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Creating Career Change In Jamaica

I will not stop this quest of mine.
I will see this thing through to the end.

He remembers the first time he came here - a little over three years ago. Bright, young, eager. Anxious to please. Eager to prove. Ready (he thought) to show up and show out. The question was never whether he was ready for them, but whether they were ready for him.

Then it happened. All at once. The next thing he knew, he lost his bearings, lost his ground and ooof! A huge, brawling, sprawling fall. He lost his illusions right there - in that minute. He slowly became this other person. Speaking only when spoken to. Answering only when called. Barely looking up from his computer's monitor, absorbed daily by a million and one insecurities - the infinite list of little things that offend, change character ... he lost his propensity for magnanimous dreams and larger-than-life hopes. He became tamed. Subdued. Broken.

Bruised and belittled by the savage machinery that overrides good sense in the corporate world, he has become a slave to what was once his desire. He has begun to think less wistful, more somber thoughts: of years chained to a desk, of savings accounts slowly depleted. His hope seeps away. He is unconsolably unhappy. His life is being drained. But this is what he must do to pay the bills.

I passed him yesterday. There he sits, swallowed and drowning in the routine of a life he never bargained for and never fully understood until it was too late ...

He's not alone.

Across Jamaica, around the world, there are people -old and young- who resent the faces they now see in the mirror. They hate and abhor what they have become. They, too, have forgotten what it means to dream. On the altar of 'getting by', they have sacrificed their heart's fire; trading the gleam in their eyes for a monthly pay cheque, the spontaneity that once defined them for accursed routine.

I grieve for a people who must live not as they want, but as they are compelled to by 'circumstances beyond their control'.

    Dreams And Careers Should Walk Hand In Hand

There are 445 primary, 261 all-age, and 87 primary and junior high schools catering to the educational needs of approximately 285,743 students in Jamaica (Jamaica Social Policy Evaluation, 2008). Additionally, there are 59 traditional high schools, 75 upgraded comprehensive high and 14 technical high schools that meet the needs of another 116,219 students (approximated figure) at the secondary level (Ministry of Education website). Most of these are government-funded, or receive significant support from the Government of Jamaica (GOJ).

Overall, according to the Statistical Institute of Jamaica, there are approximately 769,239 children and youth between the ages of five to 19 in Jamaica. These are the ages between which most children start basic/primary schools and leave secondary-level educational institutions. On average, a Jamaican child spends roughly seven hours per weekday for about 180 days of each year in the classroom, totalling approximately 1,260 hours per year in the classroom. This is an undeniably significant portion of their young lives.

A close perusal of the teaching objectives in schools for these periods will show great emphasis on academic accomplishment, some amount of attention to self-development, but very little consistent emphasis on career education, career advice and career development.

At the primary level, which constitutes grades one to six in primary and all-age schools, students are expected to learn literacy and numeracy by global standards, and become adequately prepared with prerequisite knowledge and skills to access secondary education. They are also expected to develop “a caring attitude toward self, other and things” (Ministry of Education website). The secondary level of Jamaica’s education programme is intended to prepare students for admission into a tertiary-level education institution, or for entrance into the working world. With the knowledge, skills and certification that they gain in grades 7-13, students are expected to either pursue higher education or become gainfully employed.

Despite this expectation that students will matriculate from the formal education system qualified to enter the work of world or to pursue tertiary education, it has often been argued that not enough emphasis is placed on advising and guiding them through the process of selecting the right areas of study for their ideal careers, that is, they are not taught to discover their own unique gifts and passions and to pursue these as careers. Instead, emphasis is often placed on them passing the many exams they must sit, and simply maintaining good grades.

At the primary and secondary levels, certain crucial assessments and examinations determine a student’s academic future. At the primary level, the Grade Four Literacy Test and the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) are used to determine students’ level of proficiency, while in secondary-level education institutions, the Caribbean Examination Council (CXC) Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) exam is the main exam used to determine how well students are prepared to function as beneficial members of society.

So much emphasis is placed on these exams, and so much pressure is placed on students to do well, that there is often very little time or room for reflection on what each student really wants to do with his/her life. In grade nine, for example, where students must select the subjects they will study in the CXC CSEC exam, grades are sometimes used to stereotype and often limit students to certain areas. Many teachers can attest to the fact that a general belief exists wherein ‘bright’ students are expected study the sciences (even if they do not love that area and have no desire to pursue a science-based career), and poorly performing students are expected do the arts, or a mixture of business and arts subjects.

