Are we misguiding and failing our youths?

By Dr R. Neerunjun Gopee

Jan Kenneth Eliasson is a 72-year old Swedish diplomat and Social Democratic politician who has occupied various positions in the United Nations, and has notably been involved as a peace mediator in conflict situations around the world. He is due to become the UN Deputy Secretary General on 1 July 2012. While being interviewed by the BBC a few days back, he said that the real strength of a country lay in its having:

  • Economic vitality;
  • Environmental awareness;
  • Social cohesion (people living together in peace, their solidarity towards each other);
  • Social trust (robust functioning institutions);
  • Kids growing up and getting into jobs.

He also observed that ‘you need passion to make things happen, but without compassion many wrongs can happen.’

He said that he came from a modest working class background, and was the first ever person in his family who had gone on to receive higher education. He also explained that his own life course had almost paralleled that of and illustrated the development of Sweden, in that the country rose from being relatively poor about seventy years ago to being one of the most prosperous and successful countries in the world essentially through education.

There is no doubt about the centrality of education in the development of country through the proper education of its citizens – that is, a combination of knowledge acquisition and application, skills development and character formation. This must start from preprimary level, naturally by methods and contents appropriate to that stage, both of which are then respectively adapted and expanded as the child progresses to higher levels in the school system. The system must be such that once he has reached a certain stage of maturity, there are exit points available for the student, and the country is in a position to find him a place where he can earn a living and be encouraged to become a useful member of society.

Those who have the interest and the capacity to go higher must definitely be encouraged to do so. The observation of Eliasson finds resonance in the words of the ex-Vice Chancellor of the University of Mauritius Prof Konrad Morgan — who was recently forced into resignation – in his interview to this paper last week: ‘Higher education is the single most important national investment that a country can make for its own people and for its long term future.’ He went on to add that although there may be no immediate discernible impact, ‘the changes that are made in the young people who have studied at a good University provide a lasting constructive influence of intelligence, tolerance and justice that permeates all aspects of society, from business through top personal and family life’ (NB: emphasis added).

‘Good university’ is the operative concept here; he must have known what he is talking about, what with the proliferation of universities that are being officially announced with great fanfare, and some whose degrees may not even be recognized by the regulatory bodies in their ‘source’ countries. For the sake of the students’ future careers, the government has a duty to take this matter seriously, as they may find themselves unemployable with qualifications that are dubious and training that is more virtual than virtuous. A number of students in different fields, including medicine, currently find themselves in this situation, clearly having been misguided into pursuing ‘studies’ at institutions of questionable standing.

These are examples of bad education, and here again the remarks of Prof Morgan are very pertinent: ‘When education is done badly it mirrors the worst aspects of bureaucracy’ – and one wonders whether the hands of bureaucracy are being forced locally to grant recognition to institutes, universities and colleges despite available proof that they have no standing elsewhere, or may even have been expelled from other countries. In that case the colluding bureaucrats will be doing a serious disservice not only to the innocent students, but also to the country as a whole.

Future students must therefore be warned to be very careful and to get all the right information from reliable sources before they join any tertiary educational institution, a number of which operating or wanting to operate locally being bent only on making money by fleecing the vulnerable students.

In this respect the responsibilities of the Tertiary Education Commission and the Mauritius Qualifications Authority are paramount, and if they yield to political pressure to grant recognition to tertiary institutions of dubious reputation and their bidon degrees, they will be doing much harm to the students and a great disservice to the country.

Students are warned.

* Published in print edition on 22 March 2012

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