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Senator Johnson Sakaja.

Fifth Estate

At least we now know the value of a university degree

Never in the history of Kenya has the degree qualification attracted much debate and for good effect as it has now. You see, there are things many people can do without the rigours of higher education, but it does appear that with a degree there is a solid value that comes with the accumulation of wealth in those many years in campus interacting with books, scholars, students, and people from all walks of life.  

Students of educational foundation will tell you that education is that process that results in permanent change. Well, one of the most interesting theories in education is the mirror hypothesis. This theory poses that education helps us have a picture of what a learner can do and that a learner is born with the instinctive aptitude to do. In other words, other than leading to permanent change, it also helps us understand how good a learner is in the discipline that a learner naturally has innate capability in. Simply put a learner who leans towards studying medicine was born with the innate ability to be a doctor and education does more in telling us how good a doctor the learner is and permanently changes him from a learner to a doctor.

Now, the hallmark of education for most Kenyans is a bachelor’s degree and traditionally this should be understood from the 8-4-4 system which terminates after four years of university education. After university education one is supposed to have a solid grounding in a discipline with a deeper understanding of the principles, concepts, theories and the attendant knowledge and skills that are applicable in the industry. Thus, the permanent change is supposed to be seen in how well the graduates apply themselves in solving real-life issues. In journalism for instance, after four years of J-school training, a graduate is supposed to be competent enough to survey the socio-political, economic, and cultural environment and identify what is news and report to the society only that which is of public interest. How excellent a journalist, teachers, engineers etc do their job is a function of education. But inherently from the mirror hypothesis if you have the aptitude to be a journalist, you’re technically a storyteller and education only helps us understand how good a storyteller you are.

Now, in politics, you meet very interesting characters with very funny degrees, and you ask yourself why a professional in a trade that deals with public administration and allocation of resources, policy, legislation and representation of the people would go for a major that has nothing to do with his or her application of skills. And why they opt for universities we only get to hear of when there is contention. One would expect an A student from Kenya’s education system to easily get admission in an elite university in the region or anywhere in the world. Kenya has close to 90 accredited universities including a good number that operates with letters of interim authorities and one wonders why a politician has to leave all these universities to go to a country and settle for a little-known university whose accreditation status is contestable. 

And what happened to strategic thinking in leadership. How is it possible for leaders to address the plight of the people they represent or just address basic issues of the people who give them power if they can’t manage their own life and professional growth. How can the electorate trust leaders who masquerade as graduates of our elite universities and serve as elected leaders with such false pretense for close to ten years? Leaders who know and understand the requirements of the next level of their professional life but do nothing and best or slide to the integrity slope at worst. Such leaders prowl the streets of our cities and towns, and they abandon one previous line of thought after another as they slide integrity slippery slope, leaving in their wake the politicization of their academic qualifications and questions about their integrity. You see, a degree makes a big difference, and it is either the process of getting it led to a permanent change in you and all and sundry can discern how good you are in the discipline, or you’ve got absolutely nothing other than a gamble to where you are. Some streetwise fellows get away with smartness but only in as far as your performance is solid and the requirements don’t need the paper. Where the requirements call for the papers, smartness is just that smart and laws and regulations are just that, laws and regulations.

Therefore, as a requirement for certain political offices, it is either you have it or you don’t. Court cases, politicisation and public whipping of emotions in political rallies cannot confer a degree and asking whether others have or not does not make dubious papers authentic. A degree is like money, when you have it you don’t have to show, it should be seen. But thanks to politicians, some of these Generation Z folks who are following the degree drama are getting to learn that even if you can do stuff and pull strings here and there, a degree is an anchor of so many things. It does not just give you that paper, show the world how good you are in a particular discipline, but also builds an intellectual infrastructure to gives you the power to explore beyond the discipline. It gives you the power to do….

The author is a PhD Candidate in Media Studies and Political communication.

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