Young people are a source of optimism for the future, and more than that. In a message about International Youth Day, Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, writes, « Young people are not only our future—they are our present…They are the most connected, the most outspoken and the most open-minded generation the world has ever seen. » This International Youth Day was unusual, or rather unprecedented, in that the pandemic has changed the lives of so many youngsters, to their advantage or disadvantage – debatable, but also because these youngsters are living in a time where we are faced with the most unprecedented political instability ever.

We cannot underestimate the serious toll the pandemic has taken on the mental health of youngsters who had to adapt to the radical shift in the learning experience, the whole new school calendar, the emotional impact of lockdown, the need to study amidst a dysfunctional household and repercussions of economic impact for some. Despite the flexibility and dedication demonstrated by schools and teachers in ensuring educational continuity during school closures, it is an undeniable fact that not all students had constant access to education. On top of this, now that students are trying to get back to  ‘normal schooling’, cases of Covid-19 keep increasing and schools have no choice than to close their doors. It is understandable that students are now more and more stressed about their future. We have to realise that college students are not like university students (who also need mental support big time) as our outdated and elitist education system has made them more dependent than independent.

Meanwhile, the Government has been and still is struggling to find the best possible way to mitigate the impact of Covid-19 on our youths’ education. Since students are the protagonists, their views and concerns should have weighed more in the decision-making process.

The PM commented on the theme chosen by the United Nations, which was “Transforming Education”, for the International Youth Day in 2019, by saying that the Mauritian State has for years focussed on academic education. He also guaranteed that we would reap results a few years down the road. Here we are a couple of years later and parrot-learning is still highly topical. Has the focus been too much on academic education?

The International Youth Day is also an opportunity to reflect on how youths are more and more disinterested in politics. Owing to the incompetence of some of our MPs, youngsters are getting the utterly wrong perception of what politics and parliamentary decorum are all about, since we are having a tough time with the latter lately. While they are unmoved by politics in its literal sense, they thrive on moments of petty political scandals on social media.

Although we may not realise it because it has an inherent place in our lives, the media does exert sizeable influence in shaping our way of thinking, which ultimately influences our political opinions. Having a bunch of political gossip from well-established anti-government or pro-government media definitely biases one’s stance and is dangerous, in that it hampers one’s critical thinking. Without any fact checking, youngsters tend to take whatever is presented to them so long as it is sensational.

We have no doubt that our youth possess the right qualities and intellectual abilities to make a positive change in the political landscape of Mauritius and the will to do so is incumbent on them. It is high time that standards are raised and that our educational system finally cultivates the much-needed sharp, ethical and critical mindset, to engage into politics, because the youths of today are the leaders of tomorrow.