• Friday, December 08, 2023
businessday logo


Unnecessary fuss about education


 One of my younger ones is very football fascinated (please, note that I am avoiding the use of the word obsessed). Every time he holds a newspaper, it’s the last three pages he’s looking out for, games, TV programmes, everything he reaches out for as entertainment is football related. It didn’t seem like a challenge in the first few years until we found out he was using every spare moment he had in school to play football. He was using the few minutes before he is picked up after school; his break time, that 30 minutes he is given to catch his breath, make up for any missed notes or even interact with others. Then, it got worse, missing a game at school had become equivalent to having malaria.

His father, our Martial Chief, thought a discussion was best in order to explain the new football curtailing measures. This meeting objective was to help him understand why he had to prioritise his studies over football for now, and ultimately why achieving a balance was essential for everything in life.

Being merely a bystander, I was up in arm on my task within the discussion area, when I heard ‘why is everyone fussing so much about school, when all I want is to be a professional footballer?’ “Dad, Messi, Fabregas and Rooney didn’t go to school, and look how successful they are.” I wasn’t sure where he got his definition of success from, I was hoping that he at least meant the amount of applause they got when they scored on the field, I was hoping my younger brother or his football club mates hadn’t helped him to a strange definition of success before I did. Then, I heard his dad start a careful explanation about education serving as a platform to do other things in life, about education being just a tool to open up your mind; gives you a bit more competitive edge over the next person, about how one needs to have more than your talent these days, etc.

I heard his dad ask what would happen to Messi if he broke his leg today or Rooney if he couldn’t play football again. The speech was clear enough for his age I thought, and I prayed he understood. As my mind returned back to my task, I first muttered a very Nigerian God forbid – that he will consider school a disincentive at such a young age, and then I proceeded to think through the conversation.

Firstly, I thought it a good thing he doesn’t know about Zukerberg, Steve Jobs, and the Richard Bransons’ who had no patience to complete their tertiary education.

I had to confess that sometimes, I secretly wonder how much education did for us? Not primary or secondary, for both should be given. What does tertiary do? Gives us structure, perhaps? Helps us appreciate systems (‘it’s entirely different from the real world system still), helps us start to find ourselves, our voices, perhaps?

A friend once argues very seriously that her Nigerian university education almost did nothing for her. That the books she read on her own, the things she picked up while she travelled within and outside Nigeria, alongside interactions made a lot more difference than her university did. I argue that, first, her school was ‘a hamlet’ university in a village somewhere with few lecturers not keen on living in the village at the time. Still, I tell her I’d bet it gave her some level of skills, whether emotional intelligence or the ‘getting along with people type.’

Again, she insists her vacation jobs and secondary education at Queens College Lagos (her alma matter) did the same things for her. One cannot stop wondering what percentage of tertiary education adds up to one’s success. Each time I read or hear from those unanimously considered successful, none of the ingredient they list covers their tertiary education. At least, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates interviews don’t report what their education set them up to be.

Each time, I hear intuition (Richard Branson says, ‘you just know’) doggedness, I hear early experience with failure, I hear determination, adeptness with numbers, okay, I’ve heard Warren Buffet speak with his alma matter (I believe it was the Wharton School of Pennsylvania), I recall he said something around they being lucky to find themselves in one of the greatest learning places in the world – so we have to agree that his school counts for a lot in his success story, yes.

As I learnt in my after school, there isn’t really one answer for every question, yes? – as all the Richard Bransons’ still needed tertiary attended Steve Ridgeways to build systems that supported their businesses.

I’m not an advocate of not going to school – far from it – basic education is most essential in opening up your mind, to think (which by the way is a most major). I’m just wondering aloud how much value the tertiary one adds overall. The special guest at my post grad school ceremony – had said to us… more than all these (by these; he meant the gowns and the rolls of certificates)….

Be lucky – in his words “luck is that differential between who is successful and who isn’t.” I told my Nigerian classmate that what he was trying to say in his Western way was originally from the bible – about ‘time and chance’ happening to us. That makes a lot of difference too.