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Orville Higgins: Education first? Hell no!

Published:Wednesday | December 23, 2015 | 12:00 AMOrville Higgins

Schoolboy football sensation Alex Marshall was on a television sports programme recently where he said he is now going to put some more emphasis on his education, as he looks forward to his immediate future. He made it clear that while he wasn’t going to give up football, the books would now take priority.
My producer on my call-in sports radio talk show found the issue strange. He reasoned that in the top football countries in the world, no other 17-year-old standout would be prepared to put football on the back burner at the expense of education. He feels the talented youngster should be prepared to make both a priority.
Since he made that statement, callers have, for the most part, taken him to task.   I am not surprised by the public’s reaction. Since we were toddlers, it was drummed into our consciousness that education must be given priority during your youth. My producer, ‘Zidane’, was saying absolutely nothing wrong of course. He was, however, saying it to an audience that is very sensitive to this education business. Education is seen only second to salvation as the greatest things to pursue in the prime of youth.
I, however, see it differently. What we call ‘education’ is oftentimes overrated! Yes, I said it! This age-old mantra of ‘education first’ needs to be revised. Formal education serves two main purposes. One is to prepare a person to coexist with others in the society of which he is a part. The second benefit to equip persons with the tools to land a job.
Now if you are a super talent in football at 17 years old, as Alex Marshall is, it’s all well and good to say, ‘Education first.’ It sounds nice, but it may not be the smartest decision. Marshall has the talent to make it big in football - really big! If he lands a professional contract, he is likely to rake in several times more than what he would earn from other career paths.
My advice to Alex Marshall and, indeed, any other youngster with a degree of talent that makes him or her special, is to make education wait. I’m not now talking those teenagers with only reasonable ability. I’m not referring to corner league ballers! I’m talking those like Marshall with that kind of rare talent that, if harnessed and honed, can take him places.
Why would a youngster with that kind of ability not milk it for all its worth? Why shouldn’t he be encouraged to give up everything else to see how far he could go in football?
We sometimes give the impression that educational opportunities are limited. That’s not true. People are getting degrees now in their 50s and 60s. There are all kinds of institutions now that are dedicated to high-school leavers who want to continue pursuit of an academic path.
Education, then, can wait. One can go back to school at any point in one’s life, while sports opportunities, by and large, are a young people’s enterprise. If Marshall, at 17, should give his talent full attention for five years, he may make it professionally. But at 23, he can always turn to academics if football doesn’t give him the financial rewards he seeks.
We have suffered from a generation that seeks to tell youngsters to put sports second. “What if him bruk him foot?” is the question often asked. The retort is easy. What if he doesn’t? But then, in any case, if a talented youngster suffers a career-threatening injury in any year, he can always turn to education the next year. 
So I’m not one of those righteous-sounding members of the public who will shout education first because it sounds noble. As my producer said, what's wrong with giving both equal attention? And if that’s not possible, why not sports first?
The irony is that most football followers want us Jamaicans to be as good as players from the top football nations. Well, they didn’t get as good because their 17-year-old talents were putting education first. We need to decide what we want!
- Orville Higgins is a sportscaster and talk-show host at KLAS ESPN Sports FM. Email feedback to