Plan A for Samoa's aspiring students

For what was a challenging 12 months brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, seeing the smiles on the faces of children at their schools’ graduation or prize-giving ceremony in recent weeks is priceless.

Parents everywhere are heaving a sigh of relief, that their children got to conclude another school year without further disruption, and teachers and school administrations can take a well-deserved break from December 17 before they return in January 2021 to do it all over again.

And the next generation of Samoa’s workforce haven't been caught short in terms of their future aspirations. If you were following the various end-of-the-school-year stories the Samoa Observer has published in recent weeks, the graduating students’ options range from teachers, lawyers, doctors, accountants, engineers and journalists.

It is music to the ears to hear our children talk about what they aspire to be one day. At least they are already mentally visualizing a journey that they would take, in order to become that person.

The aspirations of our students brings to mind a great quote by African-American civil rights activist Harriet Tubman (1820–1913).

“Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.”

Therefore, having a dream can be the first step in one’s journey to becoming a lawyer, doctor,  accountant, engineer, teacher, journalist, carpenter, electrician or plumber.

But how realistic would it be for these youngsters in a world that’s been trampled on by a deadly pandemic, which has already shrunk Samoa’s national economy as well as the global economy and led to the collapse of one of our major foreign revenue earners in tourism?

Since last Monday students from 41 colleges in Samoa have started to sit for the final state exams. Over 4,000 students are expected to sit their S.S.C. and S.S.L.C. exams from December 7-17 according to an estimate by the Ministry of Education Sports and Culture (M.E.S.C.).

But what does the future hold for students who are on the verge of finishing but are unable to pursue their dreams due to the lack of opportunities to further their education including State-funded scholarship?

And are there sufficient employment opportunities for students who complete the Government’s T.V.E.T. (Technical and Vocational Education Training) Programme to specialise in fields such as carpentry, plumbing, electrical, welding and automotive?

Will our shrinking national economy be able to create new jobs for these up-and-coming professionals to enter the workforce when most if not all private sector companies have freezed recruitment due to the economic downturn?

We acknowledge that the COVID-19 pandemic is a global crisis that continues to have local consequences – as it has over the past nine months – but pinning our hopes on the reopening of the international border and the return of tourism through a travel bubble would be counterproductive.

It would be devastating for the students to graduate from their colleges or university with flying colours, only to discover that there are no viable employment opportunities to impart their skills and knowledge, to contribute to the country’s development.

The M.E.S.C. has in the last month put out public notices on revised examination schedules, due to the disrupted school year, and the students who will be affected. The uncertainty over the COVID-19 pandemic will continue to hang over any future planning by the Ministry as we countdown to the end of 2020.

But the fact that hundreds of students will soon graduate, following their completion of secondary education or university, should compel the Government to ponder employment options for our young people in a post-COVID economy.

Failure to put in place mechanisms to enable these youngsters to realise their dreams of becoming someone that they aspire to be in life could have long-term repercussions, if not dealt with quickly and appropriately by the relevant authorities.

Life today has examples of citizens who took the other path, due to the lack of educational or employment opportunities. Let us not make that Plan B.

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