As a result of these expectations, it is possible that many students often choose subjects in conformity with the norm, instead of choosing subjects for areas in which they have real interest and for which they have genuine passion.

I was in a conversation with several friends recently, reminiscing on university years and thinking back over our entire school lives. We started discussing career education in our nation, comparing the jobs we now hold with the careers for which we had prepared, and our own lifelong passions, goals and dreams. One of our observations was that while some of us were lucky enough to study in areas where we had genuine passion, there were many others who had studied in areas for which they had no real passion and no genuine interest. One of my friends made the statement, “If only I knew then what I know now.”

Her statement is representative of a sentiment which many young people in this nation understand all too well. They went through an education system that taught them to pass exams and get high grades, but did not place enough emphasis on assessing what their skills and strengths were, what their passion was, and how this could best be integrated into their career choices.

So now, I sit and think and wonder
Where has the dream of my better life gone?
It will change, I know
It won't be long

H. W. Arnold said that the greatest bankruptcy in the world is the person who has lost his enthusiasm. I have many friends who walk around bankrupt. Empty. Daily. Fighting to keep hope alive in young hearts and minds that would rather retire and die. Or run off to another country for (seemingly) 'greener pastures'.

It makes me sad, because I remember their determination while we studied at university. I remember the light and fire in their eyes ... It is a tragedy to watch creativity and ingenuity get smothered by the recurring hardships of life, especially because those now dying struggled so hard to keep these flames of passion lit while attending university. For many of my friends, life has been a series of battles to keep hope alive.

What kind of country does that to its youth? What kind of country kills creativity and somehow transforms hard-earned success (like graduating from university) into a negative, burdensome experience?

About two years ago, a member of our government made a statement to the effect that university graduates who cannot find jobs or afford to repay students' loans are in that predicament because they chose the wrong professions. What he meant was that they had chosen to study areas in which it was difficult to find employment.

One of my friends pointed out that by making such a statement, it could be said that the Government was, in essence, condemning ambition and telling young people to choose careers that guarantee them jobs (and she proceeded to ask which ones are those, pray tell), instead of studying subject areas they are actually interested in and passionate about. This, to me, was indicative of a failure of the entire education system to recognise the value of finding out what the real interests of students are and ensuring that they study for careers that will make them happy, keep them engaged and, ultimately, enable them to be beneficial members of society.

Max Lucado said that ambition is that grit in the soul which creates disenchantment with the ordinary and puts the dare in dreams. Many of the youth in this nation have long been disenchanted with things ordinary and substandard. Many of them are not satisfied with average. While they love their country, they will readily admit that it can get rough, that it can be really hard to have a dream in a seemingly dreamless state.

A large part of changing this sense of discontent has to be greater emphasis on career education from an earlier age. While we want all our children to excel at whatever field they choose, we also want to ensure that the fields they are excelling in also give them pleasure and contribute to their sense of well-being and satisfaction.

In his article, ‘Employee Satisfaction=Profits’, Dr Leachim Semaj made reference to employee satisfaction being one of the sure-fire ways a company, and country by extension, could increase profits. Simply put: “satisfied employees give good service to clients and satisfied clients translate to increased profits.”

Dr Semaj also makes reference to a worldwide survey conducted by David Maister, of 139 offices in 29 service firms across 15 countries in 15 types of business. The results was this: “not only did employee commitment and dedication create positive financial repercussion, but companies with lower employee morale and enthusiasm made less money.”

While this may seem like a simplification of a complex issue, it is still indicative of a need to focus on training young people in areas where they can be most satisfied, so that the nation, and world, may reap the happy returns.

So now my journey takes me on to a hopeful road
I look to the future with cautious optimistism

This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future a program of World Pulse that provides rigorous new media and citizen journalism training for grassroots women leaders. World Pulse lifts and unites the voices of women from some of the most unheard regions of the world.

Comments

You have addressed the issue very well. Jamaica is not the only country. This is an epidemic that is spreading throught world effecting all nations.

Hope, optimism and positive action can contribute to change. I have observed too closely when youth select an education path to fullfil an obligation rather their passion or dream. Career gudance can help yet governments need to provide opportunities in a creative way.

Your optimisim and hopefullness inspires me to move toward my dream.

Well done. Wish you all the best.

In friendship
Amei

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