Comment: Lack of educational opportunity cripples aspirations of young people

With my initiative to make a better day for youth and women of the Maldives, I have travelled across the nation to bring them whatever opportunities I can to open the door for youth to ease the entry into the working world.

I have developed a very large network of communities made up of parents, NGOs, leaders, women groups and youth themselves, engaged aid agencies and institutions that provided funding support, and liaised with resorts to link youth with on-the-job training and employment.

In this article I am giving my experience, my impression and my opinion of youth in the Maldives today. There is no blame or judgment and I hope that readers will be willing to share their experiences and constructive suggestions on how to provide youth a better environment in the Maldives.

Youth across the islands of Maldives are not sheltered from the realities of the adult world because young people leave school early, leaving behind the relative shelter of the school community.

Most of them do not progress to the last couple of years of school, and many leave the final year with hardly any acceptable standard of qualification.

Most early school leavers and secondary graduates (with low grades) are associated with disadvantaged circumstances.

These disadvantages can be defined as lack of choices or opportunities caused by poverty, geographic isolation, community support structures and social alienation and the result of centralised governance that has not catered to the needs of island people.

The lack of ability of teachers (whom also lack resources to support students) and skills to teach young people is a direct cause of student failure and offsets serious personality problems in young people. Whatever few opportunities there are in the islands are further obstructed by the lack of English language skills required for learning.

These disadvantages lead to low school achievement, aggressive and anti-social behavior, poor self-esteem and low expectations, unemployment, feeling powerless or isolated, withdrawal and loss of ability to communicate.

These young people are vulnerable to health problems and prey for illegal activities. Their lifestyle is that of any young person who wants to show a cool personality: smoking, late nights hanging around, cool speech, ‘don’t care’ attitude, cool clothing (if they can afford it). Underneath: extremely sensitive, wanting respect, dignity and direction.

The longer these young people hang around after leaving school without further studies and disciplined activities, the more vulnerable they become.

The gap between 15 and 18 years needs to be filled with schooling towards further or higher education. Presently the life of a young Maldivian in the islands is often aimless and lacks the stimulating environment that young people need to thrive.

The Labor Law of the Maldives does not make it any easier for the young Maldivian, although I am not advocating or criticising the Law.

Young people who leave school in the islands at the age of 15 years do not have much choice to continue their education. In principle they cannot be employed either.

While our programs provide an opportunity for young people to acquire skills for entry level jobs, potential employers are hesitant (and understandably so) to take under-age trainees as apprentices.

The conditions affect young women just as much as young men, however the outcomes are slightly different in my opinion.

While a young man is aggressively judged for his low performance, low achievement of a young woman is less of an issue. Young women joining our vocational training classes indicate their will to learn and interestingly are better achievers compared to their male colleagues, but are often stopped by parents and brothers.

Beliefs and attitude play a big role in this, and in the confusion of what is possible and what is right, the prevailing norms and insecurities take over resulting in young women’s opportunities being compromised.

Many young men join our classes because it is the only opportunity to walk through an open door. Young men and women’s motivation to get married early is evidently the results of nothing else to do in the community.

Boys are expected to have future employment and young women have limited aspirations for their future lives and work. With such limited personal aspirations and goals, marriage may appear to be an attractive option for these young women. Being a wife gives a young woman a role and often a deceptive one. Unfortunately being a husband does not change much for a young man who has not understood the responsibilities and commitments that go along with marriage.

The fact is that young people cross the threshold to adult life without having experienced youth.

Aminath Arif is the founder of SALAAM School.

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