Sept 2002

Youth Disaffection

Father Jim McCartney

It is good to see that youth disaffection and disengagement from education and training has become a major concern for the Government. The Education and Employment Committee’s report on disaffected children, published in 1998, recognises that we need to focus on the underlying causes of truancy and underachievement. As a strategic practitioner trying to develop systems that can engage with disaffected young adults, I wholeheartedly believe that their problems were never really addressed in the classroom. It is encouraging to now find that education strategists are starting with the premise that, given the necessary support and opportunities while at school, young people may have a chance of attaining what is needed for normal development. Rather than exclude the disruptive child from school we now are encouraged to work positively with challenging behaviour. In many schools extra resources have become available to work with children as individuals so that they can develop the motivation, skills and behaviours necessary to gain benefit from normal classroom learning.

I cannot stress enough those early years of life. School provides the opportunity to encourage the development of the social and life skills needed to make the necessary transition from adolescence to adult responsibilities. Ten years within a school environment can provide each child with the greatest assets for survival. This is an understanding of right and wrong and respect for oneself and society as a whole. Obviously, the family is the primary source of stability in a young person’s life and school can never become a substitute for the intimacy of human development within the family circle. However, school can become the liberator for young people whose development is being stifled by low self-esteem and the feeling of inadequacy. Every human life has an intrinsic desire to learn. From the moment we leave our mother’s womb we begin the process of perception and learn how to speak and walk. The education system has failed so many people who have left school feeling insecure and incapable of learning. Schools have failed such people because they have never really understood them. Good practices to reduce alienation were not in place such as additional staff within the school as inclusion workers or learning mentors to take the pressure off the classroom teacher. Now there is a sense of hope as we try and help young people reorder their lives and make full use of educational opportunities.

Such initiatives are nor only confined to the classroom. We as agency are now in the second year of a European Funded initiative "learning for non learners." The aim is to provide learning opportunities for young adults who find formalised learning difficult. Many of our students have turned to drugs and crime. We work with them on an individual basis and help them discover the quest for learning. Some of our clients have gone on to Platter College in Oxford for a foundation year before entry to university.
The 19th century Scottish playwright, Sir James Barrie, is noted for saying that as soon as you can say what you think, and not what some other person has thought for you, you are on your way to being a remarkable person.

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