In my previous post I told you how I had started this online Masters programme but put a halt to it two modules down the line. I promised to explain why I even started the programme when I didn’t really need the degree to progress in my (current) career path, and when I didn’t really want to learn what I was learning anyway… Well, I panicked. That’s the simple and embarrassing truth!
See, everybody seems to be getting a Masters these days. I’ve even heard people say that a bachelor’s degree is as worthless as a secondary school diploma a few years ago. Furthermore, ‘advanced qualifications’ seem to be the norm to get a ‘good’ job anywhere these days. Then there’s this intelligence and wisdom that seem to ooze out of some (focus on the ‘some’) people with masters degrees… To be brief, I got struck by the fear of missing out!
A few months of reading and assignments into my programme, I realised I wasn’t really learning anything new. Or at least, I wasn’t getting my money’s worth. Well, the two modules which I managed to complete did actually help structure a few things in my head; something valuable I must admit (unstructured knowledge is sometimes equal to no knowledge at all) but still not worth the thousands of pounds I was paying for the course. This made me wonder if some degrees aren’t overpriced and sometimes overrated.
One of the fields I’ve always had an interest in is development. Cliché (and I-want-to-be-a-hero-ish), you might think. For some time, I’ve been thinking about people who have been recognised for having taken their countries or communities from almost nothing to notable levels of development. Naturally, the first person to come to my mind was President Paul Kagame of Rwanda. Mostly because of the publicity he has received Worldwide; but also because Rwanda somewhat has the same history and social, cultural and economic settings as Burundi. Even our coloniser thought that Burundi was “Urundi Rwanda” (another Rwanda). Therefore, whatever worked there is quite likely to work here. The little research that I did on the President didn’t reveal any University degree in ‘Development Studies’.
Then I googled Meles Zenawi; Ethiopia’s former Prime Minister, a man responsible to the recent rapid economic advancement of his country. The research revealed that he got an MBA in 1995, the year he became Prime Minister (he had been President for four years before that), and a Masters in Economics in 2004. Before getting into politics, the man had been studying for a degree in medicine, which he didn’t complete.
Then I took a few steps back and observed a man I knew better: my father – yes, him again. Almost everybody I’ve met who knows or has worked with him believes that he’s a senior (with a Masters and all that) Economist. He actually did Law at University; but most, if not all, of his career involved dealing with economic, transport, development, administrative and procurement issues… and he has been good at it.
What I realised is that you don’t have to have a degree in a field to actually excel in it; though most of the time professional guidance and training may be necessary.
About a month ago I asked – on twitter – why somebody would try to make me believe that I need a ‘Development Studies’ degree to do what Kagame did. A friend got back to me saying that Kagame was successful because he hired people who knew about the implications of development to execute his vision. He also pointed out that, for the collaboration to work, the President had to be humble enough to see his staff as teammates and to accept guidance from those who had deeper knowledge about certain issues. True. Meaning that Kagame had to work with people who were qualified in management of resources; of people; of information; of technology; people who can build houses; roads; know the best practices in growing food; public relations; national security… and many other things, to be able to do what he did.
My question on Twitter grew into a conversation with another tweep who reminded me that education is really about growing and ‘stretching oneself’. She said that education was never really about employment and cited a few examples of people who had ended up being bosses in fields they weren’t initially trained in. Meaning that learning doesn’t always take place in school; it can result from learning-by-doing or working with people who are knowledgeable in the field of interest.
With regards to my dilemma concerning what field I should pursue my education in, she urged me to first figure out what I really wanted to learn, and then see whether I needed formal education to learn or if there were other routes. She advised me to stop worrying about what the World expects from me – they’ll move the goalposts forever, she said – and to concern myself with what I really wanted. Best advice I’ve had in a long time!
However, there is still an unanswered question: what plus do advanced degrees have over professional experience combined with normal (I don’t like the word ‘undergraduate’; it sounds demeaning and ‘not enough’, which I disagree) degrees? Whilst I accept that some professions – i.e. medical doctors, university professors, legal practitioners – require ‘extra’ qualifications, I do not understand why ‘further education’ is becoming the new norm. Does it mean that the normal curriculum has become redundant? If that’s the issue, how about fixing it instead of creating standards that require people to spend money they do not have?