Importance of quality higher education

Importance of quality higher education

“Education is the most powerful weapon which one can use to change the world” – Nelson Mandela

It is with diffidence that I tender my views on higher education as I am aware that there are very many inspiring and outstanding academicians who may have their own beliefs and theories on the significance of higher education. However, being in the education field for the past 38 wonderful years has been a revelation and the experience has manifested numerous opportunities and benefits in regard to higher education; some of which I share with you.

Higher education is popularly termed as education beyond high school, specifically, that which is provided by colleges, graduate schools and professional schools. It can also be attained through vocational and technical schools. For parents of students aspiring towards higher education, the task of selecting a good university or college befitting to the needs of their child can be a daunting task. But the dividends of investing in a college degree are conclusive and cannot be contested.

It is often argued that college education is too costly or hard to acquire. But more often this is an excuse for procrastination. History has numerous examples of persevering individuals who have studied by the street lights or under kerosene lanterns and reached greater heights through education. For the truly endeavouring students, bursaries, sponsorships, scholarships, student loans, alumni assistance and other financial aids are available to fulfil their goals. When people are determined they can overcome anything.A higher education can be both materially and spiritually rewarding. There are people who subject themselves to three/four years of college and then thirty years of student loan debt for a job that barely meets their daily comforts. A few of these are in the teaching profession.

Their rewards are the number of lives they have touched, uplifted and encouraged and the legacy they shall leave behind. Tolstoy put it so well when he said “we live for ourselves only when we live for others”.

With a college degree, comes the opportunity for upward social mobility. One can get a foot into the door of many respectable businesses. With a solid degree, the earning potential at these places can be endless causing an upward shift in class; education is the key to employability. The subsequent rewards can be having smarter friends, being able to live in a nicer neighbourhood and having a better school system for the children. The financial gains alone can be a great motivating factor to pursue higher education.

Studies have shown that the educated live a more fulfilled life. They make better partners, parents and employers: with education comes the tolerance. Societal norms are followed, thus keeping the society peaceful.

It is quite certain that educated people are easier to talk to and to reason with. Education thus becomes a great tool for everyday life. It changes the expectations a person has for him/herself and creates a more just and equitable society. Good education instils qualities of courtesy and tolerance. Courtesy is one passport that will be accepted without question in any land, in every office, every home and in any part of the world.

The knowledge gained through higher education can make a country a high player in the international scene. It is the only way we can upgrade the calibre of the talent pool in the country. The world is always changing and in order to be at the head of these changes we need people with higher education to be the ones making the technological breakthroughs.

We need our doctors to be the ones to discover new cures and medical procedures. Our politicians should have the maturity to make crucial domestic and foreign policy decisions. Education is one factor that differentiates a third world country from a global super power. Higher education is thus beneficial to both the individual and the state.

Mandela used the austere conditions at the Robben Island to study. He called this the “University of Robben Island” where his character and leadership was moulded. Whilst doing the hard labour in a mine quarry, he pursued the study of law through correspondence and attained a degree of Bachelor of Law.

Education allows a person to see from a wider perspective because he/she is exposed to a variety of views through educators and books. It inspires one to appreciate the aesthetics in life; the beauty, in the glorious vistas that surround us.

Education teaches us to appreciate the sunrise and the sunset, the beating of the rain on the roof and the window panes, the gentle fall of snow on a winter day. Good education teaches us to love life for its own sake.

It enables mistakes made by others to be passed on to prevent them from being repeated. True education also teaches one to survive, to have the strength to carry on after a setback. We have no better example than in the memorable words of Nelson Mandela: “Do not judge me by my successes; judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again”

It would indeed be naïve to state that it is impossible to succeed in life without having a higher education. There is the oft quoted example of Bill Gates who founded Microsoft with a couple of friends in his garage after dropping out of college. Today Microsoft is one of the biggest multinational corporations in the world and Gates one of the richest men on earth. Most of us however are not in the same league as Bill Gates and that is why there is need for higher education. The degree helps to even the playing field between a normal person and those who are similar to Bill Gates. Also having an education might not have been important in the creation of Microsoft but is definitely essential today to the well-being and the prosperity of the company.

In conclusion, the fundamental purpose of higher education is to draw out the best from the students. It is not about just making good grades in bubble tests or making good money after graduation.

It instils a love for life-long learning, whilst preparing the students to handle problems they will encounter, live purposeful lives and learn the value of making a contribution to others and society.

Jyotsna Chotai – Academic Consultant, Uniserv Education
(The author was a principal of a reputable international school in Nairobi for the past 31 years and retired in 2011. She currently heads the Academic department at Uniserv Education)