When knowledge is not enough

By Femi Odere   |   22 February 2017   |   3:25 am

A cross section of Nigerian undergraduates

His audience was not gathered to hear him narrate some policy initiatives of the Federal Government in which some technical anecdotes would be spewed in order for those eagle-eyed international investors to be convinced that Nigeria’s mining industry is truly ripe to bet on. He wasn’t standing in the hall spearheading a session of the nation’s captains of industries to spread out those development indicators of the Buhari administration. His outing this time was at the main auditorium of the University of Lagos (his alma mater) where he delivered the convocation lecture titled “The Successor-Generation: Reflections on Values and Knowledge in Nation Building” on Monday, January 23, 2017.

In his introduction, Kayode Fayemi pointed out that his presentation would dwell more on pointing the students back to some of life’s key lessons, that are available within a university, which are enough to prepare (them) for life after graduation. Although he may not have specifically mentioned him as his hero in his convocation speech, there’s no denying the fact that Fayemi revered the late Chief Jeremiah Oyeniyi Obafemi Awolowo whom he quoted copiously.

His speech may have been tailor-made for the body of graduating students, but as an intellectual and researcher with the deepest flair for history, which, incidentally, was his academic discipline at the baccalaureate level of the university, Fayemi first ‘walked’ his audience through the educated world with the hope that they may reflect on whether or not the “Ivory Tower” in general and the Nigerian university system in particular are still living up to their billing in a rapidly changing world. He said: “Part of the crisis of our education sector, and higher education in particular, has been the apparent irrelevance of curricular to life experiences; and the gulf between the classroom and society.” He buttressed this gulf with the new definition that the Nigerian society——including the academe——has given to “elitism” which, according to him, “is often used pejoratively and deployed as though it is synonymous with ‘capitalist fat cats’ or a class of oppressive rich.” He said: “Being elite in Nigeria is wrongly measured in terms of raw wealth and conspicuous consumption.” But “in its classical usage” Fayemi corrected, the “elite refers to the enlightened segment of society” and “the terms ‘elite’ and ‘enlightened’ share the same etymological origins. Thus, elitism is actually defined by the reverence for knowledge, the acuity of intellect and the depth of reason.” It is “that segment of society that devotes themselves to the pursuit of knowledge and wisdom” which makes them “society’s problem solvers” by default.

He espoused these key points: “Knowledge is Power, Discipline, Adaptability, Truly Live, Seize the Moment, and Quit Whining,” which are sort of his “collector’s items” because he called them his “six key lessons and life skills that UNILAG taught (him).” Before sharing with the graduating students what he called his “own personal experiences,” Fayemi first implored the universities to “retool” as they, “like the people within them, must embrace change, re-imagine possibilities, and revitalize continuously.” He added that society has the responsibility “to critically reappraise (its) educational institutions and make necessary interventions to ensure they not only have adequate funding, world class physical structures, and functional teaching equipment, but also the right social environment that supports the education of the ‘total man.’”

The first of his “six key lessons” that “Knowledge is Power” which he also referred to as “Learn How to Learn” can be seen as a duality. One is that “the centrality of academics to university life is the…ability to prove that [the student] has learnt what he or she ought to, in accordance with the curriculum, which is the singular criterion for progression from level to level till graduation.” However, this critical first step to becoming the “total man” is where majority of students often fail to get it right from the outset because they “mistake passing exams for acquiring knowledge.” The other component of this duality is to “learn how to learn” which is that the student should “learn the principles behind actually acquiring knowledge.”

“Without discipline, however, knowledge is useless,” he deadpanned. But the real implication of the uselessness of knowledge without discipline soon came into the fore when he stressed that many youngsters of today simply don’t have the self-discipline required, rather, “they are given to blaming everybody but themselves for why things don’t work. As the third “key lessons,” being adaptable is fundamentally important. “A great mistake any student can make is to become so hermitic in the pursuit of excellent grades that he/she fails to robustly interact with other students and learn from them.” He is of the view that adaptability cannot be over-emphasized because “you never know what life would bring your way, and you always have to be in a position to adapt to whatever circumstances you find yourself in.” He reminded the audience to think about the trajectory of his life and said “I studied history and currently find myself in Mining,” a reference to his ministerial portfolio.

On the need for the graduating students to “truly live” by following their passions, Fayemi said “many parents are inclined to encouraging their children to study certain courses in order to become successful in life…(but) your studying certain courses considered lucrative today, might not necessarily guaranty your being gainfully employed tomorrow.” His fifth “key lessons” is to “seize the moment and just do it.” By this he said that “one of the failings of our society is that we don’t give young people enough room to explore their creative abilities and make mistakes early.”

Finally, he said students should “quit whining” as “no one owes (them) anything.” He frowned at what he referred to as “the debilitating entitlement mentality that is commonplace among young people today.” So much food for thught!

Odere is a media practitioner.




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