St Lawrence University, Cameroon
Looking Back into the Future: Three Courses I Wish I Was Taught in the University by Dr. Oscar C. Labang
The type of higher education that we provide as a nation has direct implications on the national economy and global competiveness. The Ministry of Higher Education in Cameroon has, amongst other things, the responsibility of formulating programs and assuring quality control. The Ministry’s ability to envision a context where higher education contributes directly to economic development and growth should be a major focus.
When I started classes in the Master of Fine Arts program at National University, California, one of the courses I had to take was Pedagogy of Creative Writing. By the end of the course, my mind was running wild about what the purpose was and why I had to take the course. It occurred to me that even though the program is generally about creative writing, those who formulated the program knew of another reality which the student might not know. The question that the course was indirectly answering was: What if you don’t make it as a creative writer? The answer was clear: you can teach creative writing.
Personally, my aspirations in education were to climb to the highest rungs of the academic ladder with a vision to become a university professor. However, after attaining the highest academic degree, personal reflection tells me that there are some fundamental courses that would have prepared me for a greater purpose than that which I had defined for myself. These are courses are indispensable for students in an emergent economy like that of Cameroon. I will briefly make a case for Entrepreneurship, Professional Ethics, and Fundamentals of Statistics.
How to Enter (Entre) and Take Over (preneur)
Entrepreneurship involves the teaching of skill related to business but also the inspiration for young minds to be able to enter (entre) and takeover (preneur) in anything they do. It inspires risk taking and self-confidence while instilling a sense of financial investment, management and responsibility. An educational system that does teach students how to be creative, adventurous and self-confident has two major negative characteristics: i) a public sector that is bigger and stronger than the private sector, and ii) an uncontrollable unemployment rate resulting from the uninspiring hope that the government will recruit someday. Unfortunately, this is the kind of system in which I was educated – a system in which self-confidence is considered pride and quickly related to one of the seven deadly sins; a system in which the teacher’s notes is the answer to all questions and “thou shall not venture into new areas” was the unspoken dictum.
The economic development of any country is the product of purposeful human activity, and so it is important that the country makes a purposeful effort (in its educational system and public policy) to inspire young people to aspire toward being part of the trend. Entrepreneurial development is a source of employment to the entrepreneur and for the many people affected directly and indirectly by his/her activities. But the first step is to let the student know that he/she is capable of taking the entrepreneurial bet. In Cameroon, earning a Ph.D. is not synonymous to having a job or earning a big salary. In an emergent economy, a Bachelor’s degree with a mindset prepared for risk taking and business acumen is better than a Ph.D. hoping for uncertain government recruitment. One of the major weaknesses of the Cameroon education system is that it does not teach students the general concept of business, finance, and investment. This is partly a consequence of over specialization. In relation to my domain of study, the question is: what is the relationship between entrepreneurship and Literature/Language? Based on what I was taught, there is absolutely no relationship. BUT, based on what I have found out and what I know now, the relationship is as useful as it is for students of business administration, management, finance account etc. The answer to the question is best illustrated in another question: Can a Literature/Language student start, own and manage or invest in a business? The answer is YES because there are thousands of opportunities. So, why doesn’t the system of education provide the basic knowledge needed in this domain?
Religion or Professional Ethics
One of the defining challenges of public service work in Cameroon, and most developing countries, is corruption. Advocates of Religion have made the case several times that religion is the answer. Unfortunately, the reality in Cameroon shows that some of the most corrupt state personalities have a religious educational background. A course in Professional Ethics could be a good starting point. Professional Ethics moulds professional consciences while Religion moulds sentimental consciences. Corruption is a professional issue not a sentimental one. The problem of corruption cannot be solved by adding Religion to GCE O/A Levels or at University. Religion postpones the consequences of unethical and unprofessional behavior to an afterlife in a place called Hell. But Professional ethics teaches people to see the effect of their action immediately on the other person, on performance, on productivity, and on themselves. A course in Professional Ethics should have a direct bearing to the profession and should address the realities of the profession because the ethical dilemmas of the medical profession are different from those of an Engineer.
