John W. Gardner, former United States Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare stated: “Much education today is monumentally ineffective. All too often we are giving young people cut flowers when we should be teaching them to grow their own plants” (http://thinkexist.com/quotes/john_w._gardner/). Gardner’s statement expresses the necessity to educate children thoroughly by providing them with skills to harvest their own self-improvement. These skills include leadership, teamwork, confidence and responsibility. Many worldwide organizations focus on youth development through education. Children are the generation most capable of carrying out positive changes such as peace, development, and equity, due to time and materials being in their favor. When youth are given the means to educate themselves and acquire leadership skills, they are provided with an opportunity to make a positive contribution to their global society.
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Programs that focus on youth education and development through organized activity are popular in developed and developing countries. Organizations range from summer camps to after school programs to international teaching initiatives. I work for an organization called Youth Leadership Camps Canada that specializes in working with children ages 5-18 in an outdoor recreational environment to aid in their leadership development. Our staff is trained in various recreation techniques including games facilitation, high ropes and waterfront activities, teamwork initiative tasks, and reflection in order to effectively convey important leadership and self-improvement techniques to children and teens. Through working at YLCC,
I have discovered that play is an effective way to teach leadership skills in a practical and engaging manner. Children absorb concepts quickly through experience, and active learning helps them gain the confidence to lead among their peers when given the opportunity. I have seen positive results and growth in children and teens that are vision impaired, children with mental development issues, children who are labeled “at risk” and children who are labeled average and above average in their development.
My experience working at YLCC has fueled my curiosity to discover similar programs and research their methods and levels of success. This research paper will explore factors influencing the need for development among third-world youth; recreational education as a proven method of equipping youth with essential skills; programs that educate youth through activity, and criticisms of such programs.
Factors Influencing the Need for Youth Development
When discussing the importance of rehabilitating and teaching youth, it is necessary to evaluate their living conditions and the factors that influence their need for development. Many children in developing countries live in undesirable conditions, suffering poverty and starvation, low success in school, and negligence from parents. Michael Justesen and Dorte Verner’s book titled “Factors Impacting Youth Development in Haiti” discusses the state of matters among Haitian youth: “A series of factors predisposes a large proportion of youth to poverty, school dropout,
unemployment, early sexual initiation, teen pregnancy, HIV/AIDS, sexual and physical abuse, crime and violence, substance abuse and drug dealing, and social exclusion” (Justesen, M; Verner, D. 2007:3). Determining the factors that propel youth to unhealthy and unfulfilling conditions allows one to begin to develop a solution to the problem. According to Justesen and Verner, the sources of youth development hindrances are rooted in several aspects: “In many households absence of the father or both parents, drug abuse, pressure for female adolescents to bear children, and domestic violence contribute to the challenges young people face on a daily basis” (2007:3). Addressing and understanding these factors and their sources is necessary if one has the intention to work with youth and help them to work toward self-improvement.
The World Bank’s Country Study titled “Caribbean Youth Development” discusses three factors contributing to the need for youth development: individual characteristics, microenvironment, and macro environment. (The World Bank. 2003: 28-42) Individual characteristics refer to the character and qualities of the person in question. For example, the study refers to the levels of self-esteem and feelings of rage among youth in the Caribbean (2003: 28). Youth who experience rage are more likely to engage in crime and violence, or use drugs, alcohol and tobacco. (2003: 28) More than half of children who display rage-like behavior in the Caribbean have been either sexually or physically abused (2003: 29). Microenvironment and macro environment refer to factors such as parental and
community influence, and economic situations and position in society, respectively. (2003: 30, 37) Institutions and individuals with whom youth make contact are “very powerful influences in their lives” (2003: 35). Direct connection with members of their microenvironment can play a role in a youth’s development, and the individual demeanor they will adopt. Macro environment concerns itself with factors that determine a person’s circumstance, such as gender or economic situation (2003: 37). The three aforementioned factors cover varying aspects of a youth’s life, addressing elements both within and beyond an individual’s control.
Despite records that certain factors lead to disagreeable living conditions, hope remains that Haitian youth, and others to follow, will rise above their troubles and work as leaders, if given the proper direction: “Haiti’s history, combined with the country’s social and poverty indicators, show that youth should be seen not as a problem, but as a product of the family and community environment and therefore should be treated as a potential solution to Haiti’s development challenges” (2007: 3), This statement advocates the idea of developing youth through education and leadership, allowing them to be agents of change in their own lives and in their communities.
Recreation and Youth: Connections and Results
People have participated in sport and recreation for hundreds of years, from simple game play in the schoolyard, to worldwide Olympic events. According to Martha Ewing’s article, “The Role of Sports in Youth Development”, “Children learn
moral behaviour from engaging with others, watching the behaviour of others, and/or being taught ethical behaviour” (Ewing, M.E et al. 2002:37). In this sense, ethical behaviour can be acquired through active learning in an interactive team environment. Ewing’s article suggests that youth can learn moral behaviour and build character through participation in sport. Specifically, Ewing mentions that in studying children and their participation in physical education, it has been proposed that children “(a) develop physical skillsâ€¦(b) improve fitness; (c) learn social and emotional skills; (d) develop moral values; and (e) acquire a better sense of self through increased perceived competence, self-esteem and self-confidence” (2002: 31). The essential skills gained from participation in sport work as an agent toward youth development and provide a solution from troublesome conditions. Through sports and team activities, children learn self-sufficiency, co-operation, and begin to believe that they are capable of being leaders.
