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A Degree? A Mentor? – Which Is Best?

A Degree? A Mentor? – Which Is Best?

800 400 Oliver Kagwe
Reading Time: 4 minutes

What’s the difference between; Susan who completes high school and joins Nairobi University and graduates with a bachelors degree in ABC, and Oliver who finishes high school and goes straight into mentorship?

Well, Susan is better placed than Oliver. She has gone to a prestigious university and spent more than 4 years learning a craft. She has further graduated with an honorable academic certificate – she has ‘the papers’. Susan has a high regard of herself and her education and she hopes that as soon as she has graduated, she will get absorbed quickly in the job market. Her parents are so proud of her. Susan’s village celebrates her, and she is even being used as an example to inspire other children in her village. She can now refer herself to as a ‘learned fellow’ – you know all the ‘prestige’ that comes with that name.

Oliver on the other hand is wasting his time. He has probably been influenced by his bad peers not to go to school and chances are that he is abusing drugs. He will have to got to school at some point because ‘papers are important’. He should have first gone to university and gotten his ‘papers’ then done that mentorship thing he is saying. The path he has chosen is difficult. No one is really talking about him because there is nothing unique that he has done, and if he does not join university at least for a certificate, he will have a miserable life.

That is what society will say, and it is all WRONG!

While society might argue that Susan is better placed than Oliver, Oliver is actually better placed than Susan. Confused? Let me explain.

In Kenya today, school is compulsory. According to Kenyan parents, in order for you to be successful, you have to go through all levels of school education and must graduate with a degree in something. Kenyan teachers will tell you that if you do not score an A, you will fail in life. Previously, the government had a system of education(8.4.4) that subjected students to major exams (KCPE & KCSE) where if you failed to score a C+ and above, you were termed a failure. Sometimes even that C+ was not considered passing. You only pass and exam in Kenya when you score an A.

The education we get in this schools is not wholesome. It teaches us to abide by the rules and not question them. It teaches us to cram theories that were created by people but doesn’t teach us to create our own theories based on our understanding. It teaches memorize rather than understand. It says, ‘This is a problem. A similar one has been there before though so don’t worry yourself. If you use this approach developed by someone else, you might solve it.” It should rather be saying, “This is a problem. Break it down first and understand it. Try to device your own solutions to and when you get stuck, here are reference points.”

This education that our parents dearly cling to does not teach us to be creative. We rarely get the chance to intensively use our greatest asset – our brain. Furthermore, we are taught values more in theory than in practice. That is why teacher Mary favors student Samantha because her daddy gave her an extra penny and prefect Anthony will not write Andrew in the noisemakers list because Andrew bought him some sweets. I say theory because Ms. Elizabeth who teaches a boys school will wear a blouse that will leave all her cleavage out, a scanty skirt and damn sexy heels without being considerate of the high testosterone boys she will stand in front of – and yet she expects them to pass in her subject. Take a look at the ‘prestigious’ University of Nairobi students and their leaders (eg Babu Owino) if you want proof that there are no values taught in school. You should not then be surprised that the people who graduate end up being the corrupt individuals that we see.

In Kenya today, 7 million Kenyans are unemployed according to Kenya National Bureau of Statistcs (KNBS). Many young people are graduating every year only to go tarmacking for many days.

Oliver is in a better position. Mentorship. During the middle ages, abled young people would attach themselves to older and wiser people who would teach them various skills such as blacksmithing, candle-making, shoe-making etc. They would learn directly from the masters, eventually acquiring the skills. They would become so good that they would later fill the void left by their masters when they retire. Examples of great people whose lives were immensely influenced by mentors include Steve Jobs (Apple CEO) who was mentored by Mike Markkula, Mark Zuckerberg & Steve Jobs, Bill Gates & Warren Buffet and the list is endless.

Oliver has a person to guide him through his quarter-life crisis. He has someone to not only support him career-wise but also emotionally. He learns by way of practice rather than theory. He is taught first hand the importance of values before talent. Such values include forming meaningful relationships, the art of patience, problem solving, innovation etc.

With the right attitude, young Oliver will have acquired enough skills to stand on his own. He will further have an important network of people who will continue to support him.

We should take time to weigh between the two methods of learning. Maybe we can even do the two simultaneously. The skilled people in our society should find time and show the will to teach young individuals. We the young people should develop a hunger to learn new things so that we motivate someone to get out of their busy schedule and guide us.

I am not saying that we should not go to school. I am saying that we should follow our passions and find people who have excelled in our chosen fields to guide us. They say experience is the best teacher, and that nothing beats learning from someone who has gone through something similar to what you are going through.

3 comments
  • We need to invest more in our mentality change on this issue, not just to empower and push mentorship, but to try and restructure the whole concept of need for higher learning not just “so that I can get a well paying job.”

  • We need to invest more on mentality change and restructuring of the whole concept of higher learning, in order to achuve a win win kind of situation. No longer should the “job” be the main focus, but talent, passion, ambition and desire for growth.

  • One of my favourite blogs. Great work

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