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The illusion of academic certification

By Kolawole Adeniyi
16 October 2018   |   3:47 am
A society that is governed by the reasoning that people ought to be paid for their qualifications rather than the worth of their services is doomed. This is what I mean: qualification is normally the testament of ability. But where the majority now have the qualifications with no expertise to match, then the purpose of…

Students in a classroom. PHOTO: Shutterstock

A society that is governed by the reasoning that people ought to be paid for their qualifications rather than the worth of their services is doomed.

This is what I mean: qualification is normally the testament of ability.

But where the majority now have the qualifications with no expertise to match, then the purpose of the qualification has been defeated.

And this, to me, is the summary of Education in Nigeria in this age.

People merely aspire to get high academic certificates, with no intension of acquiring matching expertise.

This is the idea behind people merely “preparing for examinations” whereas they were actually to learn through the years and only write the examinations to gauge the extent of what has been learnt.

Unfortunately, this calamitous idea has eaten deep into primary and secondary school levels, and when one thinks of practices surrounding Senior Secondary School Certificate Examinations, one wonders whether that level of education is still capable of fulfilling its mandate.

The corollary of this is that students not prepared in secondary schools are now being mechanically passed into the universities and the universities have no say since their Senior Secondary School Leaving Certificates proclaim them as qualified!

Somehow, many of these crop of individuals manage to get out of the universities, but if only people take time to check the grades of the graduates they come across, they would know that many have only been let loose on the society with a caveat: “graduates not fit for employment,” which is usually true when you weigh their understanding of the professions they are supposedly certified to practise! To me, this is what “Third Class” and “Pass” grades mean.

They are graduates anyway, and they are now part of the army of the unemployed.

Those with higher grades, who very often, are not well-equipped to practise their respective trades, go about scouting only for the high-paying jobs that would require minimal mental engagement.

But to be frank, those jobs are not many around us, and so with no jobs on the plate, many opt to pursue Masters Degrees.

With that, there are now many people with Masters Degrees, but with very little to offer in terms of matching capacity. Unfortunately, that has rendered First Degrees commonplace.

The restructuring of the curricular at different levels only serves as evidence that the decision makers are aware of the decline in the capacity of our graduates.

At Secondary School levels, such subjects as animal keeping, civic education, data processing, and the likes have been introduced (at the expense of subjects like history and languages; but we will address that by and by), while entrepreneurship is currently being actively promoted in many higher institutions.

But I wonder whether the solution lies in these coinages. Our problem is that the essence of education itself has been eroded by the general decadence in the society.

This decadence manifests as the quest for certificates, and not knowledge.

And if a student will only approach these newly coined subjects with the sole aim of passing examinations and acquiring the certificates without any interest in the actual practice of these ideas, then we are still rooted to the same old spot.

Even with the curriculum before the coinages, the principle is always that everybody lives by selling something. And you do not sell what you do not have.

And without knowledge, you have nothing to sell. The principle cannot be usurped by any curriculum restructuring. The only way out is to return to that principle.

We must return to the culture of acquiring the requisite knowledge for our certificates, because in the end, that is what each of us is supposed to sell.

As good as entrepreneurship is, it does not address this need for a reorientation of the populace about purposeful education.

A graduate of English, for instance is supposed to be selling his expertise in the use of the language such that everything requiring communication must go through him, for a commensurate remuneration.

These include editing, publishing, broadcasting, among others, so you do not really need to teach that fellow how to buy and sell coconut!

You do not have to teach a teacher how to sell coke when he or she is supposed to be in the business of selling his or her expertise in the impartation of knowledge.

The list goes on and on, and I offer below just a highlight of how a few courses in our education system are supposed to be marketable if people will submit themselves to the requisite training.

Nigeria is making so much money from oil and is engaging some of the best economists and petroleum engineers in the world, but we fail woefully in managing the communities where the oil is coming from.

That tells me that the equation cannot be complete and we cannot really enjoy our oil money without engaging the expertise of political scientists, and experts in peace and conflict management.

I now see people who no longer speak Nigerian languages engaged in the innovation of agricultural techniques and improved seedlings, and I wonder how their innovation will benefit the vastly illiterate farmers without the language experts translating such for onward transmission to the rural communities.

Also in the healthcare, I have observed with sadness, how an English-speaking doctor treats patients who do not understand English.

Do we really have to wait until too many people have died before realising that experts in the medical profession, and indeed all professions, MUST be proficient in Nigerian languages in order for their expertise to benefit the populace?

Linguists and language professionals are needed for the majority of the products of education to become relevant to the Nigerian society.

Currently, the killing in the Middle Belt and some other parts of the country is tending toward genocide, yet nobody is drawing the attention of government to the historical antecedent of these killings.

History tells us that even before independence, the Middle Belt people resisted with their whole might the enforced political centralisation that made them part of Northern Nigeria.

By ignoring history, and playing politics with the matter, our leaders have left leprosy to address ringworm. Historians who know history are needed to broker peace!

I hear that many of the medical drugs are products of plants (check out morphine for instance), but here in Nigeria, we claim botany is not marketable; it has to be pharmacy or those courses with finely-defined scopes.

But a botanist or practitioners of many such professions are vital to the survival of the country, if only they acquire the knowledge.

Many of the European countries that we run to in search of greener pastures depend solely on sports and tourism, but here, we claim courses like Zoology, Physical Education, Archeology among others are not marketable simply because in our collective short-sightedness we cannot see them drawing oil money in staggering volumes.

The list goes on, but I think we have had enough of digression. My point is that every course is marketable in its own right if approached with the right mentality. Every course has something to add to the society.

Unfortunately, education in Nigeria has evolved away from the potentials of most of the courses, with focus now firmly on the certificates with which each of us is deemed qualified for a share of the national cake.

This is our undoing as a nation, and not even the incorporation of entrepreneurship can save us!

We must return to the basics and build all over again; otherwise, the holders of the highest certificates will soon be found to be incapable of making meaningful contributions to humanity, while those who grew up in the streets and in the farms emerge as the thinkers of our society.

Dr. Adeniyi, former reporter Tell/Broad Street Journal, wrote from Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife.