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Substandard Engineers?

03/07/10

Permalink 12:21:44 pm, by Skillachi
Categories: Education, Commentary

Substandard Engineers?

I recently read an article that irked me just as much as the article I wrote about last year where the quality of the possible judges to the Caribbean Court of Justice came into question. This article published in the Jamaica Observer stated that the local engineering field has suffered from substandard graduates. Being a strong advocate of the pro Jamaican movement I am nothing less than outraged at the weak basis for Julian Richardson's argument and the fact that this is yet another "foreign minded" Jamaican simply ignoring the excellent quality of students that are produced locally. Before I continue I have to state that I could not find an online link to the article and so will be quoting parts, to anybody who wants to read the article in its entirety check the March 2, 2010 release of the Observer.

The first part of the article questions the source from where we will get engineering students and that is the High Schools. While I will agree that there is merit in his argument (as we have seen weaker results in math and physics), as far as his bashing of the current crop of engineers his arguments are terribly weak. Julian states:

"To do engineering, you have to have a good background in the physical sciences and mathematics," said Dr Reid. "I think you're all very aware of the (examination) results that we have had on an annual basis in these areas -- they're horrible! "What we get from that is a poor subset to draw from to educate and train as engineers, so we start with a weak background and it gets reflected further along the road whether it's in the people who practice, regulate or approve," ... less than 50 per cent of Jamaican students who sat the Caribbean Examinations Council test in 2009 gained better than a grade III certification -- the minimum pass mark -- in mathematics.

My first issue with Julians argument is the fact that he somehow believes that everybody wants to become an engineer. He has to believe so if he thinks that the fact that there is a low number of maths and physics passes means that the crop of engineers are poor. I would suggest that a better survey would be to check how many students at the high school level want to become engineers, and then go further by looking at how many of those students know the requirements to study engineering. Also you cannot in fairness state that the universities are pushing out engineers that are bad at physics and mathematics because if you are to take a look at the curriculum for both the UWI and UTech's engineering programmes you will see that they are math intensive. Courses like: Mathematics 1-4, Physical Chemistry, Engineering Thermodynamics, Mathematical Modeling, Statistics, Engineering Physics etc. are all highly math and physics intensive courses and I am pretty sure nobody can get a bachelor's degree in engineering from either institution if they are not able to attain passes for these courses. Also of importance to note is the requirements to get into these University's engineering programmes; Both of the institutions state explicitly that applicants must have not just high passes in CXC level math and physics, but also at the advanced (CAPE) level. The UTech also has a provisional programme for students who dont have the Advanced level math and physics where they spend a year or more doing related subjects until they get it.

It seems to be that based on what Julian is arguing the standard of Doctors, and Computer Programmers and any other field which requires math and physical sciences must also be just as poor then. Based on what I have just stated I feel I need to however state that the blame so far should be placed on the education system at the hgih school level for not pushing out more students who can attain passes in subjects that provide people with basic life skills.

The next point that Julian makes is that:

Further impacting the quality of the engineering fraternity is severe brain drain from Jamaica to more developed countries which, in effect, reduces the size of the talent pool, said the JIE. For instance, according to Chung, only "five or six" Jamaicans who graduated with an engineering degree from the University of the West Indies (UWI) campus in St Augustine, Trinidad in 2009, came back to practice in Jamaica after graduation.

Many people in Jamaica are constantly quarreling about the brain drain that Jamaica has continued to experience as we push out better and smarter graduates that quickly gather international acclaim and are being requested by the thousands. It is no coincidence that Jamaican engineering students have all looked to leave the island after attaining their degrees, instead it is simply because we dont have the jobs available. I have a number of friends who all have engineering degrees and if it is one thing that I have realized is that after they are finally finished with school, entry to the working world is really based on luck as their only other choice is to leave the field or suffer and wait for a job to become available. Any individual will agree with me that if you cannot get what you want in Jamaica and it becomes available somewhere else it makes more sense to go their and ply your trade. If you the JIE ensured that these graduates had jobs to get into after leaving school then maybe you wouldn't have such a large brain drain. As a matter of fact this need to get a job, also needs to be changed and more entrepreneural behaviour should be taught so that people become more inventive.

The final part of the article written by Julian speaks about the reason for the brain drain as far as he knows wherein:

The aforementioned, explained Dr Reid, is a result of the massive expansion over the past two decades in the Trinidad economy as opposed to the stagnation in the Jamaican economy. "UWI Trinidad used to be the major source (of engineers to Jamaica)," said Dr Reid. "But with the growth in oil prices, Trinidad has been on a continuing expansion of various parts of their economy, so quite a number of our engineers graduated from St Augustine and stayed at St Augustine so to speak. And what made it even worse is that, at the same time, you're getting a stagnation of our economy... and therefore you're not encouraging the engineers to come home."

This further backs up what I was stating which shows just how contradicting his argument's are. He knows the reason for the brain drain is the fact that jobs are in fact available there and not here. I personally know a number of engineers who are unable to use the full value of their education because they cannot gain a job. So what exactly are you trying to say Dr. Reid and Mr. Richardson? That they should simply come back to Jamaica and sit down and waste time?

However this is just the beginning of my problems with this article, as I said before I do know a number of young freshly graduated engineers. The count goes up to at least 30, all with degrees in varying sections of engineering some even with masters degrees who are for some reason unable to find jobs. Around 80% of those people I know are UTech graduates around 10% UWi and the rest went to various schools in America.  Now the reason I have decided to list what schools these engineers come from is to say the following. Firstly that in Jamaica as has always existed there is an "old boys club" of sorts, wherein most/all of the old boys are UWI graduates and for some reason doesn't believe that the UTech is producing proper engineers. This is obvious to me because neither Julian or Dr Reid even attempted to include the fact that the UTech is pushing out large numbers of engineers its almost as if the UTech doesn't even exist to these people which to me is another showing of the fact that Dr. Reid and Mr. Richardson are members of this old boys club that aren't even giving the UTech graduates chances.

But my blame doesn't only fall on the old boys club nor only with Dr. Reid and Mr. Richardson. But I blame the universities themselves, as 5 days following the publishing of this article there is yet to be any reply from either of the universities where they refute their claims as foolish and without any good merit. Am I to believe that the universities agree that they are pushing out bad engineers? That all the money being spent to train these students has gone to waste? I expect better from the two premier educational institutions in Jamaica.

To Mr. Reid I say this though, the basis of your arguments are weak and maybe you should begin to look inward instead of constantly looking outward for solutions

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Three Ministers

Three ministers - a Presbyterian, a Methodist, and a Southern Baptist and their wives were all on a cruise together. A tidal wave came up and swamped the ship, and they all drowned. The next thing you know, they're standing before St.Peter.

As fate would have it, the first in line was the Presbyterian and his wife. St. Peter shook his head sadly and said, "I can't let you in. You were moral and upright, but you loved money too much. You loved it so much, you even married a woman named Penny."

St.Peter waved sadly, and poof! Down the chute to the 'Other Place' they went. Then came the Methodist. "Sorry, can't let you in either," said Saint Peter "You abstained from liquor and dancing and cards, but you loved food too much.

You loved food so much, you even married a woman named Candy!" Sadly, St. Peter waved again, and whang! Down the chute went the Methodists.

The Southern Baptist turned to his wife and whispered nervously, "It ain't looking good, Fanny."

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