-Finson.

“As we confront the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead, it is imperative that we foster in them a sense of purpose and direction. In this Year of the Youth, we acknowledge the vibrancy, passion and potential that the younger generation brings to the table in their energy and enthusiasm that will propel us forward on the path of a sustainable future as a nation,” he said.

Senator Tavares-Finson was speaking during the 14th sitting of the National Youth Parliament of Jamaica at Gordon House in downtown Kingston on Monday (November 27).

The event was held under the theme ‘The Year of Youth: Trending for a Sustainable Future’.

It formed part of the celebrations for National Youth Month 2023, and was organised by the Ministry of Education and Youth in collaboration with the Houses of Parliament.

Senator Tavares-Finson said sustainability is not merely an environmental concern but rather “it encompasses economic, social and cultural dimensions”

“It requires us to balance the progress with responsibility, ensuring that the benefits of development are shared equitably and that future generations inherit a world that is flourishing and resilient,” he added.

The President reminded the youngsters that, as youth leaders, they have a unique opportunity to influence policy and advocate for change as well as the responsibility to inspire their peers.

“This is your year. This is the year of the youth… not just this year, but the future belongs to you. Continue to trend for a sustainable future,” he said.

Speaker of the House of Representatives, the Most Hon. Juliet Holness, said the theme resonates with the global focus on youth empowerment and engagement, which coincides with the Commonwealth Heads of Government declaring 2023 as the Year of the Youth.

She said it also underscores the pivotal role that young people can play in identifying and leading sustainable practices that will transform Jamaica for the better.

“I am proud to see the vibrant and conscientious group of young people who have stepped forward as parliamentarians to advocate for the youth of Jamaica. Through the National Youth Parliament, we have the opportunity to share your views on the various issues that confront the youth of present-day Jamaica and make recommendations from your perspective,” she said.

Minister of Education and Youth, Hon. Fayval Williams, said for this year’s sitting of the National Youth Parliament, a total of 250 applications were received, from which 100 young persons were selected to be members of the 2023 cohort.

“The sittings are aimed at encouraging you to remain engaged in the democratic process and to counter the often-cynical outlook that leads some of your colleagues to withdraw from civic activities and the political process as well as to lose faith in the value of dialogue and the process of governance. This forum provides an opportunity for you to express your views on what is happening in national development in a more informed and organised way,” she said.

Shadow Minister for Housing, Transportation and Works, Mikeal Phillips, encouraged the youth parliamentarians to build relationships, noting that they represent the next generation that will be debating and making laws.

“The future of this country is going to be in your hands,” he declared.

Some of the topics discussed during the sitting focused on education, financial literacy, youth crime and violence, and constitutional reform.

Youth Parliamentarian, Shamar Bell, who spoke on financial literacy, said courses that focus on the subject matter should be incorporated in schools.

Referencing data from the Statistical Institute of Jamaica, he said approximately 60 per cent of high-school graduates lack basic financial literacy.

“I propose updating the curriculum to include practical knowledge of trading, buying stock and even cryptocurrency. This way, we align education with the demands of modern economies and equip our youth to secure their economic future,” he said.

On the matter of constitutional reform, another participant, Matthue White, suggested that the Constitution, and literature describing it, should be available in audio, braille, patois, interactive infographics online as well as physical copies at public libraries.

“The CRC (Constitutional Reform Committee) might also compile the findings of previous town halls, public broadcasts, government submissions and other important statements from the Committee as well as hard deadlines for progress in a simple comprehensible way. These should be published on their websites, so that citizens can actively monitor the Committee and keep it accountable,” he said.

He also encouraged the Committee to be more engaging and suggested the establishment of a rural action workforce that will mobilise volunteers and community leaders.

The National Youth Parliament was established in November 2003 as a non-partisan initiative aimed at providing youth from across Jamaica with a forum to express their views, network and debate issues of concern in the House of Representatives.

NPSC to Place Focus on Increasing Parent Participation

The National Parenting Support Commission (NPSC) will be using Parent Month in November to ramp up activities aimed at increasing the participation of parents in the lives of their children.

State Minister for Education and Youth, Hon. Marsha Smith, in making the disclosure, said that total parental involvement ensures positive outcomes for children.

“Studies indicate that children perform better academically and tend to be more disciplined and respectful when they are raised in families that demonstrate good parenting skills,” she noted.

Miss Smith was addressing the recent launch of National Parents Month under the theme ‘Participation for Purpose’ at ATL Automotive Group in Kingston.

Ms. Smith said parental involvement is critical in light of the many competing influences to which children are exposed.

“Parents are not the only channel of influence in the lives of their children. Indeed, today, the overwhelming presence of social media means there are multiple voices bombarding children with competing messages,” she pointed out.

