Inspiring Tassie youth to aspire

IN THE book The Black Swan - The impact of the Highly Improbable American author Nassim Taleb makes the point strongly that Black Swan thinking is about planning for extremely improbable events that have a massive impact, and, with hindsight, should have been foreseen.

Taleb also makes the observation in this context that what you don't know is more relevant than what you do know.

The term "Black Swan" comes from the European observation in Western Australia in the 18th century that all swans are not white, something that up to that point was deemed to be utterly impossible. The single observation of one black swan destroyed a millennium of supposed knowledge.

Internationally 9-11 stands out as a classic Black Swan event: low probability, devastating impact.

At a more local level, a good example of a Black Swan event may be the collapse of the timber industry in Tasmania.

To imagine even five years ago that most major forestry players in the state would be in receivership at the same time that the Australian dollar is at historical highs would have been considered to be highly improbable.

How successful society, companies or even individuals are dealing with Black Swan events often comes down to a question of resilience - resilience that comes about as a result of education, planning and development.

In the case of our timber industry, the resilience in the economy and community to deal with this impact doesn't exist and therefore the impact has been devastating. It is now a fact that we simply didn't have the options, or if you like, the resilience, as a society to respond.

So what to do, how to better develop resilience? Like many things, it comes down to education. It's about developing a society where people have options. The key is education.

What drives a young person's desire for a better education? Some say inspiration, inspiration gleaned from others. My view is that it should be aspiration.

Aspiration is all about developing a hunger to fulfil one's dreams and visions. It is about wanting a life that meets your needs and your potential. This is where I think we are failing.

As a former Victorian who has chosen to live in Tasmania for the past 16 years, I still find it astonishing that at grade 10, young people aged 15 and 16 have to make a life-altering decision whether to remain in the education system. If we fail to inspire our youth to aspire, then the grade 10 option becomes too easy for them. They leave.

I have just returned from Asia and the thought there that students abandon their education effectively halfway through would not even be on the radar. It would not be an option.

Why not? Simple. They aspire to a better life than their parents. They aspire for a standard of living that was not available to past generations.

In Australia we are told that the reverse is happening and that our intergenerational standard of living is deteriorating.

Last year's economic development plan developed by the state government recognised that we have communities with perpetually high levels of youth unemployment and this phenomenon of intergenerational poverty.

In contrast to the Asian response, aspiration driving a thirst for higher education, the response here is to emulate the lifestyle of one's parents. In the demographic we are discussing, this leads to what is in effect a cycle of disadvantage.

We have to break the cycle. We have to create within the minds of those who seek to drop out the motivation to stay the course, to better themselves and to aspire to a lifestyle that is better than the one they came to know and accept.

Where aspiration exists, education will follow and education leads to lifestyle options and resilience.

Resilience means you can anticipate and react to adversity in a positive way.

It is time to break the cycle.

- Chris Oldfield is chief executive officer of Tasmanian Irrigation

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