The ‘diploma’ disease is eating up our education system

Africa has always been a continent of disease, poverty and hunger. Rwanda has not been spared these numerous problems.

Africa has always been a continent of disease, poverty and hunger. Rwanda has not been spared these numerous problems.

Malaria is still out-competing most diseases although most times it gets competition from Ebola, cholera or even meningitis.

However, diseases are not only limited to health but also the education field. And I am not talking about mental health. There is something that education practitioners call the ‘diploma disease’. Others refer to it as the certification syndrome.

The diploma disease is not a very old phenomenon since it is related to formal education that was only introduced to Africa by the missionaries and the Arab scholars in the early 1800s.

However, of late this disease has grown from being a disease to an epidemic and is now endemic. This disease is characterised by an unusual craving for certification by learners.

Such learners are more interested in acquiring documentary evidence that they have studied and even passed a certain academic programme or task. The goal of such learners is to finish with evidence on paper as compared to evidence in the head.

With this crave, learners religiously attend the lessons, but it gets very tricky when it comes to the end of the course and a certificate is not forthcoming. Certificates of some kind are expected by such people. These may include certificate of completion or even a certificate of attendance.

We are now living in a world of competition and the demand for people to take on additional courses in order to boost chances of landing a better job are now astronomical. After a university degree, people enrol for computer classes, driving lessons, language classes, and several small courses like how to start/run a business, and many others.

Employers are always demanding several qualifications and skills before giving out a job. This causes a scarcity of jobs. A job advert for 20 posts will attract hundreds of desperate job seekers. To address this influx, employers raise the mark by calling for extra qualifications. One is expected to have a degree, a post graduate qualification, computer skills and driving skills.

Consequently, many adults are not leaving school as they try to accumulate numerous certificates and degrees as expected by employers. Many organisations here expect job seekers to have a fluent command of English, French and Kinyarwanda language.

This is a hard feat to achieve, and so most people have to enrol for language classes sooner or later. Now the downside to this whole issue is that certification is given too much precedence at the expense of mastery of skill.

For example, many learners are more interested in acquiring a certificate to show that they have completed a three-month course in basic computer applicatios than learning how to use a computer without a mouse.

The focus is then just put on completion of the course instead of serious acquisition of skills being taught. It is for such reasons that you find many people possessing a pile of certificates even from two-day seminars and workshops.

I know of many computer wizards who do not even have a certificate in Microsoft word. They simply keep practising and mastering new things without thinking of certificates. It is really such people who should get the jobs.

At the interview, you are likely to be asked to demonstrate what you can do, not the certificates you have accumulated over the years.

For example, everyone knows that there are good writers who have never been to a journalism class, or even great singers who cannot tell the difference between a clef and a crochet.

Do not forget that Bill Gates never stayed in school long enough to get the much-coveted degree certificate from Havard University.

My advice, therefore, is that learners should focus their energies on acquiring and mastering skills instead of waiting for certificates.

In some countries like Nigeria and nearby Uganda, certificates of all kinds can be forged at a small price. However, skills are not easy to forge.

Employers too should look out for those who have the ability to demostrate mastery of a skill instead of the guy with a briefcase of certificates.

It is often stressed that you should always show what you can; do not tell what you can do. The certificates only tell.
This diploma/certificate disease is an institutional cancer that needs to be addressed by changing the attitudes of both learners and educationists.

Contact: ssenyonga@gmail.com

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