Politics and poor education in a social media wave. How can we get our youth to contribute more meaningfully in the politics of their country?
My country Sierra Leone is undeniably a beautiful country with great potential to lift its people from poverty and make a happy home where all its people can achieve their greatest potential. Our cultural diversity is unparalleled, our lands swell up to the brim with natural treasures, and our population is vastly made up of young people ripe with untapped potential. All these give our country many opportunities. But these opportunities are shadowed by many challenges that move our country backward. In my opinion, one of the biggest challenges holding back our country is the poor quality of education that leaves our young people unemployed, poor and vulnerable to almost anything – especially bad politics in which their choice is so crucial.
Comments from a group of my friends teaching in schools here in Port Loko (the town I grew up) summarized the situation of young people and politics. “Young people are very vulnerable, Mr. Barrie.” Mr. Sesay (a secondary school teacher) had to say “Every 5 years we see politicians come around making promises just to disappear after they have been elected”, he moved on to say. “The problem is that young people in this of our country are uneducated and cannot think critically and question the words and moves of these politicians.” Then Mr. Jalloh (a head teacher) interjected, “what leads to all of this is poor education. Imagine you and me, because we are educated and know fully the consequences of our choices, it is very difficult for any politician to fool us”.
In 2013, the World Bank supported my country and landed the submarine fibre optic cables in Freetown drastically reducing the costs and speeds (relatively) to connect to the internet. Everywhere you turn nowadays, young people have smart phones, are connected to the internet, to WhatsApp and Facebook, Viber etc. And this change is sweeping into the very remotest parts our country.
Social media has since become the biggest news outlet and largest platform for young people to connect with each other and participate in the politics of our country. In a random day I would receive over a hundred messages ranging from news, political advertising, jokes, motivational quotes, to reasons why an idea/movement/change is a western attack on African culture, the best sex positions to try in bed etc. Nowadays it is easy to be in a discussion/argument with a young person and hearing evidence based on something someone shared/said/wrote in a WhatsApp/Facebook post. This should be empowering! This is the first time in the history of our country that young people with so much access to getting and sharing so much information at such low costs!
However, there is a problem.
Young people have all this access to this flood of information. But, how capable are young people in this country to really filter this massive clutter of information and make good use of it in the day-to-day decisions they make? Take politics for example. If young people in our schools are not taught to think critically, to question, to judge sensibly, to use sound logic and reasoning to come to conclusions about matters of personal and national importance then their decisions and judgements will be in the hands of anyone who can sway them in any direction. Young people need more than just access to information and the ability to share it to greater masses. Young people urgently need an education that teaches them how to think critically, to apply logic in a way that will help them engage sensibly in the politics of our country. This way our country can reap the real fruits of this technological wave hitting our shores.
We all know that young people are rallied by politicians of all shapes and colours, and that young people’s decision in the ballot box can make or break this country; so we must be serious about equipping them with the tool s (and that is critical thinking education) necessary for them to fulfil their great potential in rowing this country forward to prosperity.