By Malith Alier, Kalgoorlie, Australia
Monday, August 09, 2021 (PW) — For those who do not know, this is the “Land Downunder” as some people would want Australia to be known. This evening in my small outback town of 29,000 people or thereabout, I walked in to a pub 3 kilometres away from my residence. I saw someone in a black T-shirt with some philosophical writings in the chest. “Death, underlined by the wordCollective.” The two main words cogitated my mind about this world and what it has for me or mankind.
There are many variables in this blessed world for humans to boast about – education being one of those. In the country of my ancestor, South Sudan, education is a commodity well sought after for the obvious reasons.
The former Petroleum Minister, Ezekial Lol Gatkuoth declared that South Sudan economy was booming in his view. The reaction from within and without was measured – war was booming to put it better! The South Sudan government and the IO or In Oppostion Party which sponsored Mr. Gatkuoth were still in a state of war or active combat. The “booming economy” was actually a misnomer. It should have been “bombing economy!” Mr. Lol Gatkuoth is now out of government however, he will be remembered for his booming economy gaff.
The cataclysmic things that boomed before or after independence included graft, war and intertribal upheavals from the centre of the country and all the way to the periphery. The result was the permanent displacement people to nieghbouring lands where they became refugees, some upto four times over.
Education was thought to bring hope to a country otherwise plagued by incessant war for decades. South Sudanese peasants were made aware of the benefits of sending their children to school well before the 21 year war that ended in 2005. For about 8 years between 2005 and 2013 the country seemed to be on track to embark on education and development.
South Sudanese are the worst enemies of themselves. As if they were not exhausted by the 21-year war they initiated another deadly upheaval soon after gaining self-rule. The latest conflict caused more displacement and destitution to date. That means that the little the country inherited became a casualty or collateral damage in a needless manner.
Education became a major collateral spoil apparently. The three institutions of higher learning in the country, namely; Juba, Upper Nile and Bhar El Ghazel universities were rendered useless for studies or research of any kind. And what happened to their previous graduates? They either joined the army, became refugees or were rendered jobless. On the same note, the ones from diaspora who returned to the country with education were forced to flee back into exile, thanks to the unexpected war for positions.
China as one of the oil extracting countries after and during the war offered to help sponsor South Sudanese for under and post graduate studies. Other nations like Malaysia and India offered to sponsor petroleum engineering students who should return towork in the vast oil industry following completion of their studies.
One of the main reasons why minister Lol saw theeconomy as booming was because of oil flow to the world markets. There was no reason for a minister in charge of oil not to see the economy as booming in spite of overwhelming odds. Petrodollars were coming in at a steady rate and the minister was signing off the cheques to institutions and self!
Education of any level is not and should not be for prestige. It’s for enlightenment and progress in various spheres of life. The engineering students sent to China, Malaysia or India should become back with better knowledge on how to explore and extract petroleum with minimal environmental impact. If that is so, the country progresses and develops as a result.
Education, especially higher education is a huge investment in terms of duration and resources to families as well as the country. Four years or more and thousands of Dollars in addition to other opportunity costs is not a joke.
Many youths who make it to the finishing line of higher education are sadly languishing in a state of hopelessness. They are from day one of graduating looking for employment opportunities in an economy plagued by over eighty per cent unemployment. A week ago, a select committee of ministers of transitional government took unenviable task of trying to solve youth unemployment in the country according to Eyeradio.org.
Lack of employment opportunities even blue-collar ones had sent youth into desperation over the past years. The youth on the brink resorted to attacking those employed by UN and NGOs in some quarters of the country. This is unhelpful even to the youth themselves.
Technical education had been overlooked in South Sudan for reasons the Youth, who should be the drivers of education know better. Technicaleducation is less time consuming and requires less capital. It takes a minimum of six months to obtain a trade certificate which will almost guarantee the holder instant employment. You can earn income years earlier than your colleagues who are still sweating it out for prestigious degrees. Certainly, you can buy them tea on vast tearooms along the main roads or open-air markets. And by the time they conclude the stretched studies, you already have an investment property and a home of your own! That means you are way a head of them in the real world!
Those with technical know-how also have the exclusive opportunity to be self- employed. Just get your tools and create something from what you learned and the market will come to your door. You just need little courage and self- motivation to have a head start.
The author, Malith Alier, is a concerned South Sudanese Australian public intellectual and political commentator who can be reached via his email address: [email protected]
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