If education is the key to development in any knowledge-based economy, then why is Dominica losing so much of its human capital? Maybe the choices are so few.
Dominicans are becoming aware of the large flow of our brains down the drain especially during the annual graduation season of students from Dominicaâ€™s Secondary schools and the Dominica State College.
Every year during graduation students are given well-meaning advice on the value of an education and the need to build on whatever they have learnt as they continue the journey of life.
But few of these so-called advisers address the fact that only a small percentage of the graduating students every year will enter the job market; a large number will join the unemployed on the street corner and dozen more will go overseas in search of so-called greener pastures.
Statistics shows that the out-ward flow of the countryâ€™s best brains has been so steady over the years that it appears that Dominicaâ€™s education system has been commissioned to train persons for the job market of the United States, Canada, Antigua, Guadeloupe, St Martin, Tortola, and other countries in the region. The problem is that these emigrants have been educated to secondary and tertiary level in Dominica and are Dominicaâ€™s most productive and enterprising workers particularly at their age.
When are we going to realize that knowledge is a wealth-creating asset to our countryâ€™s development? Iâ€™m literally pleading with government leaders, to please come up with some incentives that will encourage more of educated brains to stay and help develop our small island economy. Not someone else economy.
Wow! This is a hard one. You have a small island nation with 80,000 people. That is not a very big pool to draw from for talent, nor is it a very large pool to serve. Most towns with a population that big focus on one big industry that acts as a nucleus. Then lots of supporting services develop to flesh out the economic giant. The problem is that there just are not enough people in Dominica to support every job that fits every graduate. If you graduate with a physics degree does it make sense to stay? How about micro biology? How many marketing majors can you support versus how many are created each year?
I am just throwing these out for discussion…
I have thought about this ‘brain drain’ problem before.
I think the problem of not being able to retain bright people is a problem not only in Dominica but a regional one shared by other similar places. I am a Dominican myself, I live in London.
I believe that a place like Dominica, taking into consideration its history, does not have a national purpose as a political entity in the 21st century. It is that strong motivation led by government, to achieve some great national goal that drives the will in a certain direction. Knowledge becomes useful in the scheme of things because that helps the cause.
Then there is the history. I think populations are conditioned over a period of time. A society that has evolved through slavery should not continue in the present as if nothing happened. Some adjustment must be made to allow individuals to achieve intellectual freedom. I don’t thin the ‘brain drain’ is the problem. It’s the kind of thinking that motivates it which is the problem. Take a good look at the society; it is not ripe with new innovative ideas which are progressive. People are not pro-active. Science (if it is seen at all) is not seen as a professional activity that one goes to school to learn. The prevailing tendency is that education is a passport to a good job not to knowledge. That kind of thinking discourages the inquiring mind and students become trained parrots. That is what my school days in Dominica were like.
Deep in the subconscious of the people there is a ‘can’t do’ mentally. This manifests itself in the way everyone is looking outwards for ‘investments’ and handouts. Not enough emphasis is put on making the people rely on their own thinking to solve their own problems. Because, it will never be the case that some big investor will come to Dominica to do things in the nation’s interest. If you look at all the Caribbean territories where that sort of thin has been ‘successful’, those islands have been taken over by large foreign hotel chains, the people have been sidelined into criminal activity and worthlessness. Jamaica and Barbados are typical examples. Jamaica has the 3rd highest murder rate in the world and the murder rate in Barbados is higher than that of the United States. Those places considered to be the more developed areas.
If schools are not producing thinkers, then that ‘brain drain’ is not really a brain drain at all. How many of these people are leaving to pursue their ideas abroad? Dominica is a place for people who have the drive of the pioneer. That should be enough for a few bright people.
Then we have to look at the influences of religion and superstition (the same thing really). Naively religious and superstitious people have difficulty thinking scientifically. They find it hard to let go of their currently held concepts for better ones. I know that to be a fact.
I think this situation in its entirety can be changed by a shake-up of the education system and a better educated people would call for political union with similar island states in the region. You would end up with something much stronger, more confident than OECS or CARICOM. That would address the population problem.
I do not think itâ€™s a case of the nation or government not realizing that â€œknowledge is a wealth-creating asset to our countryâ€™s developmentâ€. Indeed, the current administration may claim that Dominican students have received education like never before, from high school through tertiary education in Dominica and overseas! Hundreds are in colleges overseas and the State College offers options that never existed a decade ago. Dominicans are seemingly more ambitious every year regarding educational options, particularly as new opportunities open up with scholarships etc. I believe people do realize the value of education.
The question is, how do you retain the people being trained on the island and gainfully employed in the field they have chosen to pursue. This retention issue is just part of the overall issue of economic development of the island. It is a complex issue. Certainly, its not a job for government alone. We (myself included) are always quick to criticize the government for not doing enough. It is not only for the government to help create a stable economic climate, that can readily absorb job seekers. It is the responsibility of the citizens and the corporate world as well, to investigate possibilities for growth and development and to be innovative. For example, can a local company seek to expand in a given area that complements its services and hence expand its workforce? Can it seek to diversify? Can the local financial houses seek to offer more attractive packages that finance small businesses and stimulate borrowing and hence business investment? Can a new graduate not become an entrepreneur and open a small business in a niche market? What about qualified persons considering re-tooling and going back to school or exploring areas that more be more relevant to the job market or emerging opportunities?
On the other hand you could say: how about Government employing a more investor-friendly environment? How do we make the cost of doing business cheaper? Can we not encourage more participation from the Diaspora world instead of a politically charged atmosphere? How do we decrease the cost of utility services, not only for regular customers but for the potential investor? Should we hold on to our policies on ownership of land (what if potential investors could more easily acquire land for investment, could that spur more investment)? It is great to see an increase in minimum wage, but does that mean potential investors may go elsewhere where labor is even cheaper? What further incentives are possible for students in terms of student loans or entrepreneurship? Should certain business get tax breaks or more incentives than currently, hoping to spur investments, and in the short term decreasing revenues to government coffers? How does government better utilize its scarce resources? Should it divert some of its educational investments into other areas of economic stimulation simply because it does not appear to reap returns? Certainly not, people will say.
Should the country invest in major infrastructure (the famous airport debate) for the potential benefit of new and expanding businesses, and employment prospects and the wider economy but at a tax burden to the upcoming generation? Should government continue to be the major employer in the country, when we are also looking at being more efficient and being more accountable?
There are many questions we can throw around; fingers to point. The bottom line is that the retention question is a complex issue. In any event, the bottom line is: why shouldnâ€™t a graduate retain his or her rights to seek opportunities wherever? I would say let people be free to follow their dreams, passions and yes â€œgreener pasturesâ€ if it appears to help their cause or even if they do not quite succeed in the process. Meanwhile the government, corporations and individuals should continue looking at the big picture of where we want to be headed, and how innovative or game changing we should be in the context of the new economy