Professional Ethics must have a component that addresses social responsibility and cultural nationalism. Most Civil Servants or public service workers in Cameroon are actually Civil Masters. They do not serve; they want to be served. This is because they do not have the inbuilt compass which tells them that the essence of public service is not to enrich oneself, lazy around in the office, and take office supplies home but to serve the needs of the public. People need to understand not necessary the theoretical aspect but also the practical consequences. It is not a surprise that some people are employed; they work their entire life, and retire without ever hearing about professionalism at work. When a Laquantinine Doctor abandoned Monique to die with her babies, everybody cried foul. Yet, nobody asked themselves how they are failing the system in their own little way. Do we ever consider how many people have died because we gave a bribe or took a bribe and their position in school, in recruitment or at work was given to us or one of ours? This is what properly taught professional ethics does. It awakens a certain part of you which always asks how your actions affect others and your job. It brings people to consciousness to stop the blame game and take responsibility. It is not always the other person’s fault! You don’t have to do it because everybody is doing it!
A Dreaded Discipline: Statistics
In Secondary and High School, I was amongst those who thought that because I was in the Arts, Statistics like Mathematics has no relevance to me. Well, I was wrong! But did I know any better? Equally, most Science inclined students thought Language and Literature was irrelevant to their life quest! Were they wrong? One of the major characteristics of American higher education institutions is the focus on courses like English 101 +, Mathematics 101 +, Statistics 101 + etc. This is an indication that ALL students need a foundation from which they can communicate effectively, and perform basic calculations.
Fundamentals of Statistics provides a tool box for people to react intelligently to information and carefully assess the validity of claims or decisions that affect their lives and that of others daily. The general tendency amongst university students and even some teachers in Cameroon is to make unverifiable statistical claims and sometimes argue with passion rather than data and reason that the claim is true or right. For example, I have come to the reasonable conclusion that no sound decisions can be made in any field of study or domain of career practice without the necessity of statistics. One of the domains where Statistics seems to be completely irrelevant is mine - Literature. However, as a literary scholar, I have realized that lack of knowledge of statistics can affect literary analysis in severe ways. No real literary analysis will make good sense if frequency of occurrence and distribution of words/phrases is not considered. Well, today there is an entire domain of literary analysis known as statistical stylistics.
Quick example, I have read and hear several literary critics of Anglophone Cameroon Literature who claim that Anglophone Cameroon writers are obsessed with the Anglophone problem. This claim is made even when basic statistical questions have not been answered and so there is no data to validate the hypothesis. Questions like: how many Anglophone Cameroon writers exist? How many of these writers talk about the Anglophone problem? How many talk about problems other than those of Anglophones? Or pick a poetry collection and ask: how many poems are in the collection? How many of the poems address the Anglophone problem? What percentage deal about love or romance? What percentage deal with nature and the environment? Hypothetically, I read a collection of 60 poems, 10 talk about the plight of Anglophones, 14 are dedicated to the poet’s romantic quests from youth to manhood, 12 are about religion, 6 about nature and environment, 14 talk about his troubles as a student in university of Yaounde, and 4 is about war. Statistically, can I say that this poet is obsessed with the Anglophone problem? Notice that only about 16.66% of the poems deal with Anglophone problems while 23.33% is about his travails as a university student and 20% deal with religion. But, since we are accustomed to making unverified and unverifiable claims, it is enough to read the first 6 poems on Anglophone issues and then conclude that he is obsessed with the Anglophone problem. This is how lack of statistical knowledge leads to false results in literary analysis. If a Literature student needs some knowledge of Statistic, the every other discipline does.
In Conclusion, do I want all students to be experts in these subjects? No. I want all students to have investment and financial knowledge, I want all students to be able to perform basic statistical calculations to prove their point; I want all students to understand how basic ethical decisions affect others, productivity, and themselves; overall I want a generation of students that are self-confident and ready to take risks and not be buried in the fear failure. As I stated earlier, if I had studied Entrepreneurship, Professional Ethics and Fundamentals of Statistics they would have provided a greater purpose for me than that which I envisioned. I do not which I had changed my academic discipline from Literature to something else. But, I wish I had been taught these courses at some level because they would have directed me on how to use the knowledge of Literature to make a living without necessarily waiting on the government to employ me. What is the essence of a doctorate degree if the holder cannot make a better living because the government has not employed him/her? As far as I am concerned, the essence of education is to teach people how to make a better living out of the knowledge acquired. As an emergent economy, Cameroon cannot remain stuck in the colonial humanities system that was intended to train public service work force. The LMD model currently in place is a rephrasing of the same old system. The HND programs have major defects that need to be addressed because they produce students who are mere replicas of the old system. As part of the team formulating the program structure for St Lawrence University Ndop, I am placing overwhelming emphasis on the importance of these courses. Cameroon needs a generation of highly inspired, creative and courageous entrepreneurs to drag it out of the economic sludge into which the country is buried.
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