Business Page September 9th, 2001


Congratulations, but where will you work?

 

Introduction

Business Page joins the rest of the nation in congratulating all those bright young students who have performed so remarkably well in the CXC, CAPE and GCE "O" and 'A' levels. It is a marvel that we continue to produce the outstanding students in the Caribbean. Let us remember however, that our development depends not on a few outstanding students but high overall levels of achievement by all those who present themselves for examinations and in the subjects and disciplines that the country needs for its development.

As they celebrate with every good reason- they have generally been slogging away for the greater part of their young lives - they have to contemplate a situation in which businesses are closing or being closed down at a troubling rate, crime and violence, political uncertainty, accelerated outward migration, and evidence of an absence of meaningful policy responses to the difficulties facing the country.

Problems of being young

Young people of course have their own problems: they are at a most difficult stage of their lives. It is almost as if they consider that they have to rebel against everything and everyone. (One young nephew of mine who was visiting me in Grenada and who felt I was being unnecessarily confining, complained to his Mom (my sister), that I was acting as if I was born 'before the wheel was invented'). They have to cope with biological changes for which their parents may not have adequately prepared them, often consider their parents outdated and seem to think that they are invincible and omniscient.

Yet their confusion is understandable. They look around and see too few role models, a value system distorted by the ostentatious display of money of dubious origin, an increasingly promiscuous society, sex and violence fed by the television and social problems, and peer pressure. They see politicians whose conduct makes them cynical about democracy, honesty and integrity and wonder whether politicians seek to serve their country or themselves. They see a country that appears to drift from one crisis to another and wonder where it will all end. And then they realise that most of their friends and relatives have long since given up hope, lured by the North American values characterised by Nike and MacDonalds. Ms.Amlata Persaud, whose consistent academic performance is fairy-tale stuff, deserves additional congratulations and admiration for her desire serve her country after her University education abroad.

The voice of youth

President Jagdeo, who presented himself as the face and voice of youth at the March 2001 elections, had announced shortly after his victory that he would have appointed a Minister responsible for Economic Development and Planning but this appears either to have been forgotten or that the President does not think that there is any Guyanese acceptable to him who is qualified for this position. Business Page had welcomed the decision as recognition that the economy needed greater direction and attention than it was receiving. The economy and country the PPP/C found on assuming office in 1992 was indeed in a sad state but in truth, the economy had begun to improve. The opportunity should therefore have been taken to address some of its structural and systemic problems and the other political and social ills of the country.

Instead from year to year we hear of new reasons why the economy is doing so badly. First it was El Nino, then it was La Nina, then it was the PSU strike and now we hear that it is the global recession. When none of these was happening, there was always the PNC to be blamed. Despite substantial debt relief for which some credit must go to the President, many Guyanese do not consider that they are any better off and increasing numbers are now saying that there is in fact no hope for the country in the foreseeable future.

Policy co-ordination

Even small organisations like Ram & McRae and Hotel Tower Limited are regularly losing staff due to migration. As an employer, can one honestly suggest to a young person to give up an opportunity to go abroad when the option to return is always there? And how does the first year student who is persuaded, or for economic reasons are forced to attend the University of Guyana (THE UNIVERSITY OF GUYANA), react to being shut out from the Campus on their first day? And when they do go into classes, they enjoy furniture on a first come first served basis and have to sit and wait on a lecturer who may not turn up.

Several years and one Minister of Education ago, we heard of an education policy that suggested that the sector would get the attention and resources it needed. But with a change of Ministers, the new-found reticence of the incumbent, the appearance of little policy formulation and co-ordination among ministries and a growing number of private operators in the education sector, it is hard to discern a clear pattern or the underlying rationale of the country's education policy. Indeed, in one of these private establishments, students are prepared for the entrance examinations to institutions of higher learning in the US.

The push and pull of migration

More and more it seems that we are equipping our youths for migration, facilitated by policies of our so called donors which are reckoned to gain millions from poor countries in the form of brains moving north. One cannot but help question the motives of those countries that stipulate how we must spend aid and debt forgiveness only to have them take it all back in the form of the most productive segment of our population. As a country we deserve to earn a return on our investment but with both push and pull factors in operation, it is hard to see how this can be done.

National service was a great idea that helped to cultivate discipline, patriotism and hard work while providing a mechanism for them to make a direct contribution to the country. Unfortunately, like so many great ideas, national service was discredited and a great opportunity was lost with it. Our youths see no sense of obligation or responsibility to the country, perhaps because they see no reason for doing so.

Direction and Hope

There seems to be no real effort to ascertain the country's employment numbers, a task surely for the Ministry of Labour and the Statistical Bureau. Surely by now the Minister has settled into his job and seen the need to change the image of his Ministry from a reactive one to one that takes its name seriously. One sure way of passing idle hours is to try to determine the basis, other than Musical Chairs, for the appointment of Ministers. Despite the spate of redundancies over the past year, little is known of the efforts of the Ministry in assisting persons to adjust to the psychological and financial loss and help them find alternative employment.

But it is to the Ministries of Education, Finance and hopefully Planning and Development that the youth should look for some sense of direction and hope. While no one wants to see the type of planning typical of the Soviet system, and that the choice is left to the individual, the country's education policy - from kindergarten to University - must be designed partly to meet the needs of industry and commerce. While no learning can be considered without merit, as a poor country, we just do not have the resources to offer the range of subjects which richer countries can.

Consequences

There are serious social consequences to unemployment which are perhaps incapable of measurement. How does a child respond to the question what work does your mother/father do? And what does that child think about seeing the parent home all day, every day? How is the family to be fed, clothed and housed? What about the loss of self-respect, morale and dignity? What is the point of these remarkable successes if the society offers you nothing at the end of it?

Conclusion

Government should think of job programmes and tax breaks for employers willing to employ school leavers. This could take the form of a tax credit thus helping to meet the cost of employing persons. Special re-training programmes could provide retrenched workers with skills to take up new employment or take up self-employment. The higher forms of our secondary and technical schools should be teaching students how to write applications and prepare their CV's.

In days gone by, students waiting for admission to Universities would take up teaching for a year, with the enthusiasm of youth while being able to communicate so much better with persons of about similar age. Their modern day counterparts have usually already secured their place at university or migrated and are more often than not, not in the country when their results are published.

It is always said with truth embedded in logic, that the youth is the future of the country. Now, if our young people continue to migrate in the numbers that they are, does this mean that the future of Guyana lies abroad?