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This article is taken from the July 2000 Phatlalatsa newsletter

 

Youth Summer School

S&T recently organised a Youth Summer School at Rhodes University on behalf of the International Sociological Associationís "Sociology of Youth" committee, of which David Everatt is Vice-President for sub-Saharan Africa. S&T Research Manager Jowie Mulaudzi, who helped organise the workshop, reports on what happened.

The summer school was held at Rhodes University and hosted by the Institute for Social and Economic Research (ISER) between the 25th and 29th April 2000, and supported by a grant from the Royal Netherlands Embassy. Participants came from Belgium, Botswana, the United Kingdom, China, Namibia, Mozambique, the Russian Federation, Slovakia, South Africa and Zimbabwe, and represented three critical areas of youth development:

  • policy-makers and implementers,
  • practitioners, and
  • researchers.

Together, the participants reflected on the experiences of young people under various systems and stages of transition in their countries and regions in the last two decades. These span young peopleís experiences of after various forms of authoritarianism - apartheid, communism, colonialism, military dictatorship and, some argued, Thatcherism. Discussions covered issues of war and conflict, repressive and oppressive systems and their relation to modernising society. Similarities and differences in the experiences of young people and those of the critical role players emerged.

  • Youth development, policies and programmes in a modernising society like China seem to be defined to a large extent by the social problems of the "only-child", a result of Chinaís one child population policy. Youth activists in the United Kingdom focus their energies to drive a meaningful youth development agenda in a society where young people are faced with the highest rates of unemployment for its young people.
  • Yet young people and society in post-communism societies of the Slovak Republic and Russia grapple mainly with "generation-gap" issues magnified by life experiences that are defined by glaringly different social values, norms and systems. In post apartheid Namibia and South Africa, young people who had been well organised in the fight against the repressive and oppressive system, suddenly had to contend with and even redefine their social roles, find a place for themselves in "normal" society amidst limited economic participation.
  • Post war Zimbabwean and Mozambican youth are seen as part of a broader community which is facing the challenges of reconstruction and development. There seem to be little scope for defining youth development as a specific area of focus beyond the huge development needs of society as a whole.

Accordingly, the experiences of young people and therefore policies, programmes and development agenda seemed to be determined by historical processes that a country went through as well as current socio-economic and political contexts. Participants agreed that whilst such processes and contexts translate into peculiar problems and challenges, there were common issues and problems attributable to the challenges presented to young people in the various stages of the path of transiting into adulthood.

The lack of or limited youth research activities especially in Southern Africa, the high and increasing rates of unemployment HIV infections amongst young people were some of the manifestations of uneasy transitions for young people. Measures taken by societies to define and support young people through the transition or intervene where problems exist were identified as important in developing an environment supportive of positive pathways for young people. In this regard it was interesting to note the concept of "intergenerational contract".A social contract where the younger generation supports the older generation by contributing to retirement schemes, it can potentially be used by young people could leverage the support of the older generation beyond the seeming lip service paid to youth development.

In seeking common ways of dealing with youth development in a holistic manner, attention was placed on the role of policy makers, practitioners and researchers. Focusing on common areas, discussions were held to seek criteria for holistic, organic youth development that looks at young people in an integrated manner. A lot more questions were raised than answered in the short period that participants had to get to know each other, the situation in their countries and come up with solutions.

Participants agreed on a need for more focused, co-ordinated and meaningful interaction between policy-makers, practitioners and researchers in driving the youth development agenda in their respective focus areas, countries and regions. Beyond this, there was agreement on the need to share experiences and define common projects that would be of mutual benefit to the countries involved.

A concrete proposal and outcome of the summer school, was the formation of a Southern Africa Chapter of Research Committee 34 which should look at co-ordinating research efforts in Southern Africa, foster regional co-operation as well as international links. S&T will play a co-ordinating role in getting this off the ground, in preparation for the 2002 ISA Congress in Australia, and then four years later in South Africa.

 

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