This is a January 2019 update of an article published in Weekly magazine on 20th September 2018.
It is time to open the curtains on an extra-curricular educational activity for our Mauritian youngsters which, in only one year, has taken off really well and promises to develop rapidly into the future. This is the opening of a new section for “Junior Aviators”, introduced by the Aeronautical Society with a view to satisfying the growing interest of the Millennium generation in all branches of Aviation and even of Space flight. Since the scheme was first launched by the Aero-society at the Rajiv Gandhi Science Centre on the 22nd July last year, applications to join from Secondary School students (our target audience) have risen rapidly, and new requests continue to flow in every week. The idea, which received the immediate support of many parents and teachers across the country – and which has also been warmly welcomed by the Minister of Education – consists of offering these motivated youngsters group-visits to places of aeronautical interest in Mauritius, listening to their dreams, answering their questions and sharing with them our own experiences. At the introductory meeting in July 2017 the children were asked what in particular they would like to see or learn, and a list emerged which is being worked through and added to. All visits are arranged in the school holiday periods, and so far the children have made day-trips to the following venues:
4th November 2017: Mon Loisir airfield at Belleview Maurel, home of Microlight aircraft and the Austral Skydivers
5th January 2018: The Headquarters of the Maritime Air Squadron of the Coastguard and Police Helicopter Unit
11th April 2018: The Air Traffic Control “Area Control Centre” of the Department of Civil Aviation
21st July 2018: St Martin field, for a demonstration of internal-combustion and jet-engine model aircraft flying
17th December 2018: Air Mauritius Airbus A350 in the MK Hangars at SSRIA
It is good to reflect, firstly on why activities like this have become so popular with our children’s generation; and secondly, how it is that the Mauritius economy itself stands to benefit? The answers should be obvious. All parents, and the teachers too, know that our job and our privilege is to give our children “Roots and Wings”. The former comes naturally to every family, because we are proud of our name and of where we come from, (for instance my two 18-year-olds are well aware that they are Irish-Mauritians!) As for the “Wings”, all the world strives to give their sons and daughters the best possible preparation for their own lives through school education and also – and this is most important – by encouraging them to develop their own personal ambitions through believing that nothing is impossible and no target too high to reach. By chance almost, although these “Wings” can relate to any ambition in a multitude of careers, the digital-millennial generation has been given options… through the galloping pace of science and technology… far wider (and more exciting?) than those that were available to their grandparents and their parents. Now the tendency (better word might be “compulsion”) is to look up to the skies and into the stratosphere rather than with eyes-down into the sugar-cane fields. If you ask the question “Who wants to be a pilot/engineer/ airline cabin crew member/rocket scientist or astronaut?”, many hands will shoot up. Fortunately too, there will soon be a lot of employment opportunities in these disciplines.
Looking at this from the point of view of the Country, the same stated need – for more young people to take courses in STEM subjects and to prepare themselves for the science-related jobs that are opening up in new fields of action – is making it clear that we are all going in the same direction. We know we cannot rely on the usefulness to Mauritius of the older, traditional “pillars of the economy”. The world price of sugar has plunged and it may be that revenue is already lower than the cost of production: The Medine Company has long since taken the word “Sugar” out of its name. Textiles may be next to decline as wage levels increase in Mauritius and lower-cost competing countries gain preference. Entry into new business areas will be a requirement for survival, but fortunately new doors are opening: The phrase “the sky’s the limit” used to be a popular catchphrase but it is no longer a limit… the experts are not even sure that Space is that!
There is no question that we can and must do more for the digital/millennial generation to help them to survive and prosper in this fast-changing world. They are a bright lot with strong opinions and we can be proud of them. The Aeronautical Society of Mauritius is already contacting other societies and organizations, in the knowledge that together we can do more to promote the choice of the scientific and technological study subjects that are relevant to the future, than if we go-it-alone with our already-established “Junior Aviators”. Wish us luck! Meanwhile, if any parents or teachers reading this would like more information about the “J.A.s”, the AeSM website is “www.aesm.mu”
Dick Twomey, the Aeronautical Society of Mauritius (AeSM)
Some photos taken on Junior Aviators Day at St Martin model flying field: