The Pursuit of Excellence

Is there a fear syndrome against excellence in the country in certain quarters and in particular among the political class? A fear that support for excellence, meritocracy and high achievers will rock the boat and prevent the dilettante or the duds from holding sway? In a country where our only major resources (until we intelligently tap the immense and multifaceted potential of our exclusive economic zone) are our human resources, it seems like national hara-kiri to be generally thwarting excellence instead of robustly encouraging and harnessing it for growth and inclusive prosperity.

Across the world and throughout history, the pursuit of excellence has left a rich legacy of game changing discoveries such as electricity or the internet, ideologies like democracy and a huge cultural heritage through creativity in the Arts which have materially transformed the livelihoods and quality of life of people. It is the dedicated commitment of the best brains, talents and resources available that achieve the most ambitious objectives of human endeavour. This is evidenced so clearly in the annual crop of success stories making headlines.

The record tally of 66 gold medals obtained by Mauritius at the 9th Indian Ocean Island Games last month as the country finished second to the host country, Reunion Island, could not have been achieved by Team Mauritius had the country not fielded its best trained athletes rigorously selected on the basis of their performance and merit. Top class training facilities, coaching support and a culture of hard work, discipline and exposure to international competition have helped instil a strong motivation and confidence among the chosen athletes to excel and be among the best in their respective sporting disciplines at the international level. This paradigm shift in approach based on merit and performance has transformed the country’s international record in sports from the dismal to a string of ground-breaking successes at regional and international sporting tournaments. There cannot be any other recipe for success.

Across the world the laws of competitiveness and imperative of efficiency have institutionalized a process of recruitment of the best talents qualified in the most reputed institutions of the world by both the public and private sectors. In France, graduates from the prestigious grandes écoles such as the École normale supérieure, École polytechnique or École nationale d’administration, INSEAD, etc., have historically procured many of the top politicians, businessmen, top ranking civil servants and executives of the country. In India, the cadres of the Indian Administrative Service which is the permanent bureaucracy which provides continuity and neutrality to the country’s administration are recruited through an extremely competitive and gruelling national examination held every year when a ‘batch’ of a few hundred are selected from about half a million candidates.

Sundar Pichai and Usain Bolt

In the business world, an increasing number of corporations are choosing the most talented professionals from the market place to run their businesses in order to innovatively make them grow and prosper in increasingly more difficult and competitive market conditions. The appointment of 43-year-old Sundar Pichai, who spearheaded the creation of Chrome which has surpassed Microsoft Internet Explorer as the most popular browser in the US, to replace Larry Page (who founded Google with Sergey Brin) as Google’s CEO last month after an 11-year career at Google stems from this logic and epitomizes this trend. Last year, 89% of Google’s $66 billion revenues were contributed from the division Pichai will head.

When will such models of sound and enlightened management based on mobilising the best talents and brains take root in Mauritius and become standard policy applicable to all sectors of activity including the political parties?

Mauritians from all walks of life have from pre-Independence times realised that education is an important passport for social advancement and the realisation of their most ambitious career and life objectives. To this end, from the outset an increasing proportion of students coming from all socio-economic backgrounds driven by a common yearning for knowledge and quality education have wanted to excel and be among the top students of their class. This is evidenced each year in the list of the best students who rank among the first at the School Certificate, Higher School Certificate examinations or as laureates. In most cases these bright students go on to also excel when pursuing their university studies and graduate with flying colours to become able professionals in their chosen fields ready, given the opportunities, to contribute to the progress and advancement of the country. These highly proficient young elements of our society represent an immensely valuable asset for the country.

In a country where people value education so much, elementary logic would warrant that these talented and highly qualified young Mauritians are efficiently harnessed to beef up the thrust and managerial acumen of both the public and private sectors in the country for the common good of the nation. This is obviously not the case presently and the pervasive public perception is that this is not about to change.

As a result, a growing number of graduates and professionals are opting to work abroad, when given the choice and opportunities they would have preferred to work in the country. Such an exodus of some of the most gifted young brains of the country constitutes a huge waste of valuable and scarce human resources and an inefficient use of national resources as education represents a huge outlay in the national expenditure and a heavy expense on the family budgets. It also blunts the nation’s capacity to realize its loftiest ambitions.

Preserving benchmarks

Although not perfect, our national educational system benchmarked on the Cambridge syllabus has served us fairly well. It is obvious that a system of assessment which combines course and group work with final examinations as is the case for the International Baccalaureate will enable a smoother bridging of the mode of learning between secondary school and university. Any reform of our educational system must however ensure that it is as holistic as possible. Apart from enabling all students to acquire the basic and essential literacy skills and competencies required, it must also help them develop aptitudes such as a critical mind, problem solving abilities and open their intellect and enquiring mind towards all forms of knowledge.

It must also inculcate students with strong civic, moral and cultural values to enable them to become responsible citizens and encourage them to invest in a sound body through sports which help develop a more balanced personality. We must also ensure that all students are on board in a manner which takes into consideration and hones their diverse aptitudes through appropriate and tailored streams of learning which interface smoothly with the job market.

In a context where stress and competition are often being used as scarecrows, it is absolutely necessary that nothing is done to lower standards. We must therefore above all ensure that our standards of education are aligned on the best international examination benchmarks prevalent in secondary schools in the world to enable a seamless integration of our students for studies into the best universities abroad.

Managing stress and the throes of competition are intrinsic elements of the pursuit of excellence and help achieve success in whatever we endeavour in life. The six-time Olympic champion Usain Bolt who just won gold medals in the 100m, 200m and 4x100m relay at the recent Beijing World Championships is the best example of that determined and unwavering spirit as he gears himself to defend his titles at the 2016 Olympics Games in Rio.

Usain Bolt and Sundar Pichai represent contemporary torchbearers of this culture of excellence. Let their potent intent to achieve success inspire and drive the country and the people to fashion a better future.

  • Published in print edition on 11 September 2015
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