“Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”
Isaiah ch 40 vs 30-31
Young people who only know the 21st Century are starting to make their mark. The sight of both finalist places being taken by teenagers at the US Open Women’s Singles brings great hope for the future: in the case of Grand Slam champion Emma Raducanu, this was just after achieving A grades in her A-levels.
The challenges for this generation are massive: not just the pandemic, coming at a critical time in their education, but also in the form of addictive technology, huge cultural swings, climate change, and older generations who must learn fast to keep up with all this change.
So in this commentary we look at some of the initiatives being taken to respond to these challenges, and we return to one of the big issues in the United Kingdom - how to make sure that six million young people get the benefit of their Child Trust Funds.
Most families will experience some degree of teenage social media addiction first hand, and the intense magnetism of online gaming. Indeed just a couple of weeks ago the Chinese Government issued a decree that just one hour each day is to be permitted for online gaming throughout the country: such was the impact that the share prices of supplier companies were significantly dented.
We commented on 12th July about a new report from UK Onward called ‘Age of Alienation’ which reports how young adults are significantly lonelier and more distrustful than in years past. The task of building relationships has been significantly increased by clip-style social media communication, and the pandemic has only made it worse.
UK Onward’s report followed analysis undertaken by the Office for National Statistics in 2018 which prompted the YMCA to call for more youth clubs, and the charity Onside Youth Zones has been particularly active in doing so: it now has sixteen youth zones established, mainly in the north-west but with four in London and one in Grimsby.
The Church of England could also do much more to build a sense of relationship for young people, and hopefully the General Synod election process currently underway will introduce more focus on teenagers. In addition to worship and community action, its key role is to carry the Christian faith from generation to generation: it's not currently doing well in this regard, notwithstanding its 16,000 parishes across England.
Universities also have a big role to play, but in 2020/21 online teaching closed out their role in building relationships. With fees continuing to be charged at full levels, their financial motive has come under close scrutiny: speaking at the Universities UK conference last week, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said : ‘I'm not saying that you relax all health measures, but what I do I want to make clear is that I do not expect to see online learning used as a cost-cutting measure. If there's a genuine benefit to using technology it should be done, but that is not an excuse to not also deliver high quality face-to-face teaching’.
There are acknowledged experts in online teaching in the form of the Open University and the Pearson Academy – let’s not see our universities following our high streets into online paralysis.
In a world where remote access is becoming more and more prevalent, it’s particularly important that access is maintained wherever possible: if it cannot be in person, then active telephone support should be available. Large commercial businesses such as banks (see our commentary on 31st August) and social media are particularly poor in this respect, but for young people it's essential to offer a good point of contact.
That's why The Share Foundation maintains an active support line for its work in helping young people to find their Child Trust Funds. It has so far operated twelve virtual events across the United Kingdom: the most recent being for Wales on 31st August, as a bilingual event. Nearly 20,000 registrations have been made through its free CTF search facility, https://findCTF.sharefound.org , and anyone is welcome to take part in any virtual event - the next is on 14th September, for the East Midlands.
As we move into the new academic year, we should take inspiration from the achievements of young people and provide them with every opportunity to achieve their potential in the years ahead.
Gavin Oldham OBE