Letter to Uncle Sam
Schools have resumed and young folks here are back to the classrooms to meet the challenges of their second term of the academic year. And this brings me to the issue of education. And I know how this is crucial to your heart and your policies within the Administration.
Just as a reminder. In UK, David Cameron and his Chancellor for the Exchequer, supported by the Libs, have engaged in budget cuts that have strongly affected families and institutions who cannot afford school/university fees. British youths have been on the streets recently to demonstrate their concern.
In the US, Uncle, budget cuts, instigated and strongly supported by the Reps, have compelled the administration to lay off teachers and forced the closure of community institutions working to shape the minds of the young and unfortunate.
In Asia, most countries are investing more than one would expect to promote training and education.
In the recent past, nobody other than yourself, President of the United States, quite rightly opined that the 21st century economy would need more university graduates, more engineers and so on. Unless this requirement is fulfilled now, the US runs the risk of being overtaken by its Asian competitors. This was the essence of your argument.
In Mauritius, Uncle, education is free from primary to university. Students travel for free in the local public transportation system. The Labour Party, a local version of Dems, has copyright on these ideas. Here is a tip if you really wish to try this system on a pilot basis in the US, say in Illinois, for example, and if you want this to appear in your presidential manifesto. You know, Bill and Hillary have good relations with the Labour leadership. And they can be more than helpful if you want to go ahead with the proposal.
Moreover, the ZEP policy allows financing for full meals to needy students in schools, including special teacher attention.
The Nobel Prize economist, Joseph Stiglitz, visited us a few weeks ago. And he wrote a column in the British Guardian newspaper wherein he expounded on this and several other issues.
Uncle, Mauritius has come a long way before giving life to its policies pertaining to education. During the early eighties, and you won’t believe it, the IMF-WB experts tendered advice to the local authorities and pressured decision makers to cut all subsidies, and more importantly to proceed without delay with the closure of a list of public schools, etc. Layoff of teachers and students were on the agenda.
It’s good to remind you also that at that material time, the national economy was in a dire state. And stats were blinking red. And the days ahead showed no hope for a traumatised population whose quality of life and spending capacity kept deteriorating.
The economic, financial and management thinking of gurus like those posted at the IMF-WB tend more to promote cuts to balance the balance sheets; an idea most celebrated among such experts.
The political and common sense thinkings look at things differently and they ceaselessly promote their idea of doing things differently. The logic is simple and it comes in the form of a question. How can public policies suggested by IMF-WB be allowed to prevail while it is a known fact that the population would be put under additional social and financial and moral stress? Politically the social cost of an explosion – the same we have seen in Tunisia – can be unbearable and unmanageable. Socially and politically, bread and butter issues are as important as if not more important than any other policy.
The second argument stands on this ground. Allowing status quo in public spending may cause stats to show more deficits for some time; but if status quo prevails and if other policies are designed to promote growth and job creation and if growth is sustained for a longer period of time, the likelihood is that economic improvement and prosperity may well help to tackle deficits and other related issues. Under very specific circumstances and national social environment – political stability and social order were the big names of the game and enjoyed political protection in the bigger puzzle.
In Mauritius, Uncle, the decision was taken by our local Rambo to send the IMF-WB back home, with their policies well stacked in their diplomatic bags. The end result proved that the risk taken was worth it.
Now back to our main issue. It is against this background that the budget cuts in the UK and the US and affecting education and training are viewed by folks here. It looks like the Conservatives in both the UK and the US are blinded by politics and ideology and have closed their minds to logic and common sense. Their main argument stands on the fact that instant improvement in balance sheets is good. It is for stats; it is for ideology; but bad for the common people and bad also for the economy because social stress. A population with a low morale can’t and won’t perform to their optimum. When the fire promoting a dream is burnt out completely, the dream dies its own natural death. Your own story sheds light on the importance of education and its capacity to shape one’s own future in any country where hopes and opportunities enjoy no monopoly. And Uncle, this is what you said nearly a month ago.
“The best economic policy is one that produces more college graduates. And that’s why, for the sake of our children and our economy and America’s future, we’re going to have to do a better job educating every single one of our sons and daughters — all of them.
“Now, that responsibility begins not in our classrooms, but it begins in our homes. It begins with parents who are instilling in their kids not only a love of learning, but also the self-confidence and especially the self-discipline and work ethics that are at the heart of success in school and success in life. We’ve got to work hard. Young people, I’m talking to you. I’ve got a couple of them at home. And the truth is the world is going to be more competitive and nobody is going to just give success to you – you’re going to have to earn it. And that means you’ve got to apply yourself.
“So that, you’re going to learn at home — first and foremost. But that’s not where the responsibility ends. All of us have a responsibility, not just as parents, but as citizens, for giving our kids the best possible education.”
And I end on this quote.
* Published in print edition on 22 April 2011