My last visit to the islands opened my eyes regarding several issues in the kingdom. The political solution(s) and the socio-economic impact of that or those solution(s) will be another day’s discussion. But, while I was visiting places to include the areas that were burned down last November, what I noticed was the increased number of our youths hanging out in town due to unemployment. That issue begged an answer for this question, what is the root cause of their chronic unemployment?
There are myriads of answers for the question and they may all be correct. My answer? These are victims or consequences of the kingdom…s ill designed education system. Before I am taken up to be crucified (“ke ta ‘aki ‘a e pusi”) for making this statement, please let me make this point. Our education system beyond college level only accommodates the elites or the brightest. Even after the brightest survive their college ordeal, the well connected second string brightest at most times get the nod for university education. It is a known fact that most university scholarship opportunities are given to children of the elites, so I will leave that alone. But, as we come to the closure of another school year (2007) and the graduation of at least a thousand students from college, their potential for employment is bleak at best.
So, my argument is this, why isn’t the education system beyond primary education designed to educate the whole student body and provide them skills where they can use for employment after their college experience? A certain school in Tongatapu had this strategy and it worked very well for them and the kingdom for decades. The school brought in technical experts to teach the academically challenged students to match their interests and talents. For several years, this school produced some of the best locally trained mechanics, electronic technicians and electricians. Unfortunately, those who had those visions were replaced by those who succumbed to the elitism concept. Today, many of the unemployed youth in town are ex-students from that school.
Finally, the kingdom was successful in negotiating to send farm workers to New Zealand to pick their farmers’ fruits and vegetables. Although this may seem a gesture of kindness from the New Zealand government, it is far from the truth. The truth is: New Zealand’s economy badly needed our laborers. They are not doing us a favor when they gave us work permits. Our manual labors helped their economy from taking a dive.
If we have a reputation as having hard working laborers, why can’t we also have a reputation as a small country filled with hard working skilled workers? Skilled workers are trained. An academically challenged student who posses a solid 4-year training as a mechanic or electrician has a guaranteed skill to last a lifetime than a bright student who spent 3 additional years and failed to pass his test in Form 7. In other words, most of the unemployed youths were bright when they were in school. The system failed to educate and provide them skills that will be productive in the community. Somewhere in The Good Book it says, “When there is no vision, the people perish.”
So, if His Majesty Kingi Siaosi Tupou V asked me for a wish for the kingdom, my wish will be, “Fix the education system.”
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