Academic certificate is a simple receipt of the attainment of specific academic accomplishment and is however, narrowly focused on the outcome of specific examinations for which the holder is marked and graded according to his or her performance.
Certificates reflect instance of the holder’s performance in a particular context of academic training over a specific period of time. Academic training whether primary, secondary or at tertiary levels essentially dwell on the specific outlines of study and focuses on the reward of student’s output which certificates are the holder’s receipt. What academic training does, for which certificates are testimonials is to prepare the mind for autonomous and independent development. The most important outcome academic training is not mere certificates but in the development of a sound mind driven by original and critical thinking that exposes one to innovations, imaginations and creativity.
The aggregate performance of academic training receipted in the award of certificate, are in most cases not reflective of the rigour of learning.
However, while certificate remain and would remain for the foreseeable future, the measure of the holder’s academic output for the specific grade attained, but certainly in the narrow sense of academic training, the broad development of the mind, which reflects in the depth of thought, acute sensibilities and complex and consistent knowledge production cannot be certificated.
Restless minds turned-innovators sometimes could not adapt themselves to the routine of formal schooling and drop out to explode their talents and deep thinking into critical innovations. Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates of Microsoft and even the late Steve Job of Apple were exemplary restless minds who could not find accommodation to the routine of formal school. Even the deeply philosophical and politically charged international singer, the late Robert Nesta Marley once said that if he had been to any formal school, he would have come out a damned fool.
The Russian revolutionary and the founder of the defunct Soviet red army, Leon Trotsky, prolific writer of unparallel depth could not reconcile the rottenness of Russian Tsarism of his time and his revolutionary instinct to upend it, to the then prevailing formal education. He shunned formal schooling to pursue revolutionary career along which he consumed and produced knowledge than any certificated professor of any discipline. Trotsky’s works to this day remain a fountain spring that illuminates the challenges of contemporary society.
The recent controversy over President Buhari’s certificate, which though, politically motivated is not necessary. A former military head of state, enrolled in the army during colonial rule would not have risen to the officer corp of colonial army if he was not qualified. Even now and throughout the odyssey of his struggle partisan politics, his wit at public banters does not betray a dull mind. Even a secondary school certificate is by far lower than the aggregate exposure of President Buhari through experience gained in all critical sectors of our national life, which includes security, economy, governance etc.
The noisy demand for his school certificate as evidence for his qualification for the political office he aspires to, does more to expose the little minds of his traducers and the unintelligent strategem to expose him to ridicule.
While certificate is receipt of academic performance accomplished, to fetishize it as the ultimate expression of intelligence is itself, unintelligent. In recent times, the obsession of certificates, including those awarded for no academic performance except for merely been around, like the NYSC discharge certificate for which a competent finance minister was hounded out of office, has become a brutal political tool, on which prospective victims are viciously hacked.
The impact of the current pastime in the political obsession of academic certificates is to deepen the national malady, where certificate-worship over competence and performance is rife among youths.
Today, students in universities, other tertiary institutions and even secondary schools deploy all kind of shenanigans including bribery, threat and blackmail of teachers to obtain high marks leading to award of certificates. The current obsession of certificates, through used as political tool, is most likely to exacerbate the desperation to acquire certificates among youths without the commensurate academic inputs, even narrowly defined.
While it is clearly admitted that certificates are necessary, because it is the concrete testimonial for a certain academic attainment it is a foundation to improve learning and grow.
The emphasis on certificate may pose the danger about certificates been the end of learning. Learning is life-long process because it is through learning that perspectives are refined, sharpened and deepened. It is actually an error for those who referred their professional colleagues as “learned friends.” It should rather be “learning friends” because the permanent hunger and taste for knowledge is the real stuff of scholarship. The ancient Greek philosopher, Socrates was proclaimed by the Greek oracle of Delphi as the wisest man on earth but the ever modest Socrates retorted that the only thing he knows is that knows nothing.
For any society in desperate need to develop; knowledge acquisition and production, the handmaid for innovation and creativity are encouraged to roam free and wide, without the inhabitations of intrusive formalism.
Mr. Onunaiju is director for Centre for China Studies, Abuja.