Wed | Dec 7, 2016

What about service to country?

Published:Monday | November 10, 2014 | 12:00 AM

I recently attended the first of four graduation ceremonies held at the University of the West Indies (Mona Campus). I had forgotten how much formality was involved. It was indeed a regal affair. It was solemn yet, at the same time, celebratory. The graduates were made to feel extra special as every detail of the ceremony was directed towards and dedicated to them. It was academia on parade.

The addresses and speeches were interesting, rousing, illuminating and, at times, entertaining. However, as I sat there under the huge, air-conditioned tent, filled with citizens of Jamaica, I was left wondering why I heard no mention of service to country. Sure, some will contribute to Jamaica's development just because of what they end up doing; but there was no direct reference to, or encouragement for, the graduates to dedicate or focus their efforts towards improving Jamaica.

Lack of jobs

The continuous deluge of graduates will not find it easy to secure gainful employment. Although having achieved academically, some will not be able to find any job for a very long time. Others may eventually find a job, but it may not be in their field of study or expertise.

Anecdotally, the majority of my classmates in the sciences at the UWI did not end up working or participating in the field of science. Their aptitude, their interest, their love for science remained unrealised and unfulfilled. Their expensive and extensive training has been totally wasted, lost, cast aside, usurped by their need to survive.

I know of several recent graduates who were forced to accept jobs that could not support them. Between the cost of transport, food, clothes, daily living and paying back their student loan, there is no way that they can live totally independent of their parent(s) or of other supportive family members.

The workplace atmosphere has become adversarial, with competition from fellow graduates, competition from previous graduates, competition from other job seekers, in general, and competition from nepotistic beneficiaries.

It's been a pet peeve of mine that our struggling nation is in desperate need of input from experts schooled at our local universities. We, especially, need the involvement of young, bright minds to bring new ideas to the table. We need to improve the ways we do things and make them relevant to our modern times.

We must either evolve or die. Much of Jamaica is still doing business, especially government business, by utilising lacklustre and sometimes antiquated (colonial) rules and regulations (red tape) that many potential investors find prohibitive.

We need leaders and not just followers. Most of the cutting-edge thinking and protocols used to give economies the advantage needed to compete internationally come from the developed countries, but are naturally skewed in their favour. We obviously do a lot of research. The university requires it for advancement, but we need more relevant/functional research, tailored and applicable for our resources and culture.

Brain drain

And so, on a national scale, a lot of that brainpower migrates, remains mostly underutilised or unutilised and wasted. The powers that be are not encouraging or facilitating the infusion of bright and progressive ideas. Too many of the old guard, too much politics, too much protectionism and way too much corruption. And, therefore, we are not benefiting as much as we should from our growing thousands of brilliant graduates.

Our young talents are overly burdened by being thrust out into a scary and demanding society driven by a shaky economy. We are graduating students with the potential and training to effect major positive changes in our country's development and economy but forcing the vast majority of them to use their attributes solely for their personal survival. Service to country has become a luxury and a sacrifice that many cannot afford.

n Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and garthrattray@gmail.com.