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Feature Article of Thursday, 24 December 2009

Columnist: Eyiah, Joe Kingsley

School Dropouts and the Menace of Street Youth

By Joe Kingsley Eyiah, Ontario Certified Teacher (OCT), Toronto-Canada

As 2009 comes to a close and the celebration of the Christmas holidays begin, I would like to use this opportunity to thank the Almighty God for life and for another year. Though 2009 came with its own ups and downs, this year, comparatively, has been better for Ghanaians living in Canada as far as untimely death of our youth on the streets of Canada is concerned than the previous one. Last year by this date we had buried about seven Ghanaian youth (under 20 years of age) in the Greater Toronto Area of Canada alone as a result of gun violence in the streets. This year, it has been two or three for the same cause. We are praying for the year that violence involving Ghanaian youth in the streets of the cities in Canada, USA, UK and Ghana and elsewhere in the world would be nothing to report about! I have therefore chosen to revisit the issue of our street youth and bring to public attention one of the factors that create this phenomenon-school dropouts!

The issue of street youth among Ghanaians both in Ghana and in Canada, especially in the cities of Kumasi, Accra and Toronto continues to raise many questions. For example, are the education systems (in Ghana and Ontario) not inclusive enough? Are Ghanaian youth in Toronto exploiting the social system of the province to their detriment? Could it be that the children are facing cultural dilemma in their new country of abode? Or, are parents and guardians miserably failing in their duty of providing the needed support to the youth? Perhaps, the society is not caring enough! In whichever direction one points the “accusing finger” I think the problem of street youth among Ghanaians both in Ghana and elsewhere deserves our attention. The future of our community is seriously threatened by this phenomenon. Therefore, there is the need for this discourse and action to redress the situation.

The Nature of the Problem:

My personal philosophy as an educator is based on the fact that the greatest aim of education is not knowledge, but action. Though it is good to have knowledge about or in something that knowledge fails to ‘serve’ society if it is not put into action. Action brings results. Results bring improvement and progress for the benefit of the community. Knowledge becomes creative and open when it leads to action! Africans have an adage: “It takes the whole community to bring up a child.” Undoubtedly, children are our heritage and it is the responsibility of us as adults to identify, talk about and take action on any factors that put our children/youth “at-risk”. According to the National Crime Prevention Council of Canada (1997), “risks are the things or experiences in a young person’s life that increase the chances of a youth being victimized or of developing one or more behavior problems which might be harmful to the youth or/and other persons or property.” Street youth are youth “at-risk” and they pose a great danger to themselves and the society at large. We, therefore, need to prevent all factors that push our youth onto the street. Dropping out of school is one of such factors.

Types of Street Youth:

Three categories of street youth are identified. They are the voluntary, homeless and the mentally ill.

1. The voluntary group supposedly comprises of youth who have chosen to be on the street as a way of life. Unfortunately, the police, schools and most social work agencies in Ghana have viewed all street youth in the country as belonging to this category. Their policies and practices toward the street youth have therefore often worsened the life situation of the street youth in Ghana. More disturbing is the position the community has adopted toward street youth in Ghana. People hold the voluntaristic explanation that this population of the “youth at-risk” is on the street largely by choice. The street youth are regarded as good-for-nothing persons in the community. They are called derogating names like ‘kuboro’ and ‘asaa’ in Ghanaian language.

Perhaps, Ghana is not alone in such voluntaristic reasoning. This reasoning has considerable currency within the political arena of even developed economies such as Canada and USA. Snow and Anderson (1993) quote the American President, Ronald Reagan as having consented to this reasoning when commenting on the problem of homeless people in America in 1984. He said, “One problem we’ve had is the people who are sleeping on grates, the homeless who are homeless by choice.” This notion has not changed much over the years in America and unfortunately in Ghana too, where economic problems facing poor families continue to drive Ghanaian youth onto the street. As matter of fact, if there are any street youth who belong to this category, they would not constitute more than one percent (1%) of population of youth roaming the streets. It has been discovered that, “peer attraction” is one of the factors that keep some youth on the streets. Street youth often clashed with the law by following their street friends who engaged in “shop-lifting” to survive on the streets.

2. About ninety-five percent (95%) of street youth come under the category of homeless. In Ghana, many street youth between the ages of 12 and 20 are without homes to turn in during the night. They sleep in front of stores and in abandoned motor vehicles. These youth have traveled from the countryside mainly to fend for themselves in the cities and urban towns due to lack of family support. Poverty or economic dislocation has driven them from their homes. Unfortunately, some single mothers have even encouraged their teen daughters to go to the streets to make ends meet. Such vulnerable young girls have landed in prostitution and have become homeless; hanging around with pimps whose help is just of exploitation of the youth.

