Education, as the adage goes, is a key to success. To me, though, I would rather call it a ‘golden’ master key. Education is a master key which opens many doors in life. But one would say, we have seen people with no education prospering, does this mean that education is not the only route to prosperity? To that I would answer that prosperity is only single among many doors in life. And in fact, to handle one’s prosperity very well, one needs to get educated. I do not need to give examples of people who never went to school, prospered only for a while and died miserable people. Education, as tiresome as it looks, equips a person with knowledge beyond layman’s comprehension which sustains a person for the rest of their lives. Riches open but a few doors in life. Fame only offers a temporal happiness in life. But education is a lifelong experience; it offers multiple dimensions to life; it renders life less boring; it equips people with knowledge to handle life situations in an intelligent way; it offers aesthetic and intrinsic appreciation of nature…education is something a person needs to open doors in life.
But what is Education?
Having said the above, let us try to define education. Education is that life long learning process leading to change in behaviour. Education does not only happen in class because nature is also a good teacher, but we still need teachers to help us triage knowledge until a time when we are ready enough to sort the knowledge for ourselves. This is the very reason education goes on to the tertiary level.
Tertiary education is interesting. It offers a person a very different perspective of life than secondary or high schools. Here, a student sources and sorts his own information for his learning. Unlike secondary schools where the teacher is the fountain of all knowledge, tertiary education offers a student the chance to read widely, think independently and even challenge the lecturer when he or she sees that the information being given is wrong. At the end of each undergraduate programme, every student is required to do some kind of research or project either independently or in groups to give out the knowledge they have gained on their stay in the varsity. Tertiary education offers various dimensions of life and a person chooses the route he or she wants to take without someone restricting him or her. In essence, it gives a person an entry point into the life long process of learning and innovation. It equips a person with knowledge that will change his or her life but also lives all many other people around the world. It is an education that offers a person the chance to make a change in life, to make an impact on somebody’s life.
In Malawi, a person has to earn himself or herself a place in the public university with an A- star performance. Malawi has a population of about 18 million people but with a few public universities (UNIMA, KUHES, MUBAS, MUST, MZUNI and LUANAR). Over 15 thousand students qualify each year for tertiary education but only close to five thousand students are selected into the public varsities using quota and merit. So, for one to get themselves into the public varsities, he or she has to work extra hard, get dirty, discover the gold and make themselves a golden key out of that.
The road to success is not as easy, but not unattainable one. We have seen people graduate with distinctions at both undergraduate and post graduate levels. One has just to sacrifice themselves and really go into the mud pit, dig for the gold, search for it earnestly, find it covered in mud, clean it and get a gem out of it. Gold never comes on a silver platter, one has to get dirty for it, so is education. Toil for now but you will get paid at the end of it all.
Work hard or work smart?
Now, what does a secondary or high school student do to get himself or herself into the elite varsities in Malawi? The answer is to ‘work smart’. There is a very huge difference between working hard and working smart. Many secondary school students in Malawi prioritise working hard to working smart. In the mining sector, you cannot start digging for gold without doing preliminary studies to confirm the availability of gold on the proposed site. This is smart way of doing things. Hard work would require a mining company to dig everywhere without preliminary studies. Such a company would spend years digging various sites without success. In short, smart people always have a plan, see through it, make a cost benefit analysis and then venture into doing what they want. Hard workers on the other hand just toil aimlessly on everything even on things that will take them nowhere.
What does smart work mean? The bible says ‘‘without vision people perish”. The same applies to education. Without a vision students perish. The first thing is to have a vision. Plan on how to attain that vision then execute the plan. A secondary school student first of all has to know that he or she cannot go into the university without a credit in English. Many student tend to forget this and work extra hard in sciences where they ultimately get distinctions but fail in English, and this is vanity. Say, for a student who wants to pursue a career in medicine, he or she has to be good at science subjects but they should not forget English. In the science subjects, a student reads everything for the sake of knowledge but has to read in a smart way for the areas fertile for exams. It cannot be denied that in Malawi we teach for exams therefore a smart student should know the areas very fertile for exams, and study them smartly. Students who work hard just study for the sake for studying but those who work smart study with a plan to attain their goal. Practice what you study to see it you are making progress, ask for help where you don’t understand, and get dirty for school.
The public varsities are open to everyone. All one can do is work smart, get a good grade and pray earnestly too because to be among the five thousand out the fifteen thousand goes with God’s grace.