Sunday, May 31, 2009

Seychelles NYS, 1980-1998 : R.I.P

The ‘Seychelles Nation’ recently featured two brief separate items, with photos, on the launching of ‘NYS-generation’ association.
At first, I found it slightly amusing! I mean, we are in a democracy, aren’t we? People are free to associate as they wish! In this regard, one needs only wish the new NYS-81 the success they seek, ‘to promote the greater involvement of their members in the economic and civic activities of the country’. Unless of course, this is all just another convenient veil behind which political and financial favours, both foreign and local, can be harvested!

However, it may also be worthwhile to remind us all and in particular, the members of the new association, of the fact that the NYS being celebrated, is to many of the 18 Seychellois generations between 1981-1998, an experience best forgotten, and a blur on the national social and educational landscape!

A national Youth Service is generally one regrouping youths of the country in a program of activities that seeks to promote self-development and some commitment towards the community arising from awareness that the youth develops, of his place and role in the community and the country. 
In styles and types of national Youth Services however, each country went their own ways. The Katimavik of Canada has little to compare to the Green Bombers of Zimbabwe, much less with our own little experience at educational reform.

The Seychelles National Youth Service of 1981 was the brainchild of the 1977-1992 single-party SPPF (Seychelles People’s Progressive Front, 1978) dictatorship to create the “New Seychellois” that the new socialist government sought after its 1977 coup d’etat.
It was the enactment of the socialist revolutionary vision of the time to force a break from Seychellois family tradition and education, and went far beyond the traditional mechanics of curriculum development and assessment that prepares a student for the world of work, and what normal families, communities and civil societies all over the world do to form “responsible, hardworking citizens”. It was no more, no less than a machine for political indoctrination into the socialist revolutionary zeal of the time. Full of patriotic fervour! Rich in slogans! 

One must however, always be careful about slogans that politicians spout.

In Europe of the 1940s, there were a number of camps where people of certain races from different countries were regrouped to “work”. ‘Arbeit Macht Frei" was the slogan that a certain class of German politicians of the time, had prominently placed at the entrances to several of these camps. We are still trying today, to reconcile our collective responsibilities in allowing, by silent acquiescence, the nightmares of such camps to exist.
While none of the four Seychelles National Youth Service camps during the period 1980-1998 had anything to compare with the likes of Auschwitz and Dachau, they were nonetheless places all run on slogans, by educators bent on political indoctrination, with a mission to ‘free’ the future generations from values of the past that the new masters of the land had deemed retrograde and counter-revolutionary. Seychellois families where legally obliged to surrender their children, in their delicate, formative adolescent years, to these camps! 

Lest we forget:

By virtue of the NYS Act 1980, any 16-18-year old Seychellois student who had successfully completed the compulsory 10-year primary and secondary education could “volunteer” for a period of service of two years into the National Youth Service. The successful completion of the 2 years’ of NYS, being an essential condition for admission to post secondary education, (to the exception of other nationals who could show proof of having lived outside the country up to the end of a normal secondary education and who satisfied requirements for acceptance for post-secondary education,) local, home educated students who aimed at higher, post secondary education and training had really no other option but to “volunteer” and spend the two years away from direct family care and influence.

With the NYS, the Seychellois One-Party SPPF State of 1981 declared itself fully, wholly and solely responsible for the social, moral and political education of the country’s youth. 
Education being the desired outcome of teaching and learning, the SPPF took upon itself the mandate to undertake its own, special kind of educational reform.

Students were supposedly to undergo a fully comprehensive education that encompasses all the frontiers of human development, while immersed in real-life situations of living in a community, without what were perceived then as discriminatory social, employment and professional rankings and classes. The new education was to be the necessary cursus, which would sweep away what the revolutionaries considered as the tarnished product of the country’s 200-year social, class-ridden history. From the new education, would emerge the New Seychellois, ready, willing and fervently eager to embrace the new socialist ideology and ride off into each recurring sunrise under the wings of the benevolent SPPF and its leaders!

There were those who found no quarrel with our NYS. Indeed, there were enough foreign experts, politicians, ambassadors and world leaders from Chadli Ben Jehdid, Indira Gandhi to François Mitterand, who all trotted by in praise of this brand of home-grown educational reform and offered their technical support and resources, along with those of international organisations such as the UNESCO. In 1993, even the Former and First President, recently returned from exile, likened the institution to a youth holiday camp! 

Despite the institution being abolished in 1998 and families retrieving their primal responsibilities in the education of their children, there are still many whose nostalgic reminiscence continues to strengthen their belief that the NYS was a bold and noble program! They proudly point to the generations of former NYS students who are now professionals and leaders in private business and in the public service. This, they claim, is proof of the success of their real-life, full-scale social and educational experimentation! 

That maybe their priviledge in a free society. 

It is also a convenient disposal of and accommodation with the fact that the country, like any other, before and after, with or without, the NYS, never failed to produce cohorts of leaders, professionals and everything in between that keeps a country turning efficiently. 

It is a view that comes from looking too much in a mirror!

Maybe it is time that one rubs off the patina that makes the glass a mirror, and look through the glass to see the other sides of the NYS. 

The one where, because of the dissenting political views of their families, the promise of a decent and professional future for hundreds of locally educated young Seychellois of the 1981-1997 generations, were blunted when they were deprived of their legitimate claim to post-secondary education. 

The one where the future of hundreds others, were chewed up by the, however well-intentioned, haphazard social and living conditions in the NYS camps while they were merely going through the normal adolescent pranks, peer learning and self-discovery.

The one where hundreds of families that arose from the shunted NYS generations, remain forever dulled, unable to offer an opportunity for their own children of the new millennium to shine in echo to the new national label of ‘Our children...our Treasure! 

The one where float in our deepest awareness, the skeletons of the millions spent during 17 years of wasted potential, misuse of resources and missed opportunities.

The one where the innocence of youth was violently ripped away under a barrage of fire-arms drills and revolutionary incantations to offer one’s life for the defence of the revolution, the latter when translated, simply turned out to be an invitation to face, AK47 in hand, one’s countrymen who dared to express their dissent towards the socialist ideology and policies of the SPPF! 

The one where after the systematic indoctrination in the merit of the socialist ideology, and in the personality cult of the SPPF party hierarchy, endured by generations after generations, the modern Seychellois, incapable of separating the wheat from the chaff in the climate of contemporary democratic pluralism, reverts to bovine subservience and acquiescence that has already been ingrained in his sub-conscious. What, in 1992, the 2nd former President called “political maturity”!

Any adolescent from any culture may find as a great attraction the opportunity to live for some time away from direct parental authority and care. Notwithstanding, a future sociologist may very well have to undertake a closer analysis of the social impact on modern families arising from the NYS generations, to determine whether or not, and to what extent the current drift in morals and norms may be attributable to the national rebellion against societal norms, morals and codes, so fervent during the period 1978-1987, and which culminated in the NYS experience!

There seems then, to be little tribute to be paid to whomever over the NYS! There was and is no glory to be reaped from the sad experience. It was not for nothing that it was abandoned!. Let it RIP!


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