Re-defining Youth Spaces

Wafa Alkhadra
Wafa A. Alkhadra (Photo: JNews)
Dedicating a whole ministry to youth affairs is understood as epitomizing, in principle, the willingness and will on the part of the state to embed youth issues into government priorities.اضافة اعلان

Additionally, financing dozens of periodic meetings and conferences — over the past few years in particular — which are meant to “connect” with youth and to closely examine their situation, especially in the context of a demographic bulge, is also significant too; in principle.

The problem, however, is with the impact deficit of the ministry and conferences’ deliverables.

Outcomes are modest — some say poor. Why?

Firstly, conferences in both academic and non-academic sectors in our society do not generally lend themselves to transferable, operational schemes boosting youth’s economic and political mobility, civic engagement, and community participation. They are, rather, seen as an end in themselves instead of being tools of empowerment and impact.

This might, among other things, be the result of institutions being trapped in a narrative, rather than focused on implementation and action.

Secondly, the disconnect between studies and research produced by universities, and societal needs and demands, has led to a loss of intellectual capital, since much of the research ends up being “shelf research”, rather than actionable research. 

A knowledge transfer unit at universities is simply not available to help bring about outcomes and deliverables that could, in part at least, help with impactful policies on youth.

Thirdly, current studies have conveyed that the performance and skill gaps in the Jordanian labor force is indicative of the poor compatibility between expected educational outcomes and competencies, and the actual demands and requirements of the workplace and society at large. 

This has led, among other things, to a high unemployment rate among youth, which surged to 24.7 percent in 2020, leaving youth vulnerable to feelings of apathy, frustration, and hopelessness.

Trading the aspirations of young Jordanians — fulfilling job opportunities and successful careers — for the largely “commercial tourism” of university education is ultimately jeopardizing the future of Jordan and its youth.  Universities should be committed to national priorities to affect a paradigm shift in universities’ learning strategies, pedagogies, and spaces in order to sync with the exponentially changing world and epistemic structures.  

We, as institutions and people, owe youth the right to be grounded in quality education and lifelong connected learning environments that bring them up as independent, creative individuals, and agents for social change.

Another aspect that must be considered seriously, as far as youth empowerment is concerned, is the landscape of public spaces.

Are cities and governorates designed to be inclusive of youth?  Are these spaces conducive to youth’s talents, creativity, and civic engagement? Are there enough centers and clubs of sorts that nourish their cultural, artistic, intellectual, and creative energies? Is there a holistic ecosystem that encourages the natural engagement of youth so that they may achieve their full potential?

Unfortunately, cities and provinces in Jordan are expanding too randomly and haphazardly to take youth’s actual needs into account. But they also, in their mad expansion, cater largely to commercial and consumerist needs.

Pharmacies, gas stations, hubbly-bubbly cafes, grocery stores, and malls take up the largest and most pivotal spaces in cities and provinces.

What is in them for the youth?

Places and spaces best reflect what societies succeed or fail to do, for their inhabitants as a whole, and for their youth in particular.

What message are we sending to our youth today, and what does it actually mean to have a youth ministry?

Clearly, we need to re-examine both our thinking and our approach regarding youth in order to start impacting things that make a difference in their lives and effectively increase their opportunities through mainstream inclusion policies targeting young Jordanians.