Too Many Youths Interested Only In Instant Gratification
By George Alleyne
Too many young Trinidadians and Tobagonians are short changing themselves, their future and their country's future by refusing to build on the positives of both an earlier and present age and instead appear content with mediocrity, trotting out excuses for their shortcomings and aiming at instant gratification.
They affect to sneer at the hard work and sacrifice put in by their grandparents and even with tertiary education and opportunities for skills development, and with upward mobility within their grasp many settle for lives of petty and not so petty crimes as long as these lead to accessing material things and "gaining" the questionable envy of others. But the benefits are short term.
Open almost any newspaper on any given day and the headlines are likely to scream of murders, kidnappings, drug abuse and other serious crimes, most of them reportedly committed by young people. The reasons often advanced for the upsurge in anti-social behaviour and major crimes by the young have been poverty, boredom, impatience and envy. And while these may be largely true, nevertheless many persons 50, 60 and 70 years ago experienced greater financial deprivation than today's youth.
In the 1920s and 1930s, for example, agricultural workers earned as little as 30 cents a day, lived in barracks, and were able to survive or rather exist, because they planted food crops, however limited the land space. It was a cruel, backbreaking existence, yet some were able to escape from the culture of poverty. It was little better with oil workers, who prior to the start of the Social Revolution on June 19, 1937, led by Tubal Uriah Butler, earned some 56 cents a day.
And for the record, the worker explosion of June 19 and the violence that followed had not been initiated by the workers themselves, despite their grinding poverty, but by the unprovoked assault on them, first by the constabulary and later by British Marines. And the constabulary had acted in the main, save for the rash behaviour of Corporal Charlie King, on the orders of their British officers.
Yet with all the poverty, families were able to sleep with their windows open and their doors unlocked. There were no gangs, as we know them today; no gang related murders and organised kidnappings and groups of young people fighting among themselves for the control of areas for illicit purposes. I wish neither to give the impression that crime did not exist several decades ago nor to suggest that persons were content with their lot, for both would be misleading.
It was an age, however, that would produce Dr Eric Williams, Dr Lennox Pawan and a long list of achievers.
Today, many youths rather than seeking to lift themselves up by their bootstraps, condemn themselves to mediocrity through a refusal to take education seriously, and engage in crimes ranging from pickpocketing and drug selling at schools to kidnapping and murder. Many, even as they protest their poverty and employ it as an excuse for committing crimes, wear expensive sneakers and "threads", parade with cell phones, drive fast, expensive cars with stereos blasting away with vulgar and obscene music yet oddly enough in all too many instances live in homes not far removed in size and relative discomfort from those of earlier generations.
Fortunately, there are thousands of young people who, determined to stay the course, proceed to tertiary education level, and take advantage of the opportunities for advancement offered.
They are in it for the long haul, primary, secondary and undergraduate levels and, increasingly, post graduate level.
Many embrace opportunities which were never available to, say, their grandparents, and if so then only in limited fashion with the opening in 1948 of the University College of the West Indies at Mona, Jamaica.
Prior to that, University education was accessed by the children of lower and middle income families mainly through three scholarships offered by the Government of Trinidad and Tobago, on the basis of the Cambridge Higher Certificate, one each in Modern Studies, Mathematics and Science.
The scholarships, I should point out, naturally were not restricted to students of middle and lower income families, for that would have been discriminatory, and were open to all regardless of family income. The competitive spirit was encouraged. The year, following on the establishment of the University College of the West Indies, the number of scholarships would be increased to four with the addition of the Languages Group. There was a further re-adjustment from 1960 with the introduction of four Additional Scholarships, one to the runner-up of each group. Today, the number of scholarships overall is in excess of 200.
An added bonus is that Trinidad and Tobago non scholarship winners attending the University of the West Indies (successor to the UCWI) pay only half of the tuition fees, and within the next two years will not be required to pay any fees at all. In turn, claims for all reasonable tertiary education expenses for Trinidad and Tobago students attending the University of the West Indies, the University of Trinidad and Tobago and all tertiary institutions approved by the Ministry of Education are allowed as tax deductions by the Inland Revenue Department
The point I make here is this, the opportunity net for committed young citizens of this country is widening. What is needed to access the benefits the net offers is commitment not impatience.
Nonetheless, the country cannot and must not write off those young people of school age and still in school who are sliding. The Ministry of Education should appoint specially trained counsellors in an effort to seek to halt the sad rut.
In addition, even dropouts should be encouraged to return to school. And while, those who commit crimes should be punished, once the circumstances are such that there can be reasonably successful attempts at reversing their moral slide then they should be encouraged to do so. Not only the backsliders, but the country will benefit in the short, medium and long term.
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