While employment isn't guaranteed after graduation, let's cease anti-education talks

By Ooro George | Wednesday, Dec 18th 2019 at 13:17
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December is usually characterized by lots of activities. It is not only a festive season but also the month in which most Kenyan universities conduct graduation ceremonies.

My fellow comrades will concur with me that graduation day is the most exhilarating and anticipated date in the academic calendar. It is a one single, all-encompassing gathering, often held in a large open space commonly christened as the graduation square.

A significant and often joyous rite of passage, graduands put on funny-looking black gowns hired specially for the day -- which most of them will never use again. Contemporary culture tends to treat educational success as a sign of moral worth: that's why admiring and adoring parents, grandparents, aunties, and uncles turn up to share the joy. 

It is the day that, after years of blood, sweat, and tears, comrades are conferred with degrees, awarded with diplomas and certificates -- optimistic and full of life, they are given the power to read! In Kenya and other commonwealth member states, graduation simply means recognizing the academic work you've already completed. In the US, such ceremonials are usually referred to as commencement, meaning looking forward to the adult life that beckons and awaits.

But after all the razzmatazz, the harsh reality dawns. What next out there? Am I well connected? Will I stand out from the rest in job applications? Do I have enough skill sets? Will I "tarmac" for long? And if I do, what will people say about me? These are some of the common questions that pop up in every graduate's mind. Social pressures weigh heavily on the shoulders of the twenty-something-year-old graduate. With lack of jobs and financial capital to venture into entrepreneurship being at an all-time high, and with apparently no hope in sight, the doors of depression widely open.

During its recently-held fourteenth graduation ceremony, Masinde Muliro University churned out thousands of graduates to the already saturated market and at a time when job prospects for newly minted graduates are far from abundant or secure. So did Kibabii, Maseno, JOOUST, UOE and many others. They worked smart in high school, secured university placement, spent another four to six years putting in hours of study, and applied themselves to a singular focus only to end up languishing in joblessness or underpaying jobs. Such is the prevailing circumstances young scholars fall victim to.

Do you remember 'First Class Betrayal' the TV feature story of Kelvin Ochieng Obede, a homeless and jobless top-tier student, who scored an 'A' in KCSE and graduated with a first-class honors degree in Actuarial Science? His situation has been replicated by thousands of other top-performing graduates across the country who suffer the same fate. For a high-achieving graduate like Kelvin, these hallowed grades promised a salaried reward aplenty in the working world. But things on the ground were different. 

It is an incontestable truth that education is no longer the prerequisite for landing a plum white-collar job at a leading blue-chip company. Statistics by Kenya Private Sector Alliance show that the bulk of businesses operating in the country are run by entrepreneurs who have not attained any university education. The data from the latest survey on micro, small, and medium enterprises indicates that university graduates rank lowest in the establishment of a business. A number of entrepreneurs have built successful empires through hard work and determination -- despite leaving school without a university degree to their name. The study clearly indicates that higher education and good grades do not directly translate to lifelong success.

Factual as it may be, the report by Kepsa should not discourage and dampen the spirits of young scholars burning the midnight oil on campus. It should not be used as a reference by dream killers who peddle the washed-up and ill-driven mantra, "Doing Well in School is Nothing to be Proud of."

In a Saturday Nation column dated July 27, 2019, Njoki Chege vehemently debunks such a narrative as " a flawed argument; it promotes and supports a culture of ignorance and mediocrity over and above undermining the transformative power of education." In her rant, she admits of admiring movers and shakers who have managed life without papers, qualifications, or a skill set and survived only through their shrewdness. "However, such people are the exception, not the norm." She writes.

Even though the notion that rewards should go to the most intelligent isn't a sign of a fair society, but truly unjust one, pursuing knowledge still remains a valuable endeavor. Many a time, graduates have been called out for their lack of open-mindedness and urged to wake up from their slumber by accepting the lowest temporary jobs in order to gain experience. Does it make sense for a law graduate to be recruited as an intern in a law firm only to be assigned the duty of preparing and serving tea to fellow learned friends? That's why many daringly turn down a job offer or quit in less than 24 hours. It is because graduates leave school imbued with a desire to tackle intractable problems of their profession.

Being woke is a vital consideration for both employers and employees looking to the future of work -- especially when it comes to the younger generations, research from Henley Business School shows. The institution surveyed workers from four different demographics - Gen Z, Millennials, Generation X, and Baby Boomers - to explore the extent to which an organisations' social values influence decisions on where to work. When hunting for a new job, 84 percent of people said an employer who cares about its impact on society is an important consideration, with the same percentage looking for organisations that hold similar values to them.

The research suggests this is particularly important for employers looking to attract new young talent -- nearly two-thirds of (63 percent) of Gen-Z employees want care that helps them make a positive impact on society. More than half (53 percent) of Gen- Z feel they need to be able to express values that are important to them through their career, and more than a quarter (29 percent) find it annoying when employees don't share the same values.

The phrase 'start small' has become far-fetched. Does it implore that an optometry graduate should settle for an Sh13,520 salary at a medical facility in the name of 'starting from somewhere'? It makes a mockery for a person who spent five years on campus to earn equally with a house help who most probably dropped out of school in class five. Not that that nanny-duties, car-washing, and tea-girl chores are are not respectable jobs. But employers should assign fresh graduates tasks that add value to their output as interns and also remunerate them decent wages.

The modern-day Kenyan graduate is 'woke' -- aware of the social issues of injustice and equality. They are empowered to fight for their rightful space --never to settle for the less. And that's what education does, it enlightens!

Ooro George is a Communications and Media (diploma) student - Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology (MMUST).

Phone: 0704478565

Twitter: @OoroGeorge

Blogs: oorogeorge.blogspot.com & oorogeorge.co.ke

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