Columns

Work, slavery and a right to tertiary education

Franklin
Johnston

Friday, December 15, 2017

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It's almost Santa time, so lighten up, let's mix and match today.

They say unemployment is near the lowest ever, so do you feel a buzz? Do you see fewer beggars at traffic lights? Is there much shopping, upliftment of spirit? No, Sir! Many Jamaicans do not pride work, and our unemployed have a high reserve price and only stir for big money. Yet, when abroad our people work two jobs and trudge through snow to send cash home. So, is it work ethic or to fill the barrel and show off on the locals?

In England, America they speak of how ancestors cleared land and built a nation. Here, many call work “slavery” and work a bad word. The Chinese work and built their country but we seem comfortable as borderline mendicants and do not work hard, grow and prosper self or nation. Why?

Many say attitude to work is a slavery legacy. How so, we were not there? My friends and family are workaholics and at 4:00 am on my birthday I am at this computer. Why, are we different?

Let's be frank, in 1962 we had problems — still have them all and more. We were a century past slavery but had no crime crisis. In the 1940s Rhygin murdered and the aura lasted years; now every day we have four murders and don't even blink.

Our fathers loved learning; why don't our kids like school? Men worked hard and were responsible; now many are sperm donors and deadbeat dads! Some academics and reparation folk blame slavery. Prove it!

So, are these traits in our DNA? Chief scientist, do tell, for if we blacks can't help but be wankers we will sue the British for screwing up our genes. Yet, freed blacks built villages, family life and farm output to shame us. Did this anti-work, irresponsibility prone mutation skip their generation but hit ours? Why is our well-endowed and well- located nation poor? Why no black nation prospers? Why were blacks the only human commodity in global slavery for over two millennia; trans-Sahara, trans-Indian Ocean and trans-Atlantic regions? My soul needs answers!

Even before Christ many nations were drawn to sub-Sahara Africa to satisfy a need for workers. Why? What garbage did Africa have that flies from all over went there? The Berbers crossed Sahara with fabrics, curds to trade for salt and people. Around 650 CE the Caliphate invaded and via the Indian Ocean Africans were shipped to plantations in Arabia. Some 800 years later news spread so Europeans came to fill their manpower deficits.

Many like to feel slavery happened because whites hated blacks, as labour demand does not fire emotions like racism. Yet brown and black people bought blacks centuries before whites. In two millenia of recorded export slavery, how many wars were waged on foreign camel trains, Arab dhows or Europe's ships by Africans? None! It was business until Europe's conscience stirred in the 19th century. Africa's conscience is seared. It still sells its people. So what of Jamaica?

Our only renewable resource is people. Yet Cabinet has no policy articulating education and training to growth and economic development. There should be seamless dialogue on numbers, timing, field, level, and quality between those responsible for educating and training the workforce and those who place it in jobs which fuel growth. We all have ideas, and educators love Finland, so what were schools like when they were poor like us? England's was like ours — kids trained for manual work, organised begging: ripped from poor parents to work farms in Australia and America. Education is the boiler room of production, so both must be in sync. Our brightest now read academic degrees but production needs massive numbers with skills, competence, and thinking labourers. Stop lusting after Finland, fix our labour supply chain!

So should all have a right to degrees? Yes, but not from our taxes unless they are the cream. The ratio of cream is the same in a pail, a churn or a tanker of milk and it's not 40 per cent, so channel cream into academic degrees, but put most into STEM skills, competency and fit workers. Cabinet must now study this right to thing. First, what is the success of other “right to” issues? The right to vote is abused, and the right to work is a platitude as Statistical Institute of Jamaica reports 400,000 not working and not seeking work — give me a break!

Liu Chaoyu, CEO of Pan Caribbean Sugar Company, discovered our Achilles heel and she is right. In an article in The Gleaner, 10/12/17) Lin Chaoyu was refreshing as she quotes a HEART report “44,497 jobs on offer (in agriculture) but no takers”. The late great Carl Stone was more trenchant as he showed that once living costs were met — usually by Thursday noon — cane cutters were prone to down tools. Sugar cannot prosper when strong, young men want service jobs and withhold labour when jobs to grow food need them. We have freedom backwards — use it to make us great. Chaoyu, a major investor, can't get workers to cut cane and knows this could not happen in China. Cabinet sees why Jamaica is poor! Do something!

Jamaica is at the bottom of the economic ladder, but rising. We are unique. Other islands prospered for decades as we tightened belts and borrowed from them. So our failure is not colonialism, slavery or being black. So which right — to work for us? We have right to primary education for generations. Does it help? With enrolment over 90 per cent the readiness of more than half for secondary is suspect! We have the right to secondary education for decades yet 70 per cent leave high school ill-equipped — disastrous! So what might a right to tertiary education do? Our system promotes unready students from early childhood, primary; must secondary have automatic promotion to tertiary? Not with my taxes! Why should tertiary have this right to taxes when 80 per cent of all jobs require primary or secondary skills? Why should these subsidise your degree when the bigger salary is yours alone? We will pay for the brightest from ghetto, country, uptown, or national and special needs; all others may invest in self and enjoy your degree and the bigger pay cheque it brings; be proud you are self-made. Stay conscious!

Franklin Johnston, D Phil (Oxon), is a strategist and project manager. Send comments to the Observer or franklinjohnstontoo@gmail.com.

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