Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Ignorance is Bliss

Throughout my time here in Botswana I have consistently excused what I consider to be foolish tendencies by repeating the phrase, “Ignorance is bliss” to myself.  To take that one step further, the English poet Samuel Butler is famous for saying, “The truest characters of ignorance are vanity and pride and arrogance.”

Education in Africa, or more specifically in Botswana, has a serious arrogance problem.  And vanity problem.  And pride problem.

I do not claim to be an expert in anything really.  The way I look at it, I still haven’t reached my 10,000 hours of practice, so I’m not even close to expert level.  But I like to think I have some idea what I’m talking about.  However, I am more than willing to admit when I am unsure about something and consult another individual whom I consider to be better versed in a topic than I am.  Sadly, that is not the attitude most people take here.  Here everyone is an expert and everyone knows more than you do.  I think this will be Africa’s, and Botswana’s, undoing.

The way I look at it, I am free labor, so they might as well take advantage of my skill set.  Sometimes they do, but for the most part everyone “knows better” and they don’t want to listen to me. Case in point: I wrote the proposal for a Master’s in Tourism here.  After writing the proposal I had to meet with the Associate Dean, who is the former Head of the Tourism Department.  I told him I was concerned we didn’t have enough interest in the program, and more specifically, there weren’t enough faculty members to staff a Master’s Program.  Right now there are about 100 undergrads, which I’m not sure is large enough to support interest in an MS degree.  But more importantly, there are 6 faculty members, only 1 of which has a Ph.D. (the Associate Dean, who only teaches one class a year).   Of the other 5 faculty members, only 1 has a Master’s.  You can’t have someone with only a Bachelor’s teaching Master’s level courses.  When I pointed these two facts out to him, and suggested the curriculum board might reject the proposal due to lack of resources, he said that was an incorrect assessment and it should be fine.

I’ve seen similar attempts to cut corners with faculty.  There are very few professors here at any level.  Faculty may be hired with a Bachelor’s degree only as a Lecturer.  A Senior Lecturer typically has a MS, and sometimes a Ph.D.  An Associate Professor is generally a Ph.D. and then the highest level is a Full Professor (again, this person should have a Ph.D.).  Recently they began promoting people to Full Professor WITHOUT Ph.D. degrees.  Here is why this is important: Associate and Full Professors teach graduate students.  You can’t teach graduate students if you never received a graduate degree!  It is against every academic principle in the world.

The unfortunate thing about both of these situations is that in the end, the arrogance of the administration here is doing nothing but hurting their own faculty and students.  Faculty members are teaching courses they aren’t prepared to teach.  Students are being mentored by underqualified instructors who are teaching them either bad habits or quite simply, wrong information.  Ultimately, these practices will lead to an even greater gap between students educated in the U.S., Europe and Asia and those who went to university in Africa.  Of course, no one is willing to admit this right now.  It will be another 20 years or more before they realize what a disservice they were doing.  But for now “Ignorance (and Arrogance) is Bliss.”

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