For Prashanthi Jayasekara, a young and professional researcher, the enthusiastic and overwhelming responses at the “Civic and political participation of the youth and the use of technology” event held last September, meant that Sri Lankan youth were wholly aware of their societal frustrations and issues that surrounded them, and were determined to find answers for their problems.
While this is admirable on the side of the youth, Prashanthi, as the moderator of the event, observes that resolving youth problems is a complicated process, and there is little clarity as to some of the underlying factors that cause these problems. “In that context, the responses at the event were not wholly unexpected. However, the problem is that, we can’t talk about solutions when the problems themselves are overwhelming,” she remarks, when asked to comment about her observations at the event.
Prashanthi had prepared probing questions aimed at solutions to some of the contemporary issues faced by Sri Lankan youth, but found that many of the youth present at the event had the burning desire to express their concerns and voice their problems, and solutions to those complex problems remained unanswered.
When asked about what such observations reflected about the youth present at the event, Prashanthi notes that the attendees were indeed, aware and interested in contemporary issues that concerned them. She states, however, that, “I believe that we live in a bubble. Our views don’t reflect the concerns of the entire youth population of the country, as the majority of the youth population reside in rural areas.”
She went onto explain that some of the views presented at the event were expressed by those youth who were already equipped with civic consciousness and who wanted to experience and understand the reality of civic and political participation. “There maybe a bigger picture to this, which has not been represented by the event as research shows that a large percentage of the youth, have not understood the reality of civic consciousness,” Prashanthi remarks.
As a research professional, Prashanthi’s research experience shows that many of the youth across the country remained alienated from civic and political participation processes due to their perception that the political system remained corrupted and elitist, and possessed a sense of detachment from civic and political issues. “It is the same group of people who we see attending these discussions,” Prashanthi notes and states that there is a lack of organic interest in the majority of the youth population, which is not obvious at youth events such as the present one.
When asked to comment about the aspect of the use of technology at the event, Prashanthi notes that “Even though Sri Lanka boasts of the vast reach of ICT across the country, a main barrier to harnessing those facilities is the fact that many of the youth cannot use them due to language barriers,” and therefore, the potential of technology to enhance civic and political participation, and thereby their capabilities and freedoms, is an open and valid question.
As a conclusion, Prashanthi’s opinion is that the identity of the youth remains multi-dimensional and that policy makers should understand the dynamics of this identity when investing in the youth. As a researcher, she supports the hosting of many more such discussions which will foster understanding between the youth and inform them about their concerns and the steps that they will take in order to make a better future.
“An organic interest must stem from the youth from an early age, and the conversation must flow freely, and ideas should not be implanted on them. Instead, they must create an environment where ideas can be discussed, challenged and made use of, and for these reasons, events like this are very good, for the future of the youth,” is Prashanthi’s conclusion.
Prshanthi has been part of our journey from the beginning, she was the youngest in the NHDR 2014 research team, she was there when we brainstormed our ideas, she was our moderator at the youth meet-up and we are certain that she will continue to work with us as we strive to work with our youth. She is one who never fails to give constructive feedback and she has rightly pointed out the need to take these discussions to the rural youth, make it inclusive and break language barriers and the need to understand the reality of civic consciousness.
Critical evaluations are a must to make our interventions successful. Learning is the key to success. We will, working with you, take these valid inputs into consideration as we proceed further.
Thank you for the reality check, Prashanthi!
Author – Nabeela Raji