Education and the injustice of preparing students for working life

By Godwin Uwadilachi. Godwin is a final year student of Accounting at Adamawa State University. He lives in Mubi, Nigeria. Please read his article and leave your thoughts and comments below.

I love Mathematics. I love Statistics. I love Quantitative Analysis. Mostly, I love Accounting and Finance; my core courses. If I were a student in the sciences, I know I’d also love Physics. I love conundrums, anything that gets your wits to the edge and your mind entangled with reasoning. I love all these. Although at certain points, I begin to wonder about all these problems we keep on calculating, all the enigmas we keep on unravelling.

On numerous occasions, after a long and grim example, you’d hear the Lecturer scream ‘twenty minutes’ after he had just read aloud or, on several occasions, distributed his heavens-know-where-the-hell-it-comes-from questions, printed on sheets, and tell us to use our brains. Everyone would be busy: some eyes would resort to staring at the roof, some hands would be scribbling down some nonsensical (often better than doing nothing at all) answer, some would collaborate (if allowed) and others would give up on the first read, hiss and murmur away their disapprobation.

This type of question could only be solved by ‘freaks’ – but this doesn’t mean they always got it right. In most cases they were close-to-right. They hate giving up and prefer it when we are told to solve it either in groups or as individuals before the next class. I love this too because in the process of dealing with questions like that, I gain more understanding.

But still, I couldn’t stop asking myself if all this was really worth it? Some exercises (especially quantitative) would stop at nothing to make certain you were [almost] insane. Some of them are unnecessarily long and confusing. Sometimes they make me ache. Sometimes they make me want to walk up to the Lecturer and ask ‘aren’t we wasting our time Mr.?’

I didn’t keep these thoughts to myself. In a discussion with peers and academics, someone once told me:

You may be wondering how relevant all these will be when you eventually start working…

Some of these things may never come your way in life again. They are just meant to broaden your mind, to widen your horizon.

He really got me on that.

With time, I realized that this is not about calculations alone, it cuts across all areas of study. All other subject or courses that are theoretical in nature have their own uniqueness in the way they prompt the minds of students. As a Nigerian student, I’ve grown to appreciate its system of education– the interdisciplinary system. For instance, I, as an Accounting student must take on some courses that are not necessarily related to my course of study. Yet they enable me to be more flexible within my given field on the grounds that no knowledge is wasted.

Specialism is good, but sometimes it’s not enough for students undergoing moulding. Students should be experienced in other areas so they can raise questions beyond that which they know or think they should know (this doesn’t make them any less likely to achieve their desired career). The harshness of life, it’s peeving shortness, the brutality that comes with it, and then, amidst all this only the fittest survive. Why is life then this way? What can be done to foil this? All these philosophical thoughts and questions whose answers at times are questionable therefore lead to: answers, questions; answers, questions; answers, questions….

Then there are the case studies. Lived and unlived cases common in most fields of study, and research projects which are not so much about– though most likely to be linked to– what course one studies in school. They are not designed to enable you to arrive at a definite answer too quickly, before dawn, but for thinking it through, reasoning it out with the mind, sometimes going to the field, sometimes going on class excursions, sometimes found in extra-curricular activities and group discussions which come up with possible solutions, conclusions or recommendations. Case studies are not so much about building the student into a perfect work machine, but about broadening and creating prepared minds, resonating the complex thinking and metacognitive skills of students.

If education only focused on preparing students for working life, then it would be an injustice and this would not be so different from the informal way of acquiring knowledge and skills whose main purpose is to prepare the apprentice for work. We are in an era in which broadened minds are required instead, and this is surely where education should fit in. Working life brings the role of students after graduation to the public service, industry or commerce. Giving too much concern to this new role will work negatively on the growth of many economies, especially where unemployment is high. This shows that the future is at stake and it is time to reinvent the educational system and the role it should play on students.

Research and Development, especially in entrepreneurial studies (in this context), is the best securer of both the future of the students and the economy. Business creation and growth (which is part of this) instils innovative skills in students. Making entrepreneurship and innovation a compulsory study for all universities (regardless of the students’ course of study) would breed a milestone, both in theory and practice. Practice in this sense should be verbatim. Students being taught practical skills based on choice. This is for the goal of widening the students’ horizon, preparing their minds before graduation; as it is often said that ‘life begins after graduation.’ This means that after graduation, students are not only prepared for the work which may not even exist for them, but their minds are made open to accept any disappointment without being broken, to welcome any progressive development and make the best of it. This can probably be achieved with a funding scheme from the government in favour of graduates with good business proposals, creating more goals that lead to the creation of jobs and generating more revenue through products and services that contributes to the GDP and GNI.

A question may however arise: of what good is a broadened mind without a job to balance the effect? Well, this can be likened to a case where, ceteris paribus, someone who has acquired the necessary knowledge (or skills) for work, and then the other, same as the former, but now with a vast scope, a mental fitness that’s beyond just the skills. Now let’s keep work at the other end, after the education ‘stuff.’ If both start working, who performs better? This is why, besides ‘Godfatherism’, some workers never get past certain levels in the work place as they lack the competence required.

Broadening the minds of students to me should be considered fundamental to the mission of any educational system put in place; there’s never been a better role for education than this. It prepares students for challenges and if they could see the slightest opportunity, weighing their strengths against their weaknesses and maximizing each as such. With all things being equal, they should enjoy an even better working life.

Perhaps that’s why this will never stop crossing my mind:

Just any sane person can work, but of what match is a Mechanic who acquired his skills through apprenticeship to someone who was trained as a Mechanical Engineer in a higher institution of learning after undergoing the mental beating in thermodynamics (basic and applied), fluid mechanics, applied or engineering mechanics, design of machines, electricity and the jargons called mathematics and physics?

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