The State Minister commended the NPSC, which is an agency of the Ministry, for its targeted and sustained efforts in working with parents to equip them with the knowledge and skills to deliver better parenting and for “continuing to amplify the imperative of building strong home-school relationships”.

She said that through the entity, great effort is being made to address matters of ineffective parenting by retooling, re-educating, and mentoring parents.

The emphasis, she noted, is driven by the national vision for parenting, which states that every parent recognise and accept a duty to ensure that the rights of the child are always upheld, the best interest of the child is always promoted, and the child is always loved and provided with opportunities and resources within a safe, caring and nurturing environment, to achieve his or her full potential and ultimate fulfilment.

“This is an intentional and targeted focus on the positive role that parents play and must continue to play in the lives of children,” Miss Smith said.

“We encourage parents to stay connected with their children in order to nurture and help them navigate life’s challenges,” she urged.

Miss Smith said that Parent Month is an opportunity “to reflect on our roles and actions as parents, guardians, and mentors and the impact that our actions are having on our children”.

She noted that the observance is also an occasion to recognise and honour parents who make a significant contribution to the social, emotional and academic development of their children and the wider education sector.

Students’ Role in Education Sector’s Transformation Underscored

Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Education and Youth, Dr. Kasan Troupe, says students have a critical role to play in the transformation of Jamaica’s education sector.

Addressing the inaugural Transforming Education for National Development (TREND) pop-up at St. Andrew Technical High School on Tuesday (November 7), she urged students to make wise decisions.

“If TREND is going to work, boys and girls, we need to see the respect; we need to see you showing an appreciation for what is being expended, both from your parents and from the Government. We need to see you taking your education seriously, and that’s about the choices that you will make. If you are doing well, you are TRENDing. If you attend school, you are TRENDing,” Dr. Troupe said to the audience of primary and secondary students from various schools across the Corporate Area.

The Education Transformation Oversight Committee (ETOC) has been charged with monitoring the implementation of recommendations contained in the report of the Professor Orlando Patterson-chaired Jamaica Education Transformation Commission (JETC).

The pop-up forms part of the Ministry’s robust $34-million communication plan, aimed at sensitising the public about the transformation process.

Dr. Troupe noted that the Sixth Form Pathways Programme, which is designed to provide students with opportunities to further their studies for two years at the expense of the Government, is a transformative initiative.

“We only have 27 to 30 per cent of our graduates at the tertiary level. That’s not going to work for transformation of our country. We need you to choose differently,” she appealed.

Meanwhile, President of the Jamaica Independent Schools Association (JISA), Tamar McKenzie, said TREND, which comprises seven pillars of transformation, is a visionary strategy.

The pillars are governance, legislation, leadership and administration; early-childhood education; curriculum teaching and teacher training; the tertiary sector; technical and vocational education and training (TVET); infrastructure and technology, and financing.

“These represent the collective commitment to ensuring that every single child in Jamaica, whether you’re part of a public school or a private school, you’re going to have access to an education system that is world-class,” Mrs. McKenzie said.

Jamaica in Global Partnership to End All forms of Violence against Children

As part of its strategies to end violence against children, Jamaica has joined the Global Partnership, which is committed to the implementation of sustainable development goal (SDG) 16.2, which is focused on ending all forms of violence, abuse and exploitation of children.

Addressing a Jamaica Information Service (JIS) Think Tank today (November 16), Senior Director, Children’s Affairs and Policy Division, Ministry of Education and Youth (MOEY), Hyacinth Blair, said that by virtue of this global partnership, Jamaica became a Pathfinder country.

Pathfinder countries are prepared to stand up for children.

They are committed to fast-track efforts to make children safe and ensure that child victims of violence are not marginalised in the global development agenda.

Mrs. Blair, who also provides Secretariat support for National Plan of Action for an Integrated Response to Children and Violence (NPACV), said that these Pathfinder countries are also guided by the INSPIRE strategy, which is a package that is developed by the World Health Organization (WHO).

The strategy looks at the Implementation and enforcement of laws, Norms and values, Safe environment for children, Parent and caregiver support to develop parent education, Income and economic strengthening, Response and support services for victims and perpetrators of violence, and Education and life skills.

“The Pathfinder countries are also committed to three to five years of accelerated actions towards ending violence against children, and one of those actions is the development of a national plan of action,” Mrs. Blair pointed out.

According to her, Jamaica’s National Plan of Action for an Integrated Response to Children and Violence is a structured and coordinated approach to addressing issues and challenges pertaining to the nation’s children as victims, perpetrators and witnesses of violence.

The NPACV provides a range of strategies, policies and programmes that have been and are being implemented across not just the public sector but also in non-governmental organisations and key stakeholders in the Child Protection Services.

The NPACV is grounded in partnership and coordination with stakeholders and was given Cabinet’s approval in 2019.

The MOEY has overall responsibility for the coordination and implementation of the national plan, guided by an oversight body, the Inter-sectoral Committee on Children and Violence.

