What matters to the youth in Sri Lanka

Avatar Thamara Kandabada
Member since June 7, 2014
  • 29 Posts
  • Age 24

Image credits: youthrepublicdotorg.wordpress.com

Image credits: youthrepublicdotorg.wordpress.com

This is a topic I have given a lot of time to ponder over, even before I was selected for the VOY internship. In fact, if one gives sufficient time and attention to the matter, one would find a spectrum of youth considerations that have found place among the Sri Lankan communities. I decided to sum up the whole gamut of things into one word: Rights.

Over the years, even during the young days of my parents and much before that, the Sri Lankan youth have been very particular about the rights that they should enjoy. Among the whole plethora of demands that they make, I believe that some stand out and secure the most attention, and I will focus on those in this post.

Despite being a lower middle income country with a per capita income of USD 3280 (2013 data; Source – World Bank), Sri Lanka offers primary, secondary and tertiary education free of charge. 96% of the children have access to primary education (a figure we are really proud of; Source - World Bank) but the process that unveils when a child progresses through the system is nothing but nerve breaking competition. Out of 300,000 students who sit the GCE Advanced Level Examination, which is the qualifier, a mere 25,000 have the opportunity to enter a state university in order to pursue a government funded degree. It is even sadder that the state sector does not have the capacity to offer decent employment to this 25,000 graduates.

After completing a tedious university education, a considerable number of these youngsters are stranded. Sometimes they are forced to take up jobs which do not complement the level of their educational qualifications. Fighting for their rights at this point seems quite justifiable. Public movements materialise out of this sentiment.

Even during university education, certain groups resort to engaging in student movements which make a vivid multitude of demands (which are sometimes baseless and irrational). The most recent case was where Allied Health Services undergraduates were engaged in a series of prolonged demonstrations, demanding changes to their course structure. But unemployment is just one in this sea of monsters – there’s a whole lot more that youth are trying to stand up against.

A majority of the Sri Lankan population is one given to conservative ideals. As a result youth participation in economic and social development is in general at a very low level. Non-acceptance and inherent doubt of the capabilities of young people, predominant elders’ presence in key positions in the societal hierarchy and not grooming young people systematically to hold responsible positions in the country are some of the common factors contributing to the situation.

More and more young people in various parts of the country are now demanding recognition and opportunities to participate effectively in the country’s development process. Their outcry for the right to be represented and to represent their local communities at national and international forums is (fortunately) now getting the attention of the country’s policy-makers.

The same conservative and conventional thinking is restricting many young people from pursuing a life according to their own whims and fancies – for example, choosing a career path seems to be affected substantially by social opinion. But this system is gradually changing and many young people are challenging the stereotypical-ism.

Young journalists are demanding media freedom. Budding entrepreneurs are asking for less barriers. The youth community is letting their sentiments of freedom find expression.

All in all, today’s youth in my country possess a fair knowledge about the place they should enjoy in society and are not afraid to speak out. They are struggling every day to break out of the conditioned system. But I see a major problem in this whole process.

My opinion (or rather, my belief) is that one should earn, not demand, one’s rights. And that could only be done by having a sense of responsibility towards the community. As much as I agree that youth should be entitled to certain fundamental rights, it is crucial that they should at all times be socially and economically responsible. “Fighting for youth rights” should not become a “trendy” act for the youth to kill their time with. I believe that one should always have the courage to stand up for one’s rights, but that stance has no value if one is not ready to back it with responsibility and accountability.

A responsible young generation is the key for sustainable growth. It is high time that all young people invested their energy in moulding themselves into “active citizens”, not just “demanding citizens".

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