From Mississauga to Mombasa

In these pages, Inroads looks at projects affecting young people in two radically different contexts: Canada and eastern Africa. Despite the differences, the eternal human quest for a safe, healthy, nurturing, supportive environment in which to raise and educate children underlies both contexts. More notably, both show evidence of new ways of thinking that may actually improve outcomes for young people whose prospects have been limited by economic, social and cultural factors.

The three articles dealing with Canada focus on three stages of development: care of preschool children, elementary school and high school. What role government should play in the care of young children was a major point of divergence between the Liberal and Conservative parties in last winter’s election campaign, one of the victorious Conservatives’ “five priorities” and a centrepiece of their May budget. The analysis that follows suggests that neither the Liberals’ universal government-run program nor the Conservatives’ cash payout to parents constitutes the best use of public funds. Instead, governments should be spending child care money on a program targeted to “at risk” families.

Click to read The Childcare Debate by John Richards and Matthew Brzozowski.

The other two articles describe small-scale initiatives that show promise in reaching groups that tend to be ill-served by standard school programs: immigrant families with mother tongues other than English or French, and adolescents who fall behind and, in many cases, drop out of school. Both initiatives currently exist on the margins of the education system, and both have the potential to be adapted to wider use.

Click to read Diversity as a Resource by Bob Chodos and Integrating High School Dropouts by Nadia Rousseau.

Twice in recent years, the chair of the annual G-8 meeting – Jean Chrétien in 2002 and Tony Blair in 2005 – made Africa the centrepiece of discussion. Prior to the meeting last year, Britain set up a blue-ribbon panel of prominent African and industrial world leaders – among them Ralph Goodale, at the time Canada’s Minister of Finance. Their report (Our Common Interest) is among the best overviews of the tragic, agonizingly complex problems of the continent. Two brief passages:

When the sun began to set on Europe’s foreign empires, … nobody was that worried about Africa. The anxiety was all for Asia … Today Africa is the poorest region in the world. Half of the population live on less than one dollar a day. Life expectancy is actually falling. People live, on average, to the age of just 46. In India and Bangladesh, by contrast, that figure is now a staggering 17 years higher …

There are still oppressive regimes in Africa. Corruption remains pervasive. Violent conflict is all too frequent. Inefficiency and waste and unnecessary bureaucracy are commonplace. Many nations lack the administrative and organisational capacity to deliver what their citizens require and deserve.

Beyond an end to war, what Africans – and especially African children – most require from their governments is decent health and education services. Earlier this year, Don Cayo and Betsy Trumpener (along with four other British Columbia journalists) spent time in eastern Africa in a project supported by the Jack Webster Foundation and CIDA. We offer in this section their images and text. Among the health and education projects they surveyed, a few are working remarkably well. Fortunately, not all is gloom.

Click to read Free Education – And Then What? by Don Cayo and Mothers’ Milk and Babies’ Blood by Betsy Trumpener.

— John Richards and Bob Chodos