Wed 28th Dec 2005

Poor people and airports

On reading Mr Gonsalves latest promise 'an airport' on the internet, I shook my head in despair. Some questions sprung to mind of how ill-conceived Mr Gonsalves plans are for St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Sir James Mitchell has clearly articulated one of Mr Gonsalves motives for making this 'political' promise, when he says that what Mr Gonsalves really means is 'In other words give him two more terms'.

How many poor people are going to be flying first class in Gonsalves International airport? How many poor people are going to be flying economy class? In fact, how many poor people are going to be flying at all from this airport? I think 'none' is the answer to these three questions and the same questions and answer is relevant to all the 48% unemployed people and the majority of people on a low income. The only contact with the airport poor and unemployed people will get with the airport is the sight of planes landing and taking off. The only contact poor and low-income Vincentians will get with the airport is serving and sweeping up after all the rich tourists.' It will be another way for Vincentians to bow and be sub subservient to rich tourists.

In St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) it is uncommon if a child continues in education to 18 and extremely uncommon if they go to university. This should not be the norm that we want to keep. In other more developed countries the opposite is the norm. It is common for children to stay in school till 18 and it is common practice for many young people to proceed to university. It seems that in SVG it is common practice for children to leave school at 16 or earlier, and proceed to unemployment or at best a low-income job, and with these two options follows a life in poverty. This unacceptable and not how our young people ought to be treated.

We must not forget that the workplace and job opportunities operate now on a global scale. Young Vincentians are no longer competing against themselves to find employment, they are competing against young people all over the region and the world and to compete, they need skills and qualifications. Since independence successive governments have failed young people by not giving them the right opportunities. There has been a complacency to rely on bananas and expand tourism. An economy cannot exist on only two sectors, because when one fails, as we have seen, the economy crashes. Clearly, it is doing that now.

It seems that the tourism industry has been used as a way to enrich the whole population. Yes, we need tourism, but we need other vibrant sectors in the economy. All young people do in tourism is serve and be subservient, and the riches go to the rich. Vincentians have had a history of being subservient - under colonialism! Why do our governments carry on this regime, now we have independence? Do we believe that Joseph Chatoyer fought for freedom so young Vincentians could carrying on serving? Young people need to be in charge of their destiny and the only way to do that in a global competitive market is to be skilled and qualified. That is the only way forward for young people - and let's not forget the knock-on effect on their children - to escape poverty.

But young people must not sit back and expect change, they must demand it. If they want their future to have brighter prospects then they must ask questions of people who should be shaping that change. What is the plan to get them educated and when can they expect change? These are tough questions that should have been asked continually since October 1979.

Let's looks at some figures about some of the nations Vincentians compete against in the global job opportunities market. In England in 2004, about 42.5% of school leavers went to university and in some parts of England as much as 62% of children go to university . It was estimated that graduates in England earned £400,000 (EC$ 1,084,000) more in their lifetime than people who choose or cannot go to university. In Canada graduates earn 91% more than people who do not go to university. In 2002, here in the USA, about 64% of school leavers went to university. Which parts of SVG boasts these figures? None. We are being left behind in the global academic race, not because young Vincentians cannot pass exams, but because of the strategies employed by present and previous governments.

We cannot however, just leap on to the university education race until the country addresses problems at the preschool and primary level. A child needs a strong foundation of education in order to progress to university and that must come in those early years at preschool and primary school. Without a good grasp at primary school of the 3 Rs - reading, writing and arithmetic - a child will be adrift in a secondary school, like a rudderless ship. Many argue that the first two years of a baby's learning are crucial. 75% of brain development occurs between birth and the age of two.

Again the pattern for progress leading to a more affluent society can be seen in more developed countries. In 2003 in England, 88% of all three years olds were receiving some level of free early years education. 'Almost all 4-year-olds in Luxembourg and the Netherlands go to public school. So do more than 70% of Greek children of preschool age, more than 80% of Spanish children and more than 90% of those in Germany, Denmark and Italy. Virtually every industrialized country in the world provides free, high-quality preschool for children regardless of family income.'

So the question we need to ask politicians in SVG is how long do we have wait?

Young people, demand your rights, demand your education.

Mr Gonsalves is clearly misguided when he says 'the full realisation of the potential of our country's growth and development hinge on an international airport, among other vital considerations. The requisites of economic diversification and regional and international competitiveness demand an international airport. 'If one is going to do anything with EC$ 450, then one needs to skill the workforce. Let all Vincentians have a bite of the cherry.

Somebody, shake Mr Gonsalves, wake him up!,10670,1394368,00.html

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