The recent acquisition of a degree by a Nigerian investigative journalist, Umar Audu, from a Beninoise university, Ecole Superieure de Gestetion et de Technologies (ESGT), Cotonou, has further signposted part of the crisis with our education. Though education is meant to refine the soul, develop character, empower with skills, cultivate knowledge and instill discipline in the recipient, it is being made superficial by many schools and institutions with emphasis on certificates and degrees, not the content of what is learnt.
Nigerians were shocked by the revelation last month that the journalist under reference was able to obtain his degree without leaving the shores of Nigeria. By opting to pay the right money, Mr Audu was assured that he could study for a month and get his degree. So, as he was promised, the reporter, in his own words, completed “the four-year degree programme in less than two months without application, registration, studying, writing exams or crossing Nigerian border.”
After obtaining the degree, he also got his academic transcript which indicated that he studied in the institution for four years, obtained the necessary clearances on the unmerited certificate from the authorities and got mobilised for the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) scheme like a true graduate. The whole scenario appeared like fiction but it was a sordid truth of what has been going on, which compelled recent policy decisions on the part of the government.
As terrible as the revelation was, it is just a symptom of the disease as the real problem is the collective attitude to education, which requires national reorientation. This attitude is basically that many Nigerians are only interested in the container of education, not the contents. This attitude that fuels cheating and malpractice operates at the levels of the purely egoistic, the patently materialistic and the obsessively quantitative Nigerians. It is injurious to human capacity development because at the end of the day, without human development, all education is in vain.
For the egoistic, many Nigerians want to acquire university degrees even if their aptitude or capacity is suitable for Technical Schools, Colleges of Education and Polytechnics. There is a lot of pressure on the universities, with some institutions jostling to be degree-awarding just to satisfy the degree hunger of Nigerians. Those would have contributed better, with high-level technical skills that other institutions offer, to socio-economic development are bitten by the degree bug. Though, a university degree has never been for everybody, as it is meant for those with the intellectual pedigree to obtain it, it suits everyone’s ego, including those who struggle to write their names, to call themselves graduates.
Besides, there are also those who seek degrees just because of material benefits. In a world where emphasis is on competence and skills, this category of students believes that having degrees in some courses is the automatic ticket to financial breakthrough. By the time reality dawns on them and expectations are not met, they easily resort to crime. It is not by accident that many criminals today have passed through the university system but the idea of the university did not pass through them as they were just fixated on obtaining degrees and living big, not having the real learning that the university offers.
Then, another bane to the quality of degree graduates obtain is the quantitative mindset. I once asked a group of second year students if they would continue their university education if their degrees would be conferred on them the following day. Almost everyone replied in the affirmative as it became evident that many students are in school not for education but for the certificate to be awarded. Hence, the qualitative (education) is often traded for the quantitative (the certificate) in theory and practice.
As pedigree concerns a person’s family history, education, and experience, or the history of an idea or activity, as “Cambridge Dictionary” construes it, it is high time we restored it to the degrees being awarded by our universities. The path to this restoration actually begins from the family with families becoming more interested in actual learning and skills, not just what is on paper. Every child and student should know that a degree obtained without pedigree is ultimately counter-productive.
It is this awareness that will make students achieve such goals of education as thinking positively to stay focused, being resilient in difficult situations, making time to read in order to develop critical thinking skills, managing time, finding time to relax, striving for excellence in every good undertaking, building a strong network, developing good study habits, engaging in lifelong learning and developing patience in achieving goals. The degree obtained on the basis of the foregoing would pass the test of time, serve as evidence of good pedigree and benefit the society.