Diaspora: Is Education Still The Key To The Future?

Broadly the answer will be in the affirmative, but the core issue now is what kind of education and in what fields. This question came to my mind in light of the recent recruitment of only 60 doctors out of the 450 or so who had applied and been interviewed, and the attending reactions in the media which have died down after the hype over several days, leaving the hundreds of doctors no better off in terms of future prospects. And there is also the known fact in the public domain that there are at least 5000 unemployed graduates, adding to the other thousands of unemployed many of whom must surely be possessing academic qualifications though not at graduate level.

The situation and context have evolved and changed considerably compared to the time when access to education was limited for most of the population in the years before the country’s Independence. As children growing up in the years after the Second World War, with our parents struggling to make ends meet and earning little in whatever scarce jobs were then available to them because of their lower (formal) educational levels, as well as to those with no education, it is no surprise that they put pressure on us to do well in our studies at school and college so that we would get the best possible grades in the qualifying examinations.

These were mainly then the School Certificate and Higher School Certificate examinations for those who had the opportunity to gain entry to the few secondary schools then existing, with those outside this system going for the General Certificate of Education at Ordinary and Advanced Levels.

Passing these exams opened the door to employment and to the possibility of tertiary studies abroad for those who had the means or obtained scholarships – the few – and locally the London University External Programme for those with limited means. It was medicine, the law and teaching – considered to be the ‘noble’ professions – that had priority then, because of the possibility of employment and earning one’s living in these sectors.

For the Indian diaspora, getting a job in the Civil Service was a guarantee of some security, as there were limited opportunities for jobs in the private sector.

Over the years through to the present, though, greater access to education from primary to tertiary levels, along with a parallel development of other fields of activity as the country industrialized and the tourism sector developed, gave rise to an increase of opportunities in the new sectors, which required a host of supporting and increasingly professionalized disciplines ranging from accounting, marketing and management including human resource management, economics, and more recently the IT industry and so on.

These were attractive to students planning their future careers, especially those from families who did not come from plantation or business families. Even in the latter, though, the progenies have gone on to professionalise, subsequently joining and helping to consolidate the family business or, especially as far as planters are concerned, appear to have mostly left the land for other, seemingly more trendy occupations where they are employed rather than being self-employed.

This complex of factors, along with the reduction of sugar factories even as the owners diversified into the hotel/tourism, energy and real estate sectors, has diminished further the interest of the progenies of the small planters in continuing with the traditional family occupation of sugarcane plantation.

On the other hand, besides these reasons which are a consequence of the more recent trends in the economy, there is an undeniable reality: known families with large plantations, who were illustrious in days gone by, have practically come apart after the passing away of their patriarchs. It will require a formal sociological study to examine in detail this phenomenon, but personal factors and family discord and or/feuds are not alien to this decline.

No doubt a lack of long term shared vision, of seeing the larger picture in the context of evolving socio-economic trends, as well as a failure to seek external, and thus more objective professional inputs and advice as a guide to future development in a ‘corporate’ manner have also been instrumental in furthering such disintegrations.

Clearly, there is much material on that front awaiting exploration by professional historians, sociologists and development experts among others, but the point I am trying to make is that those in the diaspora who had the land or other business concerns going could have been today in a stronger position had they had a better grip on the administration of their legacy and assets. Besides continuing to be large owners themselves, they would have been today generators of employment for Mauritians as a whole, in the same manner though perhaps not on the same scale as the larger corporates.

On the other hand, it is impossible to prevent citizens from pursuing education to the highest levels. But what must be taken into account is that mere possession of a basic academic degree is no longer enough, and for many occupations now a second or even a third degree seems to be a must! That is for the occupations at the higher levels, but at the level of small and medium enterprises, depending upon one’s interest, there are no doubt opportunities awaiting for those who do not have academic qualifications or who supplement their qualifications by acquiring additional skills to enhance their competencies.

Either way, the road ahead demands hard work and some acumen, as well as some practical realism before launching oneself into any studies. It is true that all over the world, judging from information that one gathers online, the situation of graduates in terms of getting work commensurate with their qualifications and their specific fields of study shows a pattern of low satisfaction overall. And Mauritius, as part of this global world, cannot be immune to this phenomenon. A new kind of smartness is required of prospective newcomers to the world of work in the future, and good luck to them.

Education will still remain the basis and backbone, but it has to be looked at in a very large perspective, and be prepared with not only Plan A, but also Plans B and C…

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