Ideas & Debate

Our obsession with certificates will spell doom in education


People, young and old, are rushing to school, not because they seek to refine their competence, but rather to seek a certificate. PHOTO | FILE


  • Our education qualifications have been watered down through systematic, prevalent greed and corruption. We have become a society obsessed with short-termism and embedded into greedy practises.

Ahmed Mohammed Hassan (not his real name) is a brilliant young man. At the tender age of 26, he is a qualified aeronautical engineer – a feat he achieved in record time.

Aeronautical engineering is a highly specialised and technical course. An expert in this field is able to apply scientific and technological principles to research, design, development and maintenance of space vehicles, aircraft, missiles, and satellites.

The fact that Ahmed was able to master all these in a record 90 days can only prove one thing – he must be a super genius. Unfortunately, he is not.

Ahmed bought his qualification for the princely sum of Sh3,000. He was handed an original certificate of Nairobi Aviation College to be specific. Fortunately, at least in the case of Ahmed, we shouldn’t worry that we have released yet another rouge engineer into our job market.

In his case, he was only posing as an undercover student who was role-playing in Dennis Okari’s NTV’s investigative piece “Certificates of Doom”, which I urge you to watch on YouTube if you haven’t done so yet.

The blatant fraud in our educational institutions as revealed is an indicator of how terribly our academic standards have sunk. Such is the endemic corruption in colleges that there is a cloud of uncertainty shrouding any piece of paper called a certificate.

However, the malaise of the educational sector is not without foundation. Our educational system is, unfortunately, all founded and grounded on institutional quicksand.

A wise man once reminded us that the whole purpose of education is to replace an empty mind with an open one.

Another one warned us not to utilise the brain as a vessel to be filled but rather as a fire to be ignited. Both of these wise gems have totally been disregarded as we have embarked on educational systems that are quick to fill young, empty minds with endless useless facts and test their intelligence based on their ability to regurgitate those facts.

Hence the examination systems test student’s ability of memory rather than their ability of thought.

We spend as much as two decades of our formative lives simply working on memory function of the brain only to graduate into an automated world where machines do all the remembering on our behalf —a world that expects the use our cognition rather than our recollection skills, and for which we are ill prepared.

Yet you would reckon that such a world (read job market) would auto-correct itself and the education system would be forced to undergo a self-reformation process to adapt to the new demands.

Ironically, the opposite seems to be true. Our defective education system’s growth is incentivised by the market’s unreasonable thirst for certificates from these very defective education systems.

Every passing day, employers, faced with a myriad of applicants with increasingly superior educational qualifications, and being ‘lazy’ to come up with smarter systems of identifying who to recruit, have adopted educational levels as the biggest determinant for employability.

As a result, we are, more than at any other time, facing a crisis of education inflation. Where the job required a simple post -high school certificate before, a diploma is now required. Where a diploma was more than enough to assure competency previously, a degree is now mandatory.

Where a basic degree was all you needed in the past, now a Master’s degree is a currently the new red line. The society has been infected by what I refer to as ‘certificate-mania’.

People, young and old, are rushing to school, not to refine competence, but to seek that hallowed sealed paper, so that they can run with it to their employers to qualify for promotions.

To answer this call, the education sector sensed this demand and, in the liberal capitalistic fashion, responded by increasing the supply for higher education training opportunities.

Institutions that were offering diplomas graduated to become university colleges. But all this is not enough. In a bid to respond to this paper chase, education institutions are being ‘creatively flexible’ to fit into the flexible schedule of the customer.

This creative flexibility is unfortunately being stretched to its limits where colleges are busy competing with each other who shall manage to reduce the most the timelines between enrolling for college and acquiring your certificate.

It is no longer awkward to hear that someone, especially the celebrity political types, have enrolled in a university part-time and completed a four-year degree in less than two years.

Either the society is breeding an amazingly high number of geniuses or the pieces of papers we are giving out as degree and diploma certificates are no more valuable than the paper they are printed on.

Our education qualifications have been watered down through systematic, prevalent greed and corruption. We have become a society obsessed with short-termism and embedded into greedy practises. Our pursuit has become that form over content.

No wonder we were all up in arms when ranking in schools was banned. How else do we show how vain we are by parading our children as trophy bounties in a competition?

How else do we prove to employers that we can do the job if not by displaying shining certificates from questionable institutions? Why work hard when we can be lazy, work smart and get more reward?

As employers, how well do we show that we are a progressive company but by lining boardrooms with fellows with shining academic certificates and a lot of theories overflowing their well-kempt hair?

As parents, how well do we prove to ourselves to have been successful if we do not pressure children to take prestigious courses for which they are mildly interested and will be forced to cheat to pass them?

Who cares, for as long as they pass with distinction and bring home the certificate for all relatives and friends to come and see?

As college owners and lecturers, how else do we satisfy demand from a gullible, greedy society that is not interested to hold you accountable on standards and quality control since none of them will do due diligence anyway?

It doesn’t matter who we are, we are all accomplices to the atrocities that define the disaster that is our education system. I am afraid it may be fact to say that while we were all probably born intelligent, education did a good job of ruining us all.

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