Laureate – and no job scheme

Following a now established custom in our national calendar, the recently announced cohort of laureates was hosted at the State House by the President of the Republic in the presence of their parents. At some point, they were addressed by the Prime Minister who was also present there, and his speech was given extensive coverage by the MBC-TV.

As in previous speeches, and by others too, on this occasion, these bright guys were exhorted to return and serve their countries at the end of their studies, given that a good number in the past have preferred to pursue their careers abroad rather than demonstrate the streak of patriotism that is expected of them. That is quite natural, perhaps because of better opportunities available in a big country, and as we know laureates from this year onwards do not have to sign any bond, for a certain sum of money. This used to place an obligation on them to return before the new measure was introduced.

But conversely, does – or should – the State have an obligation to ensure them a job when they come back? They do not necessarily opt to study in the fields of priority which are identified by the national authorities, and it is quite possible that there may be no openings in their chosen fields when they land on the local job market. Even otherwise, though, given the duration of studies and the dynamic nature of the job market, priorities change, and so even if they did follow the priority list, there is no guarantee of their finding employment after their studies.

On the other hand, though, other returnees who have slogged on their own may well ask why should the laureates be given preference, and thus be made doubly fortunate, compared to their peers who have slogged equally hard – and with their parents making perhaps harder sacrifices to fund their studies? Clearly there is a dilemma here.

To that extent therefore the State has to have some provision, if not of jobs as such, at least of schemes which may allow entry into the world of work. These schemes can be at trainee level for a start, which is in fact a requirement before being registered to work in certain professions such as engineering. What does, for example, a laureate with a degree in biomedical engineering do if he is compelled to return, forced to decline a job offer in the country where he studied? This would have allowed him to gain work experience that would eventually be of greater benefit to the country when he returns, and, two, make some remittance to his family who was counting on him to come back and give support to them.

This clearly points to the need for devising innovative schemes, at least at the trainee stage, without which forcing the laureates to return would make no sense. Doing away with the laureates system is perhaps not a popular option at this stage, but we may have to move towards alternative modes of financing studies for a broader base. There needs to be serious reflection on this, and a combination of partial grants and long-term soft loans may well be a more sustainable and just option that the country could offer to those avid for obtaining higher qualifications.

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More of Arts and Humanities

The laureates were also told to make up for any lacunae in arts, literature and poetry, which were necessary to broaden their education. Indeed, it is almost three decades that there has been a significant shift in the curricula towards the more utilitarian, and therefore, more mechanical, subjects such as accounting and finance, design, and latterly IT.

The result is that the aesthetic aspects that go to make a complete education have been neglected, and the mindset geared to the belief that only the acquisition of more and more material skills and things can give one satisfaction in life. This means extreme competition, at times to the point of destructive rivalry, whereas a grounding in the arts and humanities can tone down one’s expectations in terms of material things, and thus help one both to build character and to live a fulfilled life with less – and costly — material baggage. This can also contribute to building a saner and less greedy, less dangerous society.

However, such studies cannot be postponed until after the completion of secondary education. If they are not started early so as to inculcate interest, one cannot expect that such interest will develop spontaneously at a late stage of the student’s education, barring exceptions of course. In fact, the reality is that many students have gone through college without even having read a single poem in all their six years of secondary education, let alone being familiar with poets or the great writers who have helped so much to mould our world.

Let us hope that the Minster of Education has taken note and that he will initiate some thinking at least on this very important issue for the sanity and future of our society, and that such reflections will lead to a more inclusive curriculum for all students, irrespective of the main subjects they choose for their examinations.

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After the floods

It is now more than evident that there are systemic several constraints and weaknesses that have contributed to the flood situation, even if indirectly so. They are crucial in all the three aspects of disaster control, which are: disaster preparedness, disaster response, and disaster mitigation. They include:

•       Failure to implement the recommendations of previous, comprehensive reports;

•       A pathetic lack of the required multilateral/multisectoral effective coordination among the different stakeholders ministries, agencies, civil society organizations, etc;

•       Absence of a proper National Physical Planning system, and lackadaisical efforts to strengthen existing planning with, among others, adequate human resource;

•       Lack of political vision, maturity and oversight in the use of our limited land resources;

•       Failure to assign designated responsibility roles in advance of disaster;

•       Unnecessary political squabbling and ‘passing the buck’ in the immediate aftermath of the floods instead of being more constructive.

There is a lot of important work to be done, and the authorities should simply get going!

* Published in print edition on 3 May 2013

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