We must hand over the torch and trust young people to progress and innovate

10th August 2012 at 01:00
The opening ceremony showed vital faith in today's youth. Let's learn from that

What lessons can education learn from the emotional roller-coaster of the Olympic opening ceremony? The piece de resistance was seven young athletes lighting copper petals which in turn lit up the magnificent Olympic cauldron.

The design of the cauldron (with 204 petals representing the competing nations) was representative of peace. The blended messages of "peace" and the "hope in youth" is a striking one at a time of such angst, turmoil and economic uncertainty in society.

Witnessing the Olympics espouse such confidence in young people gives great hope for the future. It epitomises the need to entrust the new generation to be successful, solve perennial challenges and innovate beyond our wildest dreams.

At education conferences I often hear the words of Robert F. Kennedy being repeated to our education leaders of the present and future: "The world demands the qualities of youth; not a time of life but a state of mind."

Those words are used as a rallying call to try to stir educational leaders into youthful attributes of confidence, innovation and risk taking beyond the "group think" we too easily develop. However, the words of RFK need also to be retold to the young. Many need to be reminded of what it is to be young and to enjoy the opportunities it brings. For me, apart from the Olympics, the other story of last week was national Playday, focusing on the need to facilitate more play among our youngsters. Perhaps the legacy of the Olympics will help to fulfil that aspiration.

The other legacy needs to be trusting others and trusting our young people. By involving seven youngsters, the event organisers diplomatically avoided the expected reinforcement of demigods. Our society has enough of them.

Hopefully the seven torch bearers who ran the last leg will see this not as a last leg. Hopefully they will go on to achieve great things individually but will also learn the lesson to entrust others and pay back that trust. In war poet John McCrae's words:

"To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high."

There are lots of young people equipped and able to take the torch and to hold it high. There are lots of challenges we are at present failing with. People only need a chance to shine. It is everyone's job to take the leap of faith, give young people their wings and let them fly. What is more, give them the confidence to fly high and inspire others in doing so.

Neil McLennan is the Institute of Contemporary Scotland Young Scot of the Year. He writes in a personal capacity.

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