When academic excellence is not a sure deal to success

If students are going to pass with flying colours by dabbling in knowledge, which is not so relevant for the challenges of the 21st Century then we are asking too much of them to be successful and relevant

Nicholas Sengoba  

BY Nicholas Sengoba


It is that time of the year when the tension, expectation and anxiety is palpable. The national examination season is on.

It is the preamble to the front page pictures in our main newspapers, to be published early next year. We shall be treated to photos of the successful stars who passed their exams and are on the highway to prosperity.
In preparation, some of the high end private schools in Kampala have given the pupils from Primary One to Six a whole week-break.

This is to provide the Primary Seven candidates a good environment to ‘concentrate and pass with flying colours.’
Understandably, formal education is associated with the promise that if one passes their exams, then they have a bright future.

Nothing drains household incomes like school fees and other dues, which are on the rise with every passing term. Parents have no option, but to fork out these monies, for benefits anticipated in two or more decades to come.
Come that time, it is assumed the parent will be a beneficiary if the skilled child succeeds with a well-paying job.

Also the prestige or reward which comes with the fact that one has added a nurse, teacher, engineer, journalist, or accountant, to the human resource of the world.
What stresses many a parent, is the reality that has unfolded right in front of our eyes over the years. After the heavy investment both in terms of money and time, it is not a sure deal that academic excellence will deliver a ‘successful’ graduate.
Here we define success as a child qualifying with a good degree certificate. Then off to a well-paying job and title.

Marrying and having offspring follows. Next come the material possessions like a car and house plus other investments, to live independently, be productive, dependable and exemplary in society.
We have all seen a child who goes and excels and fits into all the above. They become the envy of many a parent.

But there is also the other case of the child who excels, but falls short on integrity, character and conduct. In these trying economic times, they may fail to get a paying job and suffer the ignominy of living under a parent’s roof and feeding off their pension.

Some might pick up excessive habits like the exaggerated love for wine that will see them fail to maximise their potential, waste away and lead to an early grave. Nothing breaks the heart of a parent, especially when they feel that they tried their best at parenting and guiding a child and then the child ends up below their expectations.
The challenges we have with the promise of formal education in countries like Uganda in the 21st Century are immense. A grave one is the relevance and comprehension of what we are doing in this line.

Most of the expensive private schools in which parents compete to enrol their children (paid for interview started as early as September for placements in January 2018,) have given up all pretenses of giving an all-round education.
There are no playing fields to nurture the sporting talent to give us the next Stephen Kiprotich.

There are no music or dancing lessons (the immensely popular MP Robert Kyagulanyi, aka Bobi Wine, is a musician who rode on the back of music to become a politician) and other extra curricular activities. They simply prepare students to pass with flying colours in the national exam.
Sadly, the syllabus used to prepare the student has not changed much over the years.

The textbooks used in the 60s, 70s, and 80s before the advent, proliferation and heavy reliance on Internet and communication technology, are still the dominant ones.
If students are going to pass with flying colours by dabbling in knowledge, which is not so relevant for the challenges of the 21st Century then we are asking too much of them to be successful and relevant.
Similarly, if our societies and economies are not developed and equipped to challenge graduates to bring the best out of them and to reward those who excel basing on their performance, then the dreams of most of our academic giants will end up in nightmares.
Consider this, if one passes highly, but was not trained in cutting corners which is the order of the day, how do we expect them to be useful?

If getting into suitable job requires one to be from the right ‘ethnic group’ how does that work out for the sake of productivity? If a brain surgeon does not have the basic equipment to carry out their profession why should we blame them if they seek greener pastures elsewhere?
Someone I know came home to build the nation and got a well-paid job as the head of a ‘big’ organisation. He resigned after three months because he did not understand how things here worked. An order came from above to offer a job to someone who did not sit an interview after an elaborate recruitment process had been completed.
That is why at the end of the academic journey, you may not tell the A student from the C student. All of them may end up looking ordinary; competing for the few jobs in government, the NGO and the corporate world.

Mr Sengoba is a commentator on political and social issues. nicholassengoba@yahoo.com
Twitter: @nsengoba

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