National Youth Service as Sustainable Development Strategy: Contemplating Key Elements

Dr. Canute Thompson

April 20, 2022

Prime Minister Andrew Holness announced, earlier this month, the planned implementation of a mandatory National Youth Service (NYS) programme.  I welcome this announcement, having been calling for this since 2017.  In this brief article I share some of the suggestions I have been making concerning this issue.  These suggestions are essential for sustainable national development and are long overdue.

There is much that policy makers can learn from what Kingston College has done, as it seeks to shape a National Youth Service, and more broadly, a national sustainable development strategy.

As I reflect on what an NYS programme could accomplish, I contemplate the phenomenal sports industry we have in Jamaica which has resulted in the production of such a mouth-watering, joyfully beautiful Boys and Girls Championships.  There is so much that we can learn from this industry and what schools are doing.  While all the schools which participated did well, we have to look at what Kingston College (KC) has done.  What they accomplished this year, as in other years, is not the result of accident. 

Inclusivity, partnerships, spirituality, self-discipline, a commitment to excellence, service to others, and a vision of the larger good, must be the core elements of a (hopefully) soon-to-be re-introduced National Youth Service. 
Members of the Kingston College track team celebrate with the Mortimer Geddes Trophy after they won the boys’ title at the ISSA/GraceKennedy Boys and Girls’ Athletics Championships at the National Stadium in Kingston for the 33rd time on Saturday, April 9, 2022 – Image from loop news

One of the key elements of the KC model is the comprehensive nature of their programme.  It includes parents and past students, is built on spirituality and self-discipline, focused on overall excellence, informed by notions of service and care for others, and driven by a vision of the larger good.

Inclusivity, partnerships, spirituality, self-discipline, a commitment to excellence, service to others, and a vision of the larger good, must be the core elements of a (hopefully) soon-to-be re-introduced National Youth Service.  When Michael Manley introduced the National Youth Service in the early 1970’s, these were some of the principles and objectives he highlighted. The earning of an income by thousands of Jamaican youths was another objective having regard to the dignity of work and the centrality of participation in the project of building a strong nation.

Basic Elements of a Sustainable National Youth Development Strategy

I outlined the basic frame of the strategy in 2017, in an article in the Jamaica Observer entitled “If ZOSOs are to succeed”, and later refined the idea in my 2020 book, Education and Development: Policy Imperatives for Jamaica and the Caribbean.

The basic frame of the NYS strategy I propose is a three-component military-type environment for training and service.  The first would be an initial period of preparation, orientation and personal discipline and spirituality-focused immersion. This would last about four to six weeks.

The second component a longer period of exposure lasting about six months during which there would be further self-development exposure, taking place alongside acquisition of marketable skills.  The third component would involve the deployment of youths in various work settings.

The overall programme which would need to be heavily funded, would include the following:

  • Construction of fit-for-purpose military-education bases across the island. Some existing places can be used such the Montpellier site. Thus, both green and brown fields could be developed fit-for-purpose.
  • Designing curricula which focus on the training of a rounded person and thus the staff would include professionals in mental health, social development, cultural formation, civics, personal care and discipline, skills training (a very wide range from STEM-related to courses, including ICT to applications in construction, engineering, elder care, environmental protection, developing of apps – endless list), spirituality, and the teaching of courses in critical thinking and philosophy.
  • Creation of a feeder system, in terms of mental preparation, through the strengthening of the uniformed groups in schools, churches, and communities.
  • Agreeing a bi-partisan policy (which would be part of an overall bi-partisan education and develop policy) to provide the framework for the strategy.
  • Establishing clear metrics for the success of the initiative. These metrics would focus on both outputs and outcomes.
  • Developing a high-level system of accountability to ensure that there is value for money.
  • meaningful activity and preparation for sustained engagement.  These same youth would, after a combination and discipline and skills training, be engaged in repairing community assets mentioned at 2(b).
Youngsters at the launch of the National Youth Summer Employment programme at Jamaica College Auditorium in St Andrew. Image from loop news

Consult: With Youth, Opposition and Others

I wish to urge the government to make consultation with key stakeholders a priority as it develops the National Youth Service.  The government should not take the view that having the authority to do, having been elected to do, means that it has all the answers and that it knows best.  Wise leaders recognize that wisdom is found outside themselves.

The first set of stakeholders with which the government should, in my opinion consult, are youths, (the key beneficiaries) including those currently in high school.  The consultations should address the areas of interests in which youths would like to serve, the type of the service arrangements they would find meaningful, and the expectations they have of this service.  While it is inescapable that not all ideas would be taken into account, I expect that youths will share some very useful ideas to inform policy.

Ideally, a National Youth Service policy should be bipartisan, thus a change of political parties in Jamaica House should not lead to the change of the policy.  Indeed, policy continuity should be a certainty. To achieve that end, it is essential that there be consultation across party lines. 

But beyond the direct beneficiaries and the “alternative policy shapers” (in waiting) are the rest of us – leaders of organizations serving youth, people who employ youths, other countries which have a National Youth Service (such as Singapore) and those who have studied issues related to youth and youth development.  Then there are the historical records of the operations of the policy in the 1970’s.

While an NYS policy is of great urgency, consultation before implementation is vital.


Dr. Canute Thompson is Senior Lecturer in Educational Policy, Planning, and Leadership at the School of Education, The University of the West Indies, Mona Campus, and Head of the Caribbean Centre for Educational Planning. He is author of seven books and over a dozen journal articles, and the operator of

3 thoughts on “<strong>National Youth Service as Sustainable Development Strategy: Contemplating Key Elements</strong>”

  1. I appreciate the presentation of this article so much: engaging, the background given to the Genesis of the NYS Programme, highlighting the desired focus which surrounds Nation building and the perpetuity needed and desired for youths transcending to responsible adults. Thank you Dr. Thompson.

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