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Knowledge accumulation verses college degree: What is the way forward for Africa/developed world?

By Isaac Maloba

To acquire a fair chance at life, one needs a decent education. Education is beyond debate a critical requirement to personal and professional success. Never before in the history of mankind have the illiterates been placed at such a disadvantage as they are with each passing day. Unfortunately, not everyone can go to college. Regardless of the circumstances, life has no sympathies for the weak or the ill prepared. If those who have been deprived of a college education would only make up their minds to get a substitute for it, they would be amazed to see what even the evenings of a few weeks devoted conscientiously to the college studies would accomplish. The irony is that as access to information becomes more easy and affordable; the cost of a college degree is becoming more and more expensive.

 There is an open opportunity to whoever wishes to advance their education. The only requirement is basic reading ability which can be attained from as low as grade three or four primary education. Forget the minimal persuasions that ‘illiterates are equally succeeding’; this is not the case and I will explain why this misguided perception should offer no complacence whatsoever. Education has not and will never be a luxury to success … paper qualifications are already and will continue to be. Education cannot be confined to only the four walls of the classroom. Knowledge is the ultimate prize regardless of whether it is accumulated formally or informally.

The trouble with many of those who lack early opportunities and many others who see no chance for a college course, and say they have no opportunity for self-improvement, is that if they cannot set aside several years for schooling or college, they think it is of no use to try to educate themselves. They do not realize the wealth that exists in spare moments—what can be accomplished in them, the opportunities they offer for repairing the loss of a college education. Even ten or fifteen minutes spent each day in concentrating the mind in thinking, in reading with a purpose, will enlarge your mental capacity and add to your knowledge to an extent of which you have no conception. At the end of the year you will see the change in yourself.

One can attain a college degree at home. Yes, I can boldly repeat that countless time. To demonstrate a decent education, one does not necessarily have to be stamped with the hall mark of Oxford or Cambridge or Harvard. I have severally heard and read a great number of concerns from especially young people who seem to think that the road to success is barred to them owing to defects in their education. To them, I send this message: Never believe that success cannot come your way because you have not been educated in the orthodox and regular fashion. One can actually attain the equivalent of a college degree by dedicated self education and self help. The eternal fact is; the knowledge that a man draws into himself by his own natural desire is what actually counts, because it becomes a living part of him. The nineteenth century made a god of education, and its eminent men placed learning as the foremost influence in life. Considering all sides, there is a difference between ‘a degree’ and ‘knowledge’. Actually what is taught formally was gathered informally. Take an example of Bill Gates and Microsoft Certification; the content of which was assembled through practical experimentation and observation.

Once you choose the area of life or business that you desire to gain mastery, all you need is time. Time to study the massive volumes of knowledge in that particular area. Never before has knowledge been readily available for a willing learner than it is today. It won’t matter; be it marketing, management, communication, agriculture, history or even literature. The trouble with many people is that they cannot bear to be alone long enough to read, to reflect, to think, to study. They seem lost the moment they are out of the crowd. Self education won’t only give you knowledge; it will give you style and judgment. Read what you like, not what somebody else tells you that you ought to like. That reading alone is valuable which becomes part of the reader’s own mind and nature; and this can never be the case if the matter is not the result of self-selection, but forced on the student from outside. To the one who is not sure which area to select, I still say read anything and read everything—just as a man with a sound digestion and a good appetite eats largely and indifferently of all that is set before him. The process of selection and rejection, or, in other words, of taste, will come best and naturally to any man who has the right kind of brains in his head. Some books he will throw away; others he will read over and over again.

" When a boy," said Horace Greeley, " I would go reading to the woodpile; reading to the garden; reading to the neighbors. My father was poor and needed my services through the day, but it was a mighty struggle for him to get me to bed at night. I would take a pine knot, put it on the backlog, pile my books around me, and lie down and read all through the long winter evenings; silent, motionless, and dead to all the world around me, alive only to the world to which I was transported by my book."

 Lincoln, who, to use his own phrase, had possibly a year's schooling " by littles," is a conspicuous example of self-education through reading, even with very few books, amidst the most primitive conditions and with no inspiring associates. He was just hungry for an education; he yearned for growth, for expansion, and, because many volumes were denied him, he appreciated all the more the precious books which he walked many miles to obtain, and which he read before the log- fire when all the rest of the household were asleep.

One great writer observes that paradoxical as it may seem, there is a disadvantage in having too many advantages, something demoralizing in having too many opportunities or too great facilities. In the midst of too great advantages, there is a loss of concentration; there is not the same motive for holding one's mind steadily and firmly to one thing that there would be if the mind were free. When one goes into a great department store, he sees so many varieties and colors and shapes and sizes and tints that he is perplexed in making up his mind what he wants.

A village person often bemoans his lack of advantage, no free libraries, and only here and there a book; but the history of the human race shows that it has not been the quick reading of many books, not the glancing over hundreds of volumes, but the entire absorption of a few works of a few great minds that has made knowledgeable and superior people.

 Concentration is the secret of all great education and achievement. Anything which demoralizes this, everything which dissipates the attention or the power to concentrate one's attention upon one thing, should be avoided as an enemy to success. The quiet and leisure of village life, together with the greater facilities for concentrating the mind, often more than compensate for the seemingly greater opportunities of the city and the advantages of great libraries.
The carefulness with which books for youth should be written and selected cannot be overestimated. A book that starts a young person on a life career is a great power. The inspiration of a single book has made teachers, preachers, philosophers, authors, statesmen. On the other hand, the demoralizing effect of one book has made infidels, profligates, criminals.

I know a successful businessman who went to school only a few months during his life, but who is one of the best informed men I have ever met. The very consciousness that he lacked the advantages of an early education spurred him on to make up for the deficiency in other ways. By reading in his spare moments he has absorbed an amount of information that surprises people who know him    His knowledge on many subjects, such as history, astronomy, geology, political economy, psychology, is so great that most people take him for a college graduate. It is possible to pick up a college education in the spare moments of time which most people throw away.

Isaac Maloba is a Human Resource consultant and Chief Administrator at Potential Management Centre ( POTMAC)

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