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Help Wanted: Even For A Hardcore Optimist, Last Week Was A Bust
January 31, 2002
As an ideal place to invest and do business, Puerto Rico has many competitive advantages. Our educational system, however, is not one of them.
As detailed in our front page story, our public education system is consistently failing to prepare students to meet the challenges of the job market.
Scores of private sector employers interviewed are almost unanimous in their diagnosis: English proficiency, advanced computer and technology skills, and vocational training all get failing grades.
These are the skills employers across every industry need from job candidates. And the available labor pool just doesnt have them. Or if they do, they are very deficient.
We dont find many employers who complain about deficiencies in job candidates mastery of history, social sciences, literature or Puerto Rican culture. Thats because the average employer doesnt need employees with strengths in those disciplines. Now, dont get us wrong. All those subjects are important. A well-rounded citizen ought to be well educated in all disciplines. For all we know, perhaps our public education system is also failing to prepare students adequately in those areas.
But the point is, the system is failing to prepare students with the skills needed to get a job and earn a living because English proficiency, computer technology, and vocational training are the skills employers are looking for.
Every time we hear a politicianor an educator for that mattersay we dont need to strengthen our students English proficiency, or that it ought to be taught as a foreign language because the widespread use of English does not reflect "Puerto Ricos reality," we wonder what planet are they living on.
Puerto Ricos reality is a decent man or womans need to earn an honest living. And that means applying for, getting and holding on to a well paying job. And for most jobs that, in turn, means being able to speak and write English well. Try it. Thumb through the help wanted adds in the dailies and youll see that close to 80% of the job postings either specifically require English fluency or are written in English, which obviously means theyre looking for English-proficient candidates.
It also means being better prepared in advanced computer and technology skills. Basic computer skills, while indispensable, are no longer enough. Were all paying lip service to Puerto Ricos future as a science and technology economy and experts are telling us everyday that we wont get there unless we tackle our students deficiencies in advanced computer and technology skills.
Finally, as a matter of public policy, we have to stop telling our children that the only way to get ahead in life is by being a doctor or a lawyer. First, because its not true. The economy certainly doesnt need every worker to be a professional. Secondly because many of them simply wont get there and, in the process, may squander the opportunity to learn a trade that is very much in demand and would secure them a better living than the alternative of working unskilled, odd jobs throughout their lives. The fact that despite Puerto Ricos relatively high unemployment level, we have to import skilled labor from abroad to meet the demand in the construction industry, for example, is an absurdity that has got to stop.
Finally, as if these challenges were not enough, we found out this week that some of those who were in charge of our public education system at the highest levelin cahoots with some private sector entrepreneurs, it pains us to seehad apparently embezzled public funds meant for education. The former Secretary of Education admitted culpability; others will await their day in court.
If the allegations are eventually proven true, they are, of course, reprehensible per se. But in view of our front page story this week, we ought to be careful not to use those reprehensible crimes as an excuse for everything else that is wrong with our educational system. Otherwise, we would be short-changing our students on the possibility of a better future. And that, in itself, would be a dereliction of duty.
This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.