Fixing our reality: certificate or mindset problem?

Few weeks ago, a young man returned his certificate to his university because he could not get a job after many years of graduation. A national dialogue ensued with many weighing on the subject. Many commentators believe it is because of the low quality of education in the country and hence tagged the certificate issued by our universities as worthless. Was the problem really about certificate? The subject was recently brought up again at a session I attended and below is my thought as presented during the gathering involving of small people.

It is my humble opinion that education did not start or end in university. It started at home from the day you were born and ended in graveyard when you die. It was Alvin Toffler who said that “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn."

The education acquired from home is the most valuable that any child will acquire because it prepares the child for a life adventure away from his parents and also in his adulthood. More often than not, it is also a foundation laying for the child's emotional intelligence, social assimilation and personal convictions. This will be most valuable intelligence he will need to survive in life no matter his level of formal education.

This maybe perhaps, why some universities do not admit students below certain age as they feel they are not yet to be mentally ready for that stage of life. Education goes beyond nurturing cognitive ability. It go beyond testing and grading of retentive memory. It goes beyond mastering of English languages or numeric literacy. 

Primary education build the foundation. The parents are fully in control   before primary education and also during primary education. They make decisions and impact lessons and life values in the child. It is also a time when a child begin to learn to develop his mentality and awareness of his environment and social circle. 

At secondary school, a child is near old enough to survive in life. The parents begin to release their grip on him but are still there to guide him while supporting him to make decisions on his own. The child begins to shape his destiny at that point and is set for independent life. Before the coming of university education, this age group is the age of maturity ( and still is). It is the age of transition to adulthood. A child is expected to be ready to take on life and become a full adult. 

With University education introduced, the young man will decide what he intends to do with his life. Two groups emerges from this level: Those who will go to acquire further knowledge in university to achieve their goal and those who will go through informal education sector to achieve their goal. No matter what they chose, they are mentally ready for life decision. they are already equipped with the mentality to face whatever life throw at them as they move forward.

Even without formal education. Millions of people have succeeded in their life choice without stepping into four wall of classroom. In fact, many at primary school level are already equipped with skills needed to achieve their chosen goals. before formal education, they learned skills in farming, trading, fishing etc and by the time they are done, they launched their career, get married and take responsibility for their life.. Though, as society advances, and world of work changes, the skills needed to become self sufficient and independent also evolve. This necessitated the need for young people to pursue additional learning to fit into the new world of works. But the old jobs  and basis skills needed for survival are still not requiring university education. University and technical education is therefore a bonus. 

Higher education (which includes polytechnics, university and college of Education) is an added advantage. Higher Education offers a place to acquire specialized skills that are not found at informal sector. It is a place that exposes learners to new research and technology. Higher education encourages creative and independent thought. At higher education, you are equipped with knowledge to know how to determine what’s true, what isn’t, and when it matters. It basically, in many cases prepare you to take up a blue collar jobs or build yours and hire others.

Higher education is a means to end and not an end. Certificate increases your selection possibility among many seeking opportunity in a competitive jobs.. In reality, most of what people do as a means of livelihood are not dependent on a degree or certification. They can be learned outside the classroom. In fact, many who possess certification eventually end up working for the people who created ventures. Most of the world we live in was created by people without degrees or certification. The people have learned to learn, relearn and relearn. 

I think the error of judgment by many young people comes from limiting education to literacy. So many people succeeded in formal education by their sheer ability to learn by rote, and strong retentive memory. A man who could not pass through school but possess business acumen can still employ a man who who has only certificate but not how to use it. Education is a lifelong goal. Therefore, while many people can figure out what to do; and are able to create job with secondary school or even primary school education, higher education certification should be an added advantage and elevated the holder thinking faculty. You cannot have higher education and still be behaving less than those with secondary education in thinking habit.

I therefore found it very embarrassing that people who should know better are siding with those who think their certificate is the reason behind their lack of job or success. Of the over 50 students within the same class as the young man who returned his certificate, some have gotten jobs while some have created jobs. Same schools, same lecturers and same graduation date. Why should we use those who didn't get job or cannot create job to determine the ultimate impact of the certificate? I think the question should not be about what lecturers taught them but what those who succeeded did differently. And if we go deeper, we will realize this is mainly from their mindset and the knowledge acquired outside classroom. Shouldn't those who couldn't get job learn from those who did?

Furthermore, If secondary school graduates (and primary school leavers) can chart a path for themselves and succeed with their limited knowledge, why do we indulge higher education graduates who blame their certificate for their lack of progress? Why are we blaming the lecturers and education system. The education system is not perfect, but there should no reason to condemn entire system just to sympathize with those who fall short. The better way is to help them find their calling rather than help them create alibi that prevent them from taking personal responsibility. 

When we give excuse for people and blame education system, we indulge more of lazy people encourage creation of a dysfunctional society with mentally weak youths  in large number. Certificate by themselves do not take us farther as much as our determination to achieve our goals. Our mindset, willpower and efforts will do more for us than the paper certification.

Higher Education environment offers more than opportunity to get certificate. We meet people from other families. We network and build rapport and develop our emotional intelligence. Some of these colleagues will be better than us if not already better than us. Your certificate will not do the job for you. Your choice of peer, association and decisions also play critical part in your success.

If a man get first class and has low emotional intelligence, his certificate will likely not be much of use to him until he develop this. Around 70% of intelligence we need to succeed is in emotional intelligence while the others go to the one he acquired in classroom.

In this age of Social Media, many of our youths spend their life listening to people who tell them their destiny is hand of someone else. They follow people who tell them the only way they succeed is to drag influential people. They follow people who share fake information and mislead them. They follow people who use them for business and political gain.  Yet there are thousands of other people on this same social media who are ready to guide and to help those willing to receive direction. The smart ones among our youths learn to make positive use of the opportunity to build their career and success..

Our hands are not equal. Some will rise and some will fall. Those who have made it should lift others up rather than encourage those who are frustrated by their situation to become worse and mentally demoralized those who are not there. The long term effect of the negative mentality we promote will manifest in minds of many young people who are are watching.

Way out?
Most of the basic skills you need to succeed in life must have been acquired before you move to higher education. The culture of prudency, saving, endurance and perseverance, communication and networking etc are skills that can be learned outside classroom and not within the university or polytechnic curriculum. Those who missed out in acquiring these skills can still avail themselves of the knowledge through engagement in extra curricula activities. 

Unfortunately, most people have taken to activism rather than developing life changing skills. If you think your education has failed you or your certificate it is worthless, you are not passing any verdict at the higher education or the system, but rather speaking up so loud about your deficient background, foundation and family upbringing. You need help, not placards.

I suggest that instead of adding fuel to fire, when we see young people who have missed out the lessons from home and schools, we should look at every case differently. For instance, how how long had he graduated? What has he done since leaving? Why didn't he try to learn a skill? What about his former colleagues? What kind of people did he surround himself? Granted that his parents may be poor and possibly not supportive, is everyone of his former colleagues and friends also jobless and unsuccessful? If that is the case then he is the problem. He needs to change his association and and he need to change his circle.

I am Isqil Najim

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