There is nothing worse than being denied educational opportunities for lack of funds. But what is more frustrating is the lack of openings in the world of work even after obtaining a degree, be it in medicine or law or any other area
We have seen that, in spite of the world economic downturn, many countries are not only providing free education to all children but also giving the most disadvantaged ones the support they need in terms of food and educational materials to make them achieve. Recent studies carried out in the UK have shown that clever children from poor backgrounds lag behind their richer peers by about 30 months in English and Mathematics at the age of 11.
Nutritionists and other professionals working in the health sector also tell us that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, which has prompted the UK government to provide free breakfast to children who would otherwise come to school without having it. The ‘pupil premium’ given to schools to provide breakfast and lunch to such pupils will be increased from GBP900 to GBP1500 per pupil as from the 2014-2015 school year. Bangladesh has managed to bring nearly 800,000 street children back to school.
So far so good. But what next? Children will grow up and continue their studies and dream about what they would like to do when they become adults. This is the time when they will need to be advised and guided in accordance with their inclinations and potential in order to be well equipped for the job market. What is happening today in many parts of the world, particularly Europe, should be an eye opener for us. We cannot continue shouting slogans about ‘one graduate per family’ and talking about setting up ‘universities’ across the length and breadth of Mauritius without any planning.
Young adults are the most vulnerable members of society in today’s highly competitive world if they have not acquired skills that the world of work requires. The source of all our trouble is our education system which continues to put a premium on bookish learning to the detriment of the acquisition of skills. There is nothing worse than being denied educational opportunities for lack of funds. But what is more frustrating is the lack of openings in the world of work even after obtaining a degree, be it in medicine or law or any other area.
In some European countries like Greece and Spain the percentage of jobless young people in the age range 18-24 is half the total number of people unemployed. The picture is not rosy in the other Euro zone countries with the exception of Germany, where its education and skills development system is quite robust.
We need to drastically revise our conception of education and look beyond the CPE selection exercise. What is more important is selection and orientation based on aptitude after three years of secondary education. This is an appropriate time to channel young students along different routes. Can we find a good plumber or electrician easily? This is where our problem starts. We have no plan for human resource development. We talk about Singapore but forget that it channels 25-30% of its students to training centres under the aegis of its Institute of Technical Education (ITE) after four years of secondary education. The MITD centres have to be completely revamped to provide free fulltime training for two years to those students who have the potential to do well in manual skills.
Singapore channels the bulk of its students (about 40%) after the GCE ‘O’ level to Polytechnics which have state-of-the-art resources for a 3-year Diploma course in middle level technical and management areas. Only about 25-30% of its students move on to universities after completing their GCE ‘A’ levels. But lifelong education is open to all who want to continue their ‘education journey’ and upgrade their skills.
We have to dream in order to have a vision. But we have also to wake up and look around to translate our dreams realistically for the benefit of our youngsters and the development of Mauritius. We are putting billions of rupees into the building of roads, but practically nothing into the construction of new temples of learning, as Jawaharlal Nehru called the first IITs when they were set up in the 1950s. We need to invest heavily in 3 or 4 well-equipped Polytechnics and expand the ‘Université des Mascareignes’ which is the type of university we need. It is only then that we will be able to provide opportunities for achievement to tens of thousands of young people which Mauritius needs for its development. A revolution in our thinking and boldness in our action are called for.
* Published in print edition on 8 August 2013