That oversight body is supported by four technical working groups, which are responsible for tracking the progress of the indicators that are outlined within the national plan, and to forge partnerships and to make policy recommendations.

There is the Legal and Policy Technical Working Group; Child Protection, Family and Community; Data Research and Analysis, and the Communications Technical Working Group.

Mrs. Blair stated that these technical working groups’ areas of oversight are aligned to the expected outcomes of the national plan of action.

There are five expected outcomes – having stronger policy and legal and regulatory framework to ensure the protection of children from all forms of violence and abuse; to have improved access to services for children affected by violence; to have stronger families and community, building capacities within families and communities to address issues related to children and violence; enhance public education sensitisation and training in violence prevention, the care of child victims and children’s rights; and the establishment of an integrated framework for the effective coordination, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of the national plan of action.

National Youth Month 2023

The government has implemented a range of policies and programmes to nurture, guide, and empower youth across the island.

Minister of Education and Youth, Hon. Fayval Williams said one of the key areas of focus has been on education.

“We understand that education forms the backbone of any prosperous society. In accordance with this vision, the government has increased funding for education, ensuring that more young Jamaicans have access to quality schooling,” she said.

The Minister was addressing the launch of National Youth Month during a function held on Friday (November 3) at the Half-Way Tree Transport Centre in Kingston.

Mrs. Williams said scholarships and grants have been made available to assist talented and deserving students in pursuing their dreams, regardless of their financial standing.

She noted that emphasis is also being placed on enhancing technical and vocational training.

“The government is equipping young Jamaicans with the necessary skills to thrive in a rapidly evolving job market. In this way we are empowering youth to contribute meaningfully to the economy, while fulfilling their own aspirations,” the Education and Youth Minister said.

The government has also implemented entrepreneurship programmes aimed at providing support, mentorship, and funding for young people with innovative business ideas.

Youth Month is being celebrated under the theme, ‘The Year of Youth, Trending for a Sustainable Future’.

The month of activities, which are being coordinated by the Ministry’s Youth and Adolescence Policy Division, serves to highlight and celebrate the achievements of youth excelling in their respective fields.

Education Minister Outlines Benefits of Artificial Intelligence

Education and Youth Minister, Hon. Fayval Williams, says the Ministry is committed to exploring how Artificial Intelligence (AI) should be used to benefit the various educational institutions.

Addressing the seventh Dennis Irvine Lecture, hosted by the University Council of Jamaica (UCJ) under the theme – ‘Artificial Intelligence: A Paradigm Shift for Quality Assurance in Higher Education’, Mrs. Williams urged stakeholders to embrace the possibilities that the technology provides for the sector.

“AI introduces personalised and adaptive approaches that cater to the unique needs of each student and has revolutionised the teaching and learning landscape, as shared by many teachers at the primary and secondary levels. The issue of quality assurance in higher education is fundamental for accreditation standards. AI emerges as a potent tool [with the] potential [to make] substantial improvements in the sector,” she said.

The lecture was held on Thursday (October 19) at the University of the West Indies Regional Headquarters in St. Andrew.

Mrs. Wiliams noted that while AI could usher in a new era of an enhanced overall quality education in Jamaica, ethical considerations with the use of AI remain at the forefront.

“Considering that it is not merely about harnessing technology, but also about its responsible and ethical use, with due respect for the rights and privacy of Jamaican students and educators. We must establish comprehensive policies and regulations that guide the development and usage of AI in education,” the Minister said.

These regulations, she added, should encompass data privacy, algorithm transparency and accountability.

“Transparency should be at the core of AI deployment in education, in making Jamaican students, educators, and stakeholders aware of how AI is being deployed and how it affects their educational experiences. Additionally, we should seek to ensure that AI does not exacerbate existing educational disparities,” she emphasised.

The Minister said steps should be taken to provide equitable access to AI enhanced educational resources and opportunities for all Jamaican students.

“We are already equipping them with devices, broadband connectivity, laptops and labs, so that they have no restrictions. As educators, we must prepare our students for the ever-evolving job market, equipping them with skills knowledge they need to thrive in this new era of technology,” Mrs. Williams said.

The lecture was held in memory of Dr. Dennis Irvine, late Chairman of the UCJ, who was a distinguished educator.

Over the course of more than 50 years, Dr Irvine made significant contributions to tertiary education nationally, regionally, and internationally.

He was appointed Chairman of the UCJ in 1987 and served for an initial 11 years.

The noted educator was reappointed to the position in 1996, and served up to his passing.

Dr. Irvine guided accreditation decisions and played a key role in the transition of the University of Technology Jamaica (UTech) and Northern Caribbean University (NCU) from college to university status.

He also presided over a number of committees, including the Tertiary Articulation Committee which created the tertiary qualifications framework which now serves as the benchmark for the Jamaican tertiary education system.