The ‘I Believe’ Initiative
National Youth Consultative Conference (YCC)
October 6 and 7, 2021
The United Nations (UN) in Jamaica partnered with The Governor-General’s Programme for Excellence (GGPE) for the 2021 National Youth Consultative Conference (YCC). A product of the ‘I Believe’ Initiative (IBI), the YCC creates a platform for young people to have meaningful dialogue on some of the most pressing issues within the Jamaican society. Over the years, the YCC has facilitated consultation on a range of matters, including mental health, climate change, and human trafficking.
On October 6 and 7, 2021, we, Jamaica’s youth from across the island came together virtually for the ‘I Believe’ Initiative’s Annual Youth Consultative Conference. The theme for this year’s conference was “A Decade of Action: Building a Resilient Path to Recovery with and for Jamaica’s Youth”.
A series of consultative sessions and workshops were staples of the YCC agenda, providing avenues for young people to table their own ideas for our recovery and sustained mainstreaming of the SDGs. A key output of the 2021 YCC is this call to action that presents the collective demands of our young people as we create a roadmap for our recovery. This is a call to action for our Government, private sector, international development partners and civil society.
While these considerations can potentially address the issues linked to COVID-19 mitigation, they are broad-stroked themes, that if appropriately addressed, can prevent the same issues from recurring in the future. Addressing these concerns, may also diminish any gaps in youth involvement in the actualization of the Vision 2030 Agenda and the SDGs in these unprecedented times.
- Mainstream Technology as an Important Element of the Public Education System beyond the COVID-19 Pandemic
The measures implemented by several actors in society to mitigate against the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic were largely influenced by the availability and use of technology. A new paradigm of learning was introduced when face-to-face learning could not be accommodated in the government’s prevention response. Students across the island are being educated through video-conferencing technologies and learning management platforms. This is arguably the best way to accommodate synchronous learning, especially for students preparing for external examinations and those with special needs. We believe that some of the issues resulting from this shift should not be interpreted as unique to the use of technology-enabled methodologies, but rather that they highlight the gaps in our schools’ curricula and teaching frameworks. In an increasingly digital world, educators must be prepared to effectively leverage technology in the classroom and introduce them as important tools for business and trade. Government must therefore make provisions for every child to have devices and at least intermittent access to the internet. Charities and NGOs that are pluralistic partners in our development, can also rally resources to bridge this divide. Some delegates shared that student needs have evolved and it is virtually impossible to remain up-to-speed, undertake research and challenging assignments without access to technology that facilitates a link to even more resources. Tertiary-level institutions must also prepare educators for this inevitable transition.
The use of technology in the classroom should be more than a tool to mitigate the impact of COVID-19. Successful recovery should not halt efforts to scale up the use of technology in the classroom.
We call for Government and its partners to work together to provide equitable and sustainable access to quality internet across Jamaica and facilitate access to technology-enabled resources for those most at risk of being left behind – including students with disabilities, the poor and rural-area youth.
We call for tertiary institutions to reform curricula to build the capacity of educators to support students to use technology in the public education system. By mainstreaming technology and innovative approaches in our education system and our country, we will prevent further delays in our advancement of the Vision 2030 agenda and in attaining Goal 4 (Quality Education) of the Sustainable Development Goals.
- Promote Responsible and Ethical Digital Citizenship
The COVID-19 pandemic has tested many assumptions about how we do business, facilitate education and trade. Lockdowns and prolonged periods of isolation mean that our young people, with access to internet-enabled devices, have become digital citizens. Digital citizenship concerns itself with the appropriate and responsible use of the internet, computers and digital devices. This level of responsibility, as expressed by the delegates on the YCC, is multi-layered, considering the threats of cybercrimes, online bullying and misinformation.
As technology becomes further mainstreamed into education and other facets of youth development, young people demand more support from Government, the UN and Civil Society to prepare them, their parents and educators to be responsible digital citizens.
Many delegates shared that their parents and educators are not ‘tech-savvy’, limiting their ability to supervise their use of internet-enabled devices. This means that young Jamaicans could have unsupervised access to a world of unfiltered and unethical information and exposure to harm. Young people demand support for their parents and educators to become more equipped with skills to help them navigate inaccurate information and use the internet and technology safely. More senior students shared concerns about the flexibility of their school’s curriculum in helping them to decipher and appropriately credit information they receive online.
More importantly, in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important that parents support their children to debunk and appropriately filter inaccurate information about the pandemic, but also information linked to their sexual identity and personal development.
Addressing digital citizenship will propel Jamaica’s plans for achieving Goal Number 4 (Quality Education), so that we can improve competency standards for educators towards ICT-integrated transformative pedagogies, support young people to navigate the challenges of the online space, and to access information. In fact, we believe that digital citizenship impacts all the goals, as technology and the cyber community is an enabling space for actualizing the SDGs and Jamaica’s Vision 2030 Agenda.
- Empower Young People to become Champions of Public Health Education within their Homes and Communities
While the adult literacy rate in Jamaica has improved significantly (87%), public health education is often intercepted by personal beliefs in our Jamaican culture. Thinking beyond the pandemic, young people believe that they are poised to deliver factual and up-to-date information to their parents and their communities. This would, however, require dynamic access to quality information about some of our country’s most pressing health concerns.
COVID-19 vaccines are currently only available for children 12 years and older, many of whom contend that their own awareness encouraged their parents to have them vaccinated. There is an opportunity for us to become conveyors of accurate health information, especially those from communities where literacy levels are low and parents lack formal education. This approach goes beyond the COVID-19 pandemic to include other health concerns such non-communicable diseases. Our parents have strong faith in education as a tool for upward social mobility and will trust us, their children, on matters they learn at school.
We demand that national public health education campaigns engage young people, especially students, to strategically share campaign resources with our families, including simple guides for debunking inaccurate information. Empowering us as champions of health information can bring Jamaica closer to attaining SDG goal number 3 (Good Health and Wellbeing).
- Facilitate and Encourage Diverse Pathways to Employment
Conventional sources of employment were affected by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. This pushed several entities to introduce avenues for virtual engagement with customers, providers and other constituents. Young people are of the view that the pandemic reinforces the need for a more diverse and inclusive workforce. This extends to the professions linked to ICT, web-design and coding, digital marketing, entrepreneurship and other emerging fields.
We call for tertiary institutions to adjust their offerings to include programmes that are tailored to the growing demands of a modern workforce. Following suit, the government should accelerate and promote the modernization of the public and private sector to better accommodate school-leaving youth and these emerging skill sets. This advances SDG 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth) and the promotion of inclusive and sustainable economic growth, employment and decent work.
- Facilitate Platforms for Youth Dialogue on Issues Impacting the SDGs
As we advance to a closer sense of recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, young people are optimistic. We believe that a robust roadmap, grounded in Vision 2030 and the SDGs, is needed. Jamaica’s recovery efforts should not be in isolation of new and emerging challenges that impact on our actualization of the sustainable development goals.
Now more than ever, we call for and require consistent and meaningful engagement in recovery planning, as they are likely to most impact our development for the next 10 years and beyond.
We are more than just a point of validation; and as people impacted by a myriad of issues, we too must have a voice in solving those issues. This advances SDG number 17, which speaks to strengthening partnerships, including youth and youth-led bodies to achieve the SDGs.
We, therefore, call on the Government and all responsible stakeholders to act within the best interest of Jamaica’s youth and for our optimal contribution to National Development.