In Ghana, for example, male street youth often engage in street trading. Others constitute cheap labor for market women who hire these children to cart their goods to and from the market places. There are among this group a handful of school dropouts.

3. The remaining four percent (4%) of youth roaming the street are mentally ill outpatients. Inadequate funding of Ghana’s asylums at Pantang and Ankaful has led to the inability of these institutions for the mentally ill to cope with increasing number of cases that come to them. Unfortunately, some youth are among these numbers though not alarming for this population of “at-risk”.

Dropping Out of School as a Pathway to the Street:

Today, although most African Canadian students complete school, a good number still drop out because of family, social and work pressures. This problem requires serious action from both individuals and the community. In Ghana, most students in the majority urban and rural areas drop out of secondary school. A high school diploma prepares a student for post-secondary education and is an important step toward success at work. Dropping out of high school can reduce a person's opportunities for employment and earning.

The majority of dropouts are young men. Of the 212,000 dropouts in Canada in 2004-2005, 135,000 were men. The rate of dropping out among young men was 12.2% in 2004-2005, compared with 7.2% for young women (Statistics Canada). Dropouts are described as students who have some kind of personal problems or anything socially that do not allow them to actually continue school or even work. They cannot actually continue school (See George Jerry Sefa Dei, 1997; Reconstructing ‘dropout’).

The ever increasing numbers of homeless street youth in the cities of both Canada and Ghana pose a big question that ought to be considered carefully by those who bring intervention programs to this population of “at risk”. Where have they come from, and why?

My personal experiences with street youth in Ghana and Canada have led me to believe that if our youth stay in school they would not be roaming the streets. Life experiences have taught us that education improves one's lot in life. A high school diploma is very important. Not only can it provide entry to postsecondary education (college or university), it sends a strong signal to prospective employers. According to Statistics Canada, in 2004, the unemployment rate among people aged 25 to 44 who did not have a high school diploma was 12.2%, while for those whose highest level of education was high school, it was much lower, at 6.8%. Moving to higher levels of education, the unemployment rate continues to drop, although not to the same extent.

The embattled argument that some youth have chosen to go against their parents’ advice and live in the streets is not sufficient to negate the factor that dropping out of school is partly to blame for our youth roaming the streets.

Suggestion:

One could argue that Africans being the latest immigrants to Canada are facing the problem of adjustment. The raising of the African Youth in the apparent emergence of two (2) cultures has become an issue of major concern to the whole African community in Canada, especially in the city of Toronto. However, it is also an undeniable fact that many African/Ghanaian families in Canada are breaking down and children are being compelled to fight and struggle for their own survival. Family violence and divorce are on the increase among Ghanaian-Canadians. Emotional and “physical” abuses of children and spouses as well as neglect of children (especially, their educational needs) are becoming chronic problems in the community.

I repeat what I suggested some time ago on this forum that as parents we need to put our knowledge in child upbringing into action to save our kids from waywardness. The home could be likened to a greenhouse where children grow to their fullest potential under the care of wise and patient gardener. We are like the gardener who nurturers each plant in the greenhouse to come to flower as the Creator has endowed it. “Train up a child in the way he should go....” Proverbs 22:6.

Also, it is unfortunate that there is very little or on support from the community to individuals, families and our youth. Though some Ghanaian community churches are trying to meet such needs in organizing family and youth programs/seminars their efforts are not enough. All churches and cultural associations must pay the needed attention to supporting our youth. It could be argued in some circles that our youth exploit the laws of Canada to their own detriment (e.g. leaving home early to depend on government welfare; lying about their parents to government authorities; and dropping out of school due to non-inclusive education system in Canada) and find themselves roaming the street eventually, most youth are pushed onto the street by the negligence of their parents and their dropping out of school due to lack of educational support outside the school.

We need to do all that it takes to prevent our youth from dropping out of school. The school curriculum and environment at public schools where most immigrant students receive their education must be made inclusive enough to reflect the background as well as social needs of all learners. Also, there should be outreach and support for families to keep their wards (students) in school. The Ministry of Education must enable families to be partners with teachers in educating their wards (students), form family support groups and assist parents in accessing needed services.

Let us remind ourselves that we can’t take our children past where we are. We must therefore, be good examples in both words and deed to our youth and help keep our youth in school. I wish all my readers a happy holidays. God Bless.

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