Positive Youth Development in Jamaica – A National Project

Posted on Aug. 16, 2022.

In Jamaica, more than 120,000 “unattached” 16-to-24 year-olds are not in school and are not working. Youth unemployment in Jamaica is more than twice (30.3 percent) that of adults (13.5 percent) and crime rates are highest among 18- to 24-year-old males.

Many young people in this age bracket have given up on school because they don’t feel they are learning skills that will help them find a job. They want to work but do not have the needed job experience or training.

Often they don’t have adequate skills in reading and math, or the exam scores necessary to get into higher education or vocational training programs.

The government of Jamaica has designed two programs to help these “unattached” youth, both financed in part by an IDB sovereign guaranteed loan of $11 million:

  • The Career Advancement Programme (CAP) extends high school education for two years to keep youth off the streets and in school. It focuses on fundamental reading, math, vocational, and life skills, along with a three-week work internship. CAP started in 2010 with 1,500 youth at more than 60 secondary schools and has served some 53,800 students since its inception.
  • The National Youth Service (NYS) Corps provides training in multiple locations across the country, including a one-month training program in intensive job skills and basic academic skills, followed by a six-month job internship. NYS Corps transitioned over time from a residential to a non-residential program, with a focus on job skills and volunteerism. Since 2008, nearly 60,000 youth have benefitted from NYS programs.

Both programs were inspired by what is known as positive youth development (PYD) theory, an area of applied development science that aims to optimize the developmental progress of young people.

The Jamaican programs have focused on developing youths’ capabilities and helping them realize their potential to participate actively in society through productive work and as good citizens.

Two impact evaluations as well as qualitative research studies carried out from 2011 to 2013, assessed the effectiveness of both programs.

The qualitative analysis involved focus groups with participants and parents/guardians, giving them a direct channel to provide feedback about their experiences and make suggestions for future improvements to the programs.

The research team of these impact evaluations included specialists from the University of the West Indies and the University of North Texas, with support for data collection from NYS field officers, CAP coordinators, a team from the Jamaica Foundation for Lifelong Learning, and the team responsible for managing the IDB loan. A Steering Committee comprised of government agencies and IDB staff accompanied the evaluation process.

Some Challenges to the Evaluation

Ten different instruments, including tests and surveys, were administered on four occasions over the course of two years. They measured academic performance, social functioning, confidence, development of workplace skills, and economic and social benefits from participating in the programs.

Both impact evaluations used propensity score matching in order to compare program participants (the “treatment” group) with similar nonparticipants (the “control” group).

Keeping track of participants in the two programs over two years was difficult because of attrition and poor record keeping (of students leaving the program or moving to a different school). Keeping track of those not in a program was even more challenging since many moved or changed their phone numbers making it difficult to find them throughout all four stages of the evaluation.

Making the analysis even more complex was the fact that both programs underwent changes during the evaluation period. In 2012, a new government moved the NYS program from the Ministry of Education to the Ministry of Youth and Culture.

Moreover, mid-way through the evaluation, all the CAP coordinators were changed and the research team had to train the new cohort to apply the instruments. Other evaluation challenges included site coordination, scheduling delays, and enrollment changes.

Did the Program Work?

Despite the challenges, the evaluations showed some important findings. CAP participants improved their skills in reading and mathematics (by an increase of 8 percent and 12 percent, respectively), communications (a 14 percent increase), and capacity to adapt to change (a 12 percent increase).

Overall, CAP participants, many of them dropouts, were grateful: “I feel good…because I get a second chance to better myself,” one participant said.

NYS participants also made gains in reading (an 8 percent increase), math (a 10 percent increase), and problem -solving (a 9 percent increase) when compared to the control group. They also showed increased confidence in their ability to get a job, although there were no significant differences at the end of the evaluation between the number of program and non-program participants actually holding a full-time job.

Overall, the impact evaluations provided evidence of the potential of PYD-based programs to positively influence youth development in Jamaica.

The evaluations concluded that both programs should provide more opportunities for youth to work with peers and mentors on activities that require teamwork and building relationships, promote social and emotional development, and provide transition support to maintain and build on the skills developed during the program.

In addition, more connections need to be made between the programs and other key agencies such as the Jamaican Foundation for Lifelong Learning (JFLL) and the Human Employment and Resource Training (HEART) in order to better integrate services and leverage skills training.

The evaluations also found that basic sensitivity training of work supervisors and other workplace staff could increase the likelihood of positive work/internship experiences for participating youth. Finally, it is critical to focus attention on the transition from the program to employment.

Programs that bring skills, opportunities, and hope to Jamaican youth are clearly important to the country’s future. The recommendations outlined above were shared with government officials and technical staff from the two ministries with the aim of helping to shape and improve existing and future programs.

Original article: Positive Youth Development in Jamaica – A National Project

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