Thirty-five youths from across the island depicted an actual sitting of the House of Assembly during the annual National Youth Parliament debates, which commenced on Wednesday (June 25) and ended today (June 26).
The debates were centered on several issues affecting youth, mainly high youth unemployment. Both sides of the house debated a resolution that sought to set up a National Task Force to curb unemployment and crime. However, in the end, both sides disagreed in passing the resolution.
The recommendations from these fruitful debates among the youths will be sent to Prime Minister Dr. Kenny Anthony and his Cabinet for discussion and their consideration.
President of the government side, Quinette Samson, told St Lucia News Online (SNO) today (June 26) that the debates were well organised and brought about a lot of discussions on a range of issues. She said consequent to the economic crisis, St. Lucia’s overall unemployment rate has this year returned to 24.9 per cent with over 10,000 young people looking for work.
In her argument, Samson said the Government of St. Lucia has assured its commitment to the provision of education to its citizens and has further agreed to the provision of universal secondary education. The government has also stated its commitment to ensuring the employment of its citizens. However she admitted, “It is clear that the education system does not adequately and sufficiently prepare young people for the world of work.”
As a matter of urgency, Samson added that her side recommended reviewing and revising the current education system, to set up a National Task Force on Youth, to ensure a stronger coherence between the educational system and the labour market.
She argued that “promoting a stronger and shared responsibility between government, employers and individuals for investing in skills, training, and career guidance services, these can properly prepare young people to be employed”.
Among the discussions were factors that can lead to unemployment which includes poverty and politics. They also discussed how these can be addressed.
Meanwhile, Opposition Leader of Youth Parliament, Geena Mc Phee, said her argument was basically to say that her side believes that the education system should be reformed.
“The National Task Force should not be used to attract financial resources, but human resources such as teachers, NGO’s and youth groups, to engage on a way forward for youths and ensure that the issue of high youth unemployment is addressed once and for all,” she added.
According to Mc Phee, crime is an important factor that needs to be addressed through greater employment.
Communications Officer of the Ministry of Youth Development and Sport Maundy Lewis told SNO that all of the youth parliamentarians underwent two months of intense training to prepare for the debates.
“The hope is that they go back to their communities and organisations and teach others those skills that they have learnt because as you can appreciate we cannot train everyone. We trained them from February in debating and writing and we bring it to the public just to give people that exposure to youth,” he said.
Lewis further stated that youth do have their own interest and they have an opinion on matters, especially on matters that affect them.
“Like this bill on education and its applicability to the work force. They chose it because they believe that there is a gap between the institutional education system and how that translates to the actual workforce,” she explained.
The ministry official also noted that some of the opinions and arguments put forward in the debates should be very useful for government and technocrats when looking at educational reform.
“That is something that has been spoken about a lot over the past years. Some of these initiatives will be presented to the government so that is another area, where government could build consensus with young people, on issues affecting them and governance as a whole.”
Youth Parliament is part of the annual Youth Month celebration in April, but because of budget, the ministry wasn’t able to host the programme during that specific month.
The objective of youth parliament is to introduce young people to debating bills similar to the way it is done in the House.
The ministry said it will continue training more youths during the course of the year and add new persons to the group. The ministry is also trying to encourage debates within communities and districts. They will be collaborating with the National Youth Council.