Is education the ticket to success?

Education CS Prof. George Magoha during the release of KCSE 2021 results at KNEC Headquarters on April 23, 2022. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE | NMG

When the results for the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) examination were released, the proportion of those who had grades to enable them to get direct admission to universities was around 17.5 percent, while those who got a minimum grade of C- required to join diploma courses in TVET institutions was 39 percent.

An analysis of these figures led to a debate about what the fate of those who either fail to qualify for diploma courses or degree courses are.

I listened to a debate about the relevance of an education system which wastes most of the applicants, since slightly over 60 percent would not qualify for diploma courses and more than 80 percent would be locked out of universities, at least directly.

The response from policymakers invariably is that the focus of education is not to waste any child. That at the primary level, we are pursuing a 100 percent transition. Consequently, even at the secondary stage the idea is to ensure that every child moves on to the next stage, hence the investment in TVET.

The bigger question that the figures lead to is whether education is the ticket to success. In the old days, children were urged to excel in their studies since it would open doors to successful careers. Recent events have led people to question this rationale.

Reading a book by the famous author, Robert Kiyosaki a few years ago, he opined that in life it is the C grades who become successful entrepreneurs and thus employ the A grades.

Taken to its logical end, it is preferable to be an average student and become a successful entrepreneur and then employ those classmates of yours who were excelling and were better than you in class.

The Kiyosaki argument was recently propounded by a parent on a radio during a talk show analysing the KCSE results and their implications for the future of the candidates and eventually the country. His argument was that the results were not important, since even he never did well in school but still had a successful life.

This debate was further brought to the fore this past week when the Judicial Service Commission shortlisted candidates for the position of judges of the High Court and the Court of Appeal. The list excluded several applicants who had PhD qualifications.

The resulting debate was the utility of postgraduate qualifications, with one side arguing that the decision not to shortlist such candidates was an indictment of the JSC while others held that PhD qualifications are overrated.

Against the background of all the above debates, the greater question is the place of education in one’s success. Is it true that parents should continue investing in paying school fees out of the belief that it is a ticket to prosperity? Or should they take the side of those who believe that spending energy in learning is unnecessary?

The reality is that education is important. However, in the modern world, it is not just the paper qualifications that make a difference in life. Education is supposed to be an indicator of hard work and critical thinking.

It is a pathway to developing skills and competencies to solve societal problems, innovate new ideas and products and eventually lead in a particular sector of service.

Unfortunately, like every sphere of life, we have become a society of shortcuts. Not everybody who has received a certain qualification in some level of study necessarily has the skills and competencies expected at that level.

What has changed, therefore is not the importance of education but its quality and the confidence that citizens have in those who have passed through an education process.

The solution is not to abandon the pursuit of knowledge, but to recognise that it must be done honestly and diligently. It cannot be an end but a means to an end.

Qualifications and honours, once obtained, should not be won as a badge of honour but must be seen as an expectation from society, that whoever has those qualifications, has certain skills.

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Note: The results are not exact but very close to the actual.