Samoa Observer

APIA, Samoa (Feb. 2, 2010) - Let’s face it. We’re never going to be a massive minerals and timber exporter like Papua New Guinea. Nor will we ever even hope to emulate Australia’s and New Zealand’s agricultural export sector. In fact our major export at the moment seems to be people. Our rugby players have to travel far to make a living out of the sport they love.

Meanwhile, American Samoa is one of the biggest sources of gridiron talent in the United States.

In fact native-born Samoans are to be found in just about every corner of this world.

How can we retain our talented young people here? Assuming, that is, that we want to.

How can we create a Samoa that Samoans don’t have to leave in order to improve the lives of their families?

The answer has to be education – yes it’s that subject again.

But it needs to be the right kind of education if Samoa is to be the smart country it is capable of being.

Recent history shows that our education system has been extremely good at turning out humanities and literature graduates, many of whom have gone on to make themselves almost household names in the Pacific region and beyond.

Medicine and the law are also areas in which Samoa has excelled and continues to do so.

But where are the scientists, the engineers, the computer specialists and the road builders?

More importantly, perhaps, where are the car mechanics, the cooks, the air conditioning experts, the TV technicians, the bricklayers and the plumbers to name only a few?

Of course Samoa has such people but they don’t appear to exist in the numbers that might, for example, appeal to tourism property developers who seek not only political stability but a skilled labour pool.

This is in fact being addressed with the help of our overseas friends. Australia, for example, supports a programme that trains young people in vocational, non-academic, skills while New Zealand has in place a number of equally valuable exchange facilities.

Both are turning out people who are proud to be chefs, mechanics, refrigeration specialists, electricians and so on. They are good at what they do and take pride in it.

And pride is perhaps the key. Samoa is far from alone in being very quick to praise academic achievement (and rightly so) while nodding kindly at vocational and technical success.

But not everybody can be an academic, a doctor or a lawyer. Indeed many don’t want to be.

That doesn’t mean they have nothing to contribute to the progress of their country. On the contrary, they can and should form the backbone of the workforce. And they can and should be made proud to be so.

This is where free education – which commences officially today – is such a great opportunity for Samoa and its young people. But perhaps a sharper focus on the vocational and perhaps technical potential among the younger students would pay handsome dividends in future.

How about special awards for those who may not ever be dux but who can repair a motor, build a wall, sail a ship or assemble a computer?

Let’s have apprentice of the year programmes. Let’s also recognize our young achievers in the world of business.

Let’s not turn our attentions away from academic excellence but let’s also reward and recognize young people who build things with their hands. That’s what a smart country does.

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