The vast majority of young Irish people studying overseas are based in Britain, and they face an uncertain future

AS THE short-lived contender for the leadership of the Conservatives in Britain, Andrea Leadsom will go down on the wrong page of history for proclaiming that motherhood would make her a better Brexit era prime minister than her childless rival, Theresa May.

Her logic — that being a parent gave her more of a stake in the future and thus more incentive to get things right — was widely rejected as crass and tactless.

But while using family status for political gain was low, there was a credible anxiety in her statement that: “I have children who are going to have children who will directly be a part of what happens next.”

However the current crises play out and whichever way countries respond to them — politically, militarily and socially — will shape the lives of today’s youth long into adulthood.

Not that they aren’t already feeling the impact. Betty McLaughlin, president of the Institute of Guidance Counsellors in Ireland, points to the 10,000 students currently studying abroad, the vast majority of them in Britain, and the 1,000 more intending to join them this autumn.

Pre-Brexit, any EU student studying in Britan could avail of a fee-deferral option, enabling them take out a student loan repayable when they started earning.

“That is a live concern for students, particularly in the next few weeks when they would be getting offers from the UK to study over there. Whether that option for the deferral of fees will still continue, no one knows.

“There was also a cheaper fee rate for EU students than for international students. The worry is that they are only guaranteeing that they will hold the fees for two years whereas most of the courses are four years.”

Those choosing language course also face a dilemma because of the expectation that they will spend a year abroad under the EU’s Erasmus scheme.

“They may balk at that idea now with the fear around France in particular and Germany too,” Ms McLaughlin says.

A former French teacher herself, she was holidaying in the Loire Valley when the attack on Nice happened and she saw first hand the effect it had on the French people.

“They were terribly upset by it but they still feel that life will go on, that they can’t live in fear. If students were to ask me what I think, I would be saying that life goes on, that you can’t guarantee what’s going to happen and you can’t be dictated to by the unknown.”

That philosophy feeds into the natural instinct of youth, as Ms McLaughlin sees it in the school setting. “Young people don’t think too far ahead and they don’t procrastinate. They’re carefree, they’re enjoying life and that’s how it should be.”

But while school can provide insulation against the outside world, it is not impermeable to what’s going on.

“The most recent events are happening during the school holidays but otherwise there would be a lot of talk about them in the classroom,” says Ms McLaughlin.

Facilitating such talk is important, she believes, but is challenging for teachers and counsellors. “You have to be conscious that some children can feel very anxious. If it’s terrorism that’s being discussed, you have to take great care that if there happens to be a Muslim child in the class that they don’t feel isolated.”

In Britain, the US and Australia, education authorities have issued guidelines for schools on spotting and handling radicalisation in the classroom. It may be logical given the young ages of some of those involved in recent attacks, but the thought of it makes Ms McLaughlin uncomfortable.

“The idea of policing children in a classroom would put teachers in a very awkward position. Young people are very opinionated and just because they have an opinion doesn’t mean they’re a threat.

“They have a right to express an opinion without being judged. Certainly we can challenge that opinion and its basis but we can’t judge the child otherwise how can we expect them to turn to us and share with us when there is something going on in their lives.

“We have to teach tolerance, acceptance and diversity. We have to help them become responsible, independent, critical thinkers. And we have to teach them resilience and respect. We have to do that by example.”

The vast majority of young Irish people studying overseas are based in Britain, and they face an uncertain future

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