Fri | Aug 7, 2020

Digital divide - Budget cuts impairing delivery of service to young Caribbean people

Published:Friday | July 10, 2020 | 12:08 AMPaul Clarke/Gleaner Writer

Challenges and solutions to delivering services during the COVID-19 crisis were key elements discussed during a recent virtual event of the Caribbean ministries of youth, with emphasis on how best to protect young people from the damaging impacts of the pandemic.

The event, which was co-hosted by the Commonwealth Secretariat, Caribbean Community and Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), saw officials from 12 ministries of youth participating.

They cited a digital divide, budget cuts and disruptions to service delivery as the main challenges hampering them from meeting the needs of young people.

Despite the challenges, they are using smart solutions to support people who are more vulnerable to the economic and educational effects of the pandemic. These solutions include online courses, virtual mentorship schemes, care packages for disabled youth, and special loans for young business owners.

Uganda’s Minister of State for Gender, Labour and Social Development, Florence Nakiwala Kiyingi, who is the chair of the Commonwealth Youth Ministerial Task force, presided over the meeting.

“With the COVID-19 pandemic straining health systems and halting the global economy, the impact on youth, education and social development has come into full focus.

“Reports project the world economy to shrink by 3.2 per cent in 2020. The world will experience the first increase in poverty since 1998 with between 34 to 60 million people, including young people, falling into extreme poverty.

Estimates show that despite efforts and public investments, youth unemployment and low-quality education were already major challenges in the trade-dependent and disaster-prone region, which the pandemic is further exacerbating.

Officials said economic relief packages should pay specific attention to young people, including the homeless, jobless and disabled youth, and provide them with benefits and free healthcare.

To bridge the digital divide, they proposed upgrading Infrastructure, offering affordable Internet, and providing digital devices to reach young people in rural areas and to promote e-commerce, including freelancing. Where resources are limited, 24-hour helplines and media services could offer health, career and educational support.

KEY OBSTACLES

Officials identified the lack of training and insufficient data as key obstacles in understanding and better supporting different groups of young people, presenting international organisations, including the secretariat, with an opportunity to add value.

The CDB’s Daniel Best told officials that despite COVID-19 challenges, his organisation has adopted a youth mainstreaming strategy to ensure its development work benefits young people and other age groups equally.

Head of the Commonwealth’s Social Policy Division, Layne Robinson, said: “Based on the discussion, we will produce a report on the impact and opportunities of COVID-19 in the Caribbean, which will help Caribbean countries deal with and recover from this pandemic, while minimising the socio-economic damage being done to our young people.”

paul.clarke@gleanerjm.com