Recreational programs are sometimes government funded and provided within schools, while others are non-governmental and extra-curricular, such as summer camp. Camp is often presented in the media as simply a place for children to have fun in the outdoors. However, summer camp provides youth with an opportunity to extend their personal boundaries, be active, make connections, and gain confidence through learning new skills and interacting with others. Christopher Thurber’s study “Youth Development Outcomes of the Camp Experience: Evidence for
Multidimensional Growth” discusses the technique for youth development used by summer camps:
Promoting the healthy development of young people adheres to two complementary theoretical orientations. Prevention Science (e.g., Greenberg et al., 2003; Nation et al., 2003) aims to identify at-risk populations and alter individual characteristics that are precursors to unhealthy behaviors, such as school failure, drug use, and violence. Positive Youth Development (e.g., Catalano, Berglund, Ryan, Lonczak, and Hawkins, 2002; Larson, 2000) also seeks to reduce unhealthy behaviors, but by fostering the individual, social, and environmental characteristics-such as positive identity, social competence, and independence-that promote healthy development. Viewing young people as assets rather than liabilities also reflects the trend toward studying positive psychology and resiliency (e.g., Seligman, 2003; Werner and Smith, 2001), rather than focusing narrowly on pathology and risk (Thurber, C.A, et al. 2006: 241).
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According to this study, summer camps break their education methods down into two categories. They evaluate not only the factors contributing to the need for development, but focus on methods of fostering healthy development in a positive manner. The harmony of discovering the origins of the problem with the process of intently working toward improvement and learning has proven to be successful:
(Researchers have) focused on children with identified problems, including emotional disturbances (Byers, 1979; Durkin, 1988, 1993), learning disabilities and social skills deficits
(see Mishna, Michalski, and Cummings, 2001, for a review), family dysfunction (Lewicki, Goyett, and Marr, 1996), chronic medical conditions (e.g., Zimmerman, Carter, Sears, and Lawson, 1987), delinquency (e.g., Castellano and Soderstrom, 1992), and gang involvement (Harris, Fried, and Arana, 1995). Results of these studies all support the conclusion that camp promotes children’s health and development and reduces the recurrence of referral problems.
Summer camps and physical education are proven methods of guidance for youth in an active environment. The techniques used to increase a child’s mental and physical health through activity can be used effectively to aid youth in developing countries to gain confidence and leadership skills.
Programs Specializing in Recreational Education in Developing Countries
Many organizations have taken notice of the positive results that come from youth participation in organized activity. Programs such a Right to Play and OA Projects focus on providing children with essential skills through engagement in team sports such as soccer. UNICEF’s Peace Education program facilitates various workshops for school-aged youth, intending to teach qualities such as empathy, tolerance, communication, and co-operation (Fountain, S. 1999: 17). Susan Fountain’s article discussing training methods by UNICEF describes peace education among the “knowledge, skills, attitudes and values required to live and work in dignity” (1999:1). Specifically, “sport and physical education have been used in Rwandan schools as a vehicle for developing skills and attitudes of peace”
(1999:17). Training youth to work together as members of a team is a common goal among activity based NGOs like Right to Play and OA Projects. Right to Play is based on the guiding principle of inclusion, hoping to promote the involvement and acceptance of youth who are marginalized for various reasons, including gender, disability, and background (At a Glance, 2009: 1). Right to Play also focuses on reintegrating youth affected by conflict into society; health promotion and disease prevention education; basic cognitive development and partnership with local community leaders and coaches to ensure individual as well as community development (At a Glance, 2009: 1) Similarly, OA Projects partners with local programs focused on promoting peace and rebuilding communities (www.oaprojects.org. About.) Interaction with the project country contributes to the organization’s authenticity.
The Outcome: Results and Critiques
Nearly every effort to aid in developing countries provokes critiques questioning its integrity and authenticity. One might question whether a child can actually grow and receive essential skills from play. While leadership skills are important, do these programs provide youth with the opportunities to exercise them fully, and enough to make changes in their lives and in their communities? Cora Burnett’s “Sports-for-Development Approaches in the South African Context: A Case Study Analysis” looks at sports in the school, community clubs, and South Africa’s “Youth Development through Football” (YDF) program. In her conclusion she suggests, “the emphasis of
traditional male sports such as rugby, cricket and football, inevitably limited the opportunities for equitable gender participation” (YEAR: 38). While Burnett’s critique states that inclusion of members of the community created “mass participation at the school level and afforded many rural learners the opportunity to participate in a variety of sports” (year: 39), focus lacked in addressing contextual priorities and appropriate needs-based education and training toâ€¦ creat(e) career pathways or enhanc(e) the employability status (with reference to the school sport assistants and contract workers) of vulnerable populations” (year: 39). Burnett’s critiques address concerns that many inevitably share, questioning whether the outcome of activity-based programs is worth the means to present them.
It goes without saying that every child deserves to enjoy life and feel the joy that comes with playing and being active. Programs that offer children an opportunity to grow through activity not only intend to expose war-affected youth to an experience of fun, but through the fun experience, show children how to work together, lead and take initiative. Whether in Canada or in the third-world, physical activity is proven to increase fitness, confidence, and teamwork and communication skills. It is questionable whether sports and activity-based programs have a consistently favorable outcome as providers of better opportunities for youth. However, it is undeniable that the end result of joy and confidence for a child is worthwhile. Children in developing countries deserve a childhood just as much as children in
developed countries do. Through organized activity and sport, children are given the opportunity to play and laugh, while learning valuable team and leadership skills. Sports-based programs are not designed to pave the pathway of a better future for third-world youth, but rather to provide them with the confidence and skills to consider their pathways, and equip themselves to think critically about the pathways they are on.
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