Devaluing education is a disservice to Kenya
Posted Saturday, July 14 2012 at 18:24
In the wake of the High Court ruling that was featured in this column last week on educational requirements for our leaders, many voices are emerging to offer a rationale for the practically illiterate leader.
In arguments that are slowly becoming shouting contests between the educational haves and have-nots, examples are being trotted out to demonstrate that having higher education would not add value to most leaders, and may indeed be a drag on one’s leadership abilities.
We have been harangued about the academic ineptitude of leaders such as Sir Winston Churchill of the United Kingdom, among many other leaders who allegedly thrived without higher education.
Numerous examples are given of highly educated leaders with multiple degrees who have been spectacular failures in their government dockets.
The implication here is that higher education, and especially an academic degree, is often a handicap that should not be extolled when it comes to leadership abilities. In sum, going to school is pointless to one who is destined to become a great leader.
This argument is not only restricted to the political sphere. Many leaders and innovators in industry are notably school dropouts, with prime examples being information technology mavericks like Bill Gates and the late Steve Jobs.
Entrepreneurs like Sir Richard Branson are further trotted out to buttress the argument that academic achievement is nothing but a hindrance to success in life.
It is time to interrogate the accuracy of these assertions lest they be accepted as gospel truth. Importantly, there is a reason why only the successful “illiterate” politicians are cited.
When an illiterate leader makes a fool of himself, he is quickly forgotten and no one is surprised at his ineptitude, given his lack of education. Similarly, when an educated leader performs his job to perfection, nobody makes a fuss about it.
However, people notice when one bucks this trend and does something unexpected. For instance, a village buffoon who fortuitously solves a complex problem is instantly elevated to the position of village hero, all his past indiscretions forgotten.
A monument is erected in his honour and he is held up as evidence that one does not need an education to solve complex problems.
Similarly, when the neighbourhood “professor” finally meets a problem that stumps him, everybody takes the opportunity to remind all that will listen that intelligence or “book smarts” cannot solve all problems.
Indeed some even go as far as suggesting that school learning makes it difficult to solve these problems. Considering the so-called successful entrepreneurial dropouts, a lot of detail is often glossed over.
Many of them dropped out of school because they are clever entrepreneurs, and not because dropping out of school would itself make them successful. Most dropped out to pursue passions they already had, and did not need schooling to develop.
In any population there are persons who do not conform to the norm, and such mavericks cannot be said to be representative of their communities.
Encouraging young people to drop out of school or disregard education because some illiterate leaders and entrepreneurs were successful is therefore disingenuous.
Even the societies that spawned the successful “illiterati” currently place a massive premium on education.
Dr Lukoye Atwoli is secretary, Kenya Psychiatric Association, and lecturer, Moi University School of Medicine. email@example.com; twitter @LukoyeAtwoli