Square Pegs in Round Holes

By TD Fuego

It was the mid-1960s. Mauritius was still a British colony; and a very poor one at that! Whether it was any particular circumstances or deliberately kept so during 150 years of British rule, it is not something that Great Britain can be very proud of.

As industry, we only had sugar and secondary education had to be paid for. Consequently, it was quite rare for children from poor family to study beyond the Primary level.

Notwithstanding, with a lot of sacrifice and hard work (I have personally seen him toiling in the sugar-cane field of Mapou Leclezio on a Sunday), my friend Kesraj managed to get through his School Certificate (SC) on the second try. The first time, he had earned himself a GCE Award, having received good results in 4 subjects including (English. Illogically, candidates are still required to pass in 5 subjects to be awarded a full SC)

Unable to pursue his studies any further or find a job, Kesraj opted for Nursing in the UK, the only option available at the time. At this point, one can only wonder whether colonies were not deliberately kept underdeveloped and in abject poverty in order to ensure a cheap source of labour for the ruling country.


Anyway, Kesraj started his nurse training in a teaching hospital and, at the end of three years, he qualified as a State Registered Nurse (SRN). With no prospects of obtaining a job back home, he took up an appointment as a staff nurse which was offered at the same hospital, for there was a desperate shortage of nurses in the National Health Services (NHS) at the time. A go-getter, he was not content with just working; so he began to study for a Diploma in Nursing (DN) in his spare time, with a view to climbing the hierarchical ladder.

At school, he had been quite good at Mathematics, and loved the subject. So, after completing his DN, he thought he might as well start on a part-time Maths course with the Open University. It was tough going, working full time and having to attend evening/week-end classes and summer schools as well as presenting assignments on time. But, his hard labour paid off and, after 5 years, he was rewarded with a respectable 2.1.

Home Again

Having gone to the UK out of necessity, Kesraj — like many of the emigrants his age — had always planned to return to Mauritius one day. So, now that he had his degree, as well as his SRN and DN under his belt, he decided it was time to go back home and find himself a job; and live among his own people.

Back home, Mauritius had made certain advances since Independence in 1968, but jobs were sill scarce. For an Indo-Mauritian, the private sector was almost out of bounds, leaving him only the option of a government job. After completing his SC, he had worked as a locum teacher for a few months in one of the secondary schools in his village; and enjoyed it thoroughly. So, he applied to a few private colleges and got an offer from a couple of them.

However, the college had to obtain approval from the responsible government body, who were the paymaster. To Kesraj’s dismay, his candidature was turned down. As there was no explanation given, the rector thought this was due to the fact that he did not possess enough SC credits and any A-Level passes. He got the same response wherever he applied for a job.

Disappointed, poor Kesraj returned to the UK, where he was accepted on a fast track management programme by a prestigious international bank. His degree was all he needed to produce to clinch the job; none of the ridiculous PSC requirements back home! The fact of having gained it whilst keeping a job down weighed in his favour. It showed determination, drive and initiative—qualities that are valued by the discerning employer.

A Progressive Policy

Recently, the MoE decided that, in order to empower more children, it would allow a student who has scored 3 Credits at SC to go on to do his HSC studies. To those of us who are concerned about the future of the country and worried at the vast number of our children who are left by the wayside due to some rigid, illogical requirements, this most progressive of steps came as a real breath of fresh air.

Now, it so happens that, in order to gain admission to an undergraduate course in a UK university, a candidate must possess 5 GCEs, of which at least 2 must be at A-Levels. So, our new HSC holder would easily gain admission to study for a degree. Who knows he may even come out with a First!

On the other hand, daal mein kala1, the PSC normally requires candidates to possess:

(i) 5 Credits at SC, (ii) a full HSC, and (iii) a Degree where this is applicable. Thus, following these criteria, neither our new HSC holder nor our new graduate would be eligible to apply.

The tragedy is, after 13-16 years of study, he cannot aspire to any public jobs. It is small wonder, therefore, that so many youngsters emigrate to Australia, Canada, Europe, and almost anywhere. What a waste of taxpayers’ money. Indeed, what an utter waste of our human resource! Clearly, a new mindset is needed, especially as today’s youngster may be brilliant at mastering the new technologies, without amassing 5+ credits on his SC.

We are in 2011; and it is time to rethink our ridiculous strategy that encourages this mad paper chase at the cost of inquisitive, questioning minds and which kills initiative and enterprise. In the early 1990s, a friend told me he was having great difficulty recruiting graduates for his newly formed company. This seemed surprising at a time when there was a long line of graduates in the unemployment queue. When I pointed this out, his response was, “Oui, certificats zotte ena longeur la semaine, ici na pas ena narien!”2 touching his temple.

The Right Man for the Job

In contrast to the PSC, when I was working in the private sector, the entry requirement was 3 HSC/A-Levels or a Degree, depending on the intended career path on offer. Which route the candidates had used to achieve these was of little concern. It was more important for us to pick the right man for the right job. Usually, the ones who performed best at the assessment interviews (note the plural) got hired.

With so many square pegs sitting uncomfortably in very round holes in the public sector, how often can the PSC claim that it manages to pick the most suitable candidates for the job?

TD Fuego

1 Fly in the ointment
2 Yes, they have reams of certificates, but no critical thinking

* Published in print edition on 27 May 2011

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