Young People: We need your voice  

“What would you say is your greatest strength?”  I asked the audience.

The bright faces before me glanced uneasily at one another. I was speaking at a schools’ conference in India on choosing universities and future careers.  At Prep4 our aim is to help young people find their “voice” and we always stress how important it is to “follow your passion” when making life choices, rather than simply being led by school or family expectations. Knowing yourself and thinking about your best (and worst!) qualities can be very helpful when making decisions.  I nodded encouragingly as a girl stood up near the back,

“Ma’am” she said, her voice ringing clearly across the hall, “I’m strong”.

Later I reflected that she would need that strength to find her own “voice” as she and her classmates prepared to face the challenges of India: a wonderful, varied country, with the fastest growing economy in the world, but also some of the greatest inequalities.  Her walk to class in the morning took her past the city’s largest slum, where girls her age were forced to beg or work as prostitutes for criminal gangs. Basic living standards which her UK counterparts take for granted, seem like a distant dream for many Indians, with almost a quarter living below the official poverty line.

Over this last year my colleague Graham and I have had the privilege of working with talented students not only in the UK, but in Hong Kong, China, as well as India.  Despite huge differences in their economic, social and political circumstances, we find most of these young people share similar concerns. They work hard, but worry excessively about university and employment prospects.  Of course academic qualifications are important, but employers are not just looking for a bunch of “A grades”, they need well rounded people, who can work independently and as part of a team, taking the initiative and making good decisions. To learn these skills it helps young people enormously if they engage in the world around them. At Prep4 we encourage our students to be well-informed about local and national issues, so that they can be ready to take an active and positive role in their communities.

As a journalist and former BBC reporter, students often ask me “how can I get a job in the media?” I suggest they start writing, broadcasting and blogging etc as soon as possible. Most schools and colleges have plenty of opportunities to get involved in campus newspapers and radio, but people often seem surprised when I tell them to aim high and approach national newspapers with their articles and ideas too. The “young voice” tends to be ignored by many of the world’s leading media agencies. Adult contributors have plenty to say about the issues affecting young people, such as education, but their own views are rarely heard. A number of editors I know however would leap at the chance to publish well-written, coherent work from younger students, but they are not approached and the material is not available to them.

Back at the conference we talked of how important it is to get out of your “comfort zone” and try new things. You may fail, but no one has ever achieved anything by staying still. The would-be journalist should not be afraid to knock on door of the news editor, people in general should not be afraid to voice their thoughts or follow their ideals.

My young friend had something more to say, “I am strong” she repeated, “but I am also patient.”

A perfect combination of qualities to deal with the challenges she will face.  We need her voice and

I hope and believe it will be heard.