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Handouts versus hard work
Now that the 50th independence anniversary date has passed and hopefully the major celebrations are over, it is time to go beyond reflection on what needs to be done if we are to achieve meaningful and sustained national development. This requires urgent action on several issues that have caused us to become an unbalanced and increasingly unproductive country.
No country has ever attained success by inculcating a “gimme-gimme” culture. Over the past 50 years the culture of entitlement and handout has grown to unsustainable proportions and has become an endemic economic plague that may very well be terminal. The economically vulnerable is society must be offered support to get them back on the financial feet; for a period of time. Wholesale and sustained support from the state cannot and should not be encouraged.
The dependency syndrome is the very anti-thesis of hard work and when too many live off the state, a tipping point is reached which ensures that economic progress cannot be achieved. It results in an unbearable burden being placed on the productive sections of the population. Trinidad and Tobago is either at or very near to this tipping point. The saving grace, to date, has been the revenues from oil and gas.
The desperate economic times of the latter portion of the decade of 1980 when energy revenues dipped dramatically vividly illustrate the dangers that are lurking within striking distance. The level of penetration of the “handout” syndrome is slowing but surely becoming ingrained in the education sector and if not checked would become the norm in the world of work. Free education is a laudable idealistic goal but should it not be within a framework of measurable achievement?
We are the envy of the developed world for the policy of free tertiary level education. College education in the USA, for example, leaves the average students in significant debt which many struggle to repay and which many find impossible to do in the existing difficult economic climate.
Here at home, the attitude of many students is this: it is the government who wants us educated and they must not only pay our tuition fees but also give us free books. This attitude also carries over into their approach to and value for their education. The outcome of this insidious ethos is that doing well is not that important and disciplined hard work is for the foolish few. Education was traditionally synonymous with discipline and hard work. This is no longer the case.
This sad situation is further exacerbated by the numbers game. In the quest to increase the number of citizens with tertiary level education it would appear that quantity is accorded higher priority than quality. So while there should be increased access to higher education, standards must be maintained. Acceptable standards can only be achieved by an insistence on a culture of hard work.
The education system provides the feed to the world of work and hence students’ attitudes to work, discipline and achievement are transferred to their places of employment. The quantum leap in the number of students who have benefitted from the policy of free tertiary level education and training over the past decade should have seen a corresponding increase in the productivity of the country. The reverse is the case. Why? This situation warrants a careful examination for it presents a clear and present danger to the wellbeing of the country.
Traditionally the “gimme-gimme” syndrome has been associated with the socially disadvantaged classes and those who were continuous recipients of patronage for political purposes since the heady days of independence some 50 years ago. There is the danger of it now becoming additionally institutionalised in the work place.
It is interesting to note that this issue is topical in the current presidential election campaign under way in the USA; the issue of a government-sponsored programme of state entitlement versus the American Dream whereby by the sheer dint of hard work a person (citizen/resident/immigrant) achieves success.
The USA, Britain and Singapore are adherents to the latter as are the rising powers, Brazil, China and India. The second half of the road to the century of independence must see a reversal of the ethos of dependency and entitlement.
Director, Swaha Inc
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