Minister of Education and Youth, Hon. Fayval Williams, says the annual youth parliamentary sittings are aimed at encouraging young people to remain engaged in the democratic process. She said they also seek to counter an often-cynical outlook, which leads some youth to withdraw from civic activities and the political process, as well as 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 organized way,” Mrs. Williams said. The Minister was addressing the sitting of the National Youth Parliament of Jamaica at Gordon House in downtown Kingston on Monday (January 31).
Mrs. Williams encouraged the young participants to build on the interest they have shown in this area of national life. “Jamaica needs input in the development of ideas and policies as we seek to move forward. Your ideas are no less important than those of your seniors,” she noted. “I am sure that as you deliberate today you will make your parents, your schools/educational institutions and your country proud that the support given to you over the years, has been a worthwhile investment,” she added.
Speaker of the House of Representatives, Marisa Dalrymple Philibert, encouraged the young people to rebrand themselves “as the innovative, responsive and socially conscious persons Jamaica needs you to be”. “I encourage you to make healthy lifestyle choices and to push yourselves to be the best versions of you that you can be,” she stressed. A total of 102 young persons – 51 males and 51 females – were selected to serve at National Youth Parliamentarians from a record 1,055 applicants. The members included persons representing uniformed groups, the maroon community, wards of the State, and persons living with disabilities.
The participants debated a range of topics, including the impact of COVID-19 on the education of marginalized youth, youth development opportunities, lack of infrastructure and a decrease in the number of youth clubs, crime and violence during COVID-19: the effect of work from home on domestic violence and child abuse, and rural development and the need for a paradigm shift. Youth Parliamentarian, Deshawn Cooke, who spoke on domestic violence and child abuse, recommended the launch of an islandwide sensitization campaign on the issues dubbed ‘FY1’. “Sensitization of public-sector workers is not enough. We ought to ensure that there is a system in place to track the efficiency and effectiveness of such programmes,” he said.
“I propose that this honourable house intensify its public-education efforts around domestic violence through schools, workplaces and active community groups,” he added. On the matter of the impact of COVID-19 on the education of marginalised youth, Ashagaye Mullings, said the pandemic has challenged the education system, with some students severely affected, specifically those within rural communities. She noted that due to the closure of schools, remote learning methods were introduced, lessons delivered via television and radio, and worksheets provided for those without Internet access. However, some students remained unengaged.
“I am on a mission to get these marginalised youth fully engaged. My policy prescription is to host booster sessions, dubbed ‘Back in It’, in rural communities to help students who are being marginalised,” Ms. Mullings said. Such booster sessions, she said, will involve partnership with active youth clubs, non-governmental organisations and trained teaching professionals. “These free sessions will be held at community centres, large open areas and within church halls. These booster sessions will comprise personal development sessions, critical-thinking sessions, and basic digital literacy skills lessons and, of course, we will be covering content from the curriculum,” she outlined.
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.