Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Let’s Not Sell Our Youth Short

Dr. Khaled Batarfi

Our youth face many challenges — many challenges. It is possible that the greatest of their challenges may be us — an older generation that is happy to proscribe but reluctant to include them in creating the path to tomorrow.
At a conference in Jeddah to discuss youth issues, I noticed with little surprise that the youngest of the some 60 men around the table were over 30. Most were in their 50s and 60s. In attendance, there were 14 youngsters.
I told them that when a doctor sees a patient he first asks “What is your problem?” Only after carefully listening to all that the patient has to say, and asking for more details can the physician consider a prescription.
Here we were talking about what is wrong with a whole generation, and we assumed we knew all about that there was to know. No representative of that generation was sitting at the table, but some were allowed to witness. We were discussing women’s issues, too. But not one woman was invited — even to listen and watch.
Later, one of the young men took the floor and made a statement that we all should give careful consideration. “You talk about our problems,” he said. “But as we see it, our problems are of your creation. Ask us, and we have solutions for you. Ask yourselves, and you won’t even admit you are part of the problem.”
The list of issues facing our young people was long. The most important that day was that education is our greatest challenge. It is the most important issue today, and it will be the most important issue every day to come until our society acts to remedy it.
Basically, students are taking more cultural classes than needed and less science than they should. Most graduates are in human sciences. More than 80 percent of master’s degrees and PhD theses are in language and religion. If we expect some industrial or business boom to keep our economic growth and population growth in balance, we had better make sure that our young people get the knowledge and skills they will need to make that happen.
Our curriculum needs continuous update. We need to consult with the various business and industrial sectors before deciding what directions to take. We need more practical training and modern tools, such as labs, computers and foreign languages.
Isn’t it strange that we enter the new century with some text books and educational tools that relate to earlier centuries? If we continue to dwell on past glories and stopgap solutions rather than aggressively prepare our youth for the challenges to come, we may well be relegating our society to the past. It may be easy to look beyond our borders to seek the cause of our problems, but perhaps the real cause is complacency and the purveyors easily visible by looking in any mirror.
We need to open up to investments. Our market is promising, and investors, domestic and foreign, would love to buy in. We need to eliminate red tape, offer incentives and speed up infrastructure development.
Our legal system needs to be updated to ensure we are competitive with the rest of the world in regulation and application of the laws. Our judges need to become familiar with business issues, and simple cases should be solved in weeks or months — not years.
As we move toward the future, our successes and failures to a large extent will be determined by our willingness or unwillingness to hear all sides of the issues and our determination or lack of determination to fashion meaningful resolutions to those challenges.
Some of us may believe that our greatest resource is our vast oil reserve, but that bounty is dwarfed by the incredible potential that the young men — and women — of this country possess.
The future we think about is the future that they will live — and the future they should help shape. It’s up to us to make sure they get that chance.

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