“I think it really is tragic, spending the better part of your foundational years within one institution of
learning or another and still being unable to make anything of all the knowledge you have acquired.
Sadly, most of us realize rather too late, the colossal waste constituted by our misplaced priorities to
our time, effort and money. There has got to be more to education than just cramming facts and
memorizing definitions, more to succeeding than just coming out in the top ten. I daresay this truth
mostly comes only when the young ‘soon-to-be-graduate’, in a reflective mood, becomes
apprehensive about ‘life after school’.”
The Nigerian educational system is flawed. This very conclusion, which is a painfully obvious fact, still finds itself being the topic of heated debates and the “commonplace rhetoric” within and around institutions of learning. From a tender age, we are taught to focus more on grades and awards and less on understanding underlying principles and applying them to real life situations. And although there have been considerable and for the most part, slow and steady improvements in standards and infrastructure, the fact still remains that we have a long way to go. This brings me to the main point I want to establish.
“Even if we find somewhere to push the blame, it won’t make the problem go away.”
If the school you attended (or if you went to school at all) mattered, then every graduate of Harvard (or any other Ivy League university) should be on the Forbes list of the world’s most wealthy people. This is clearly not the case and although my intent is not to excuse the underperformance of the government, I am diverting our attention to the immaterial aspects of the cause of our education related problems. Whether or not the government is doing as much as it should is not the (main) problem. The issue lies in the fact that Nigeria is full of people who know so much and do so little. And so it is not the problem of not having knowledge, but not applying (or not being able to apply) it. The value system we are born into worships accomplishments, but not accomplishments in the real sense of the word, but accolades and titles. It’s all about the certificate. Everything ends when you get to wear the invisible ‘I-went-to-school’ badge. If I had a dollar for every time I heard someone say, “Let me just get this certificate. A ‘two-two’ is enough for me. I’m going into business”, I would give Dangote a run for his money. It’s this mindset that chokes the creative energy in a lot of people.
People will tell you to hang in there. “Work hard at school”, they’ll say, “You will graduate soon and then you’ll be free.” Don’t believe them, it’s a trap!
When I stumbled across the above statement about a year ago, I got scared. I began to re-evaluate the three years I had spent in school. I had dropped a lot of things I really loved doing just to ‘make more time for schoolwork’. I used to tutor Mathematics, play the keyboard and was just getting a hang of oil painting. Ironically, my grades kept dropping despite the drastic measures I had taken. A classmate remarked one day, “Debbie, your life is like a triangle. School, home and Church.” I had felt proud then, thinking it meant I was extremely focused, only later to realize how much time I had lost and how I had missed out on a lot of experiences and opportunities. There is nothing more frightening than being only a few months to your graduation and not having the slightest idea what you will do with your life afterward.
Akan Nelson, who is a recent graduate from the University of Rochester NY, wrote about this in his blog (akannelson.com) sometime last month.
College was all about performance. It should have been about intellectual growth and skill building, but it’s hard to focus on serious learning when 50% of your final grade rests on one exam. I spent too much of my college career proving my intelligence. The tests and final papers were all proofs. I chose classes according to my strengths, and too many times I ignored classes I was interested in. I wrote learnt material, I got fantastic grades — it felt great.
But in my quiet moments I knew I was spending too much time being smart and not enough time getting smarter. I was working with a performance mindset when I should have been working with a growth mindset.
Although this shows that this is not a problem particular to Nigerian higher institutions alone, I am narrowing my scope to familiar territory.
What is ‘The Fulcrum’?
Why waste time proving over and over how great you are, when you could be getting better? Why hide deficiencies instead of overcoming them? Why look for friends or partners who will just shore up your self-esteem instead of ones who will also challenge you to grow? And why seek out the tried and true, instead of experiences that will stretch you? The passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it’s not going well, is the hallmark of the growth mindset. This is the mindset that allows people to thrive during some of the most challenging times in their lives.
More than ever, as I work in the real world, where success isn’t as clearly defined as meeting a final paper deadline or getting a 91 on a test, the importance of maintaining a growth mindset has become increasingly apparent.
In one world, effort is a bad thing. It, like failure, means you’re not smart or talented. If you were, you wouldn’t need effort. In the other world, effort is what makes you smart or talented
I believe the fulcrum is the place of Understanding - the element of balance in educating professionals in the built environment and just about any other field there is. Between knowledge and application lies understanding. Knowing a thing should not be top on our priority list. Akan Nelson calls it the Growth Mindset, as against the Performance Mindset. You see, people don’t get that if you take time to grasp concepts, search out their applications in real life situations, their limitations and unexplored potentials, it would be absolutely impossible for you to fail. This is hard work because most times, the nature of your course load will not afford you the time to read as wide. But if you can stretch yourself just a little bit, you will find the time to squeeze in enough out-of-the-box information to give you ‘edge’. This principle helped me develop interest in a lot of courses even when they became quite tiresome. Sometimes at the library I would get up and browse the shelves or check out websites on my phone (my all-time favourites are Encyclopedia Britannica, eHow, WikiHow, About.com and Wikipedia). “But what if you learn all those things and none of it comes out in the exam?” Like I said, you are not doing this to do better on a test; you are doing it to attach a greater sense of value to yourself by increasing your depth.
I am currently on my 6month SIWES training (Industrial Training or IT) and last week, we started work on one of the roundabouts here in Niger State. The heavy rain of months past had caused the monument, consisting of sheet metal (flat metal plates) and tubular steel (‘poles’) to form a stack of books, to come crashing down. The renovation involves working with structural steel and reinforced. Funny, I couldn’t remember any of the formulas from Structures class but I was able to follow the construction process. I was able to ask the right questions and relate with site workers even though I have hardly any experience with steelwork construction. Also, applying lessons from Building Components and Methods (the most ‘hardcore’ undergraduate Architecture course), I was able to interpret the section and detail drawings, and even pointed out a mistake to the carpenter in charge of formwork! I was glad that all those days we had to read ‘Chudley’ and ‘Barry’ and learn detail drawings (and specifications) by heart paid off in the long run.
As a final point, I believe that whether or not you want to practice architecture, you should still give school your best shot. I have classmates who actually never wanted to study architecture. Some fell in love with it along the line but many others are just itching to finally be done with school. I was talking to one of my classmates last semester and I was stunned when he told me he did not like architecture AT ALL; he had always wanted to study Biochemistry. I was shocked because not only does he work extremely hard; he is also amongst the top ten performers in a class of over a hundred! I was far too astonished to ask how he ended up in architecture in the first place. Moral of the story? The most important thing is building a reputation of excellence. If you can commit to distinction in a field that you either are not interested in, or one that stretches every mental and physical fibre in your body, then there would be not a single iota doubt that you can thrive and succeed under any circumstance.