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Experiences Vs Education

In this day and age a lot of people believe that in order to achieve a successful lifestyle one must have a college degree. A degree is good, but it shouldn’t imply one is superior in that field which they earned their degree in. After all, many who have a degree in one field, work in a completely different field. A degree conveys commitment and credibility. However, work experience is just as important if not more.

“It was the fifth grade,” my friend starts. “Our Math teacher gave us a homework dealing with the flight of an airplane and we had to compute its speed.”

“Yonas (not his real name) the top student in the class got the answers first. According to his computation the plane was cruising at ten kilometers per hour.”

Yonas was a model student. Neat, obedient, hardworking and an unscrupulous achiever. He was also the green-eyed boy of the math teacher. “How can a plane move at a speed of only 10km/hr and still remain airborne?” he asked him. “That is the answer,” he sighed, showing him his calculations.

Some people may be good students, standing top in their class, but if you see closely, you find them lacking in common sense and sound judgment.

Yonas left high school with flying colors, joined the university and is now in the USA, living happily with his wife and children and with his assumption that planes remain airborne at a snail’s speed if a certain calculation says so.

Right after I had finished my college studies, a friend of mine-quite a bit older than me, advised me on how I should always work using the knowledge I had acquired in my four-year stay in college and the common sense I had gathered from everyday life experiences. The above story was his way of making understand what he wanted to say.

What my friend told me triggered a similar story I once heard. When I was a child, our teacher used to tell us the story of a boy from an Eritrean village who left for Italy for higher education, probably high school. After a year’s stay in Milano he sent a letter to his father: “Dear dad, how interesting for me to discover after all this time that our village’s moon looks exactly like the moon in Milano…..” His father simply sighed with despair and implored him, in a letter, to come back home as soon as possible.

Our teacher told us the story suggesting that common sense and the acquisition of general knowledge through reading is most of the time better than just formal education.

“Kab mihro aemro” is a Tigrigna adage which means that it is better to have an insight or vision than a good formal education which finally makes you utter stupid things.

I have seen very resourceful Eritrean businessmen who could neither read nor write. They have the flair for fast money making and employ people with BA and MA. In fact, many people that changed this world were either not educated or stopped their studies early in their lives.

Charlemagne, the holy Roman emperor could neither read nor write, and the same can be said about many prominent people such as Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft, as well as his competitor, the late Steve Jobs, founder of Apple. Both never completed their college education. These men are now two of the most influential persons in the world.

If one is educated, let him or her use the knowledge for the betterment of this world. For learning that begins with words and ends with words is a waste of time and a disservice to humankind.

The problem with scholarship and academics is that it intends to keep its worshippers under its grips. Sometimes, learning simply makes you build walls around yourself and you become its prisoner. Do you know that sometimes knowledge becomes a curtain that obstructs your view of the reality of things? The Pharisees, the learned among the Jews, were unable to see the truth when it came to them personified.

One day there was a scientist who wanted to find out if mice whose tails are cut for generations can reproduce mice without tails or maimed tails. He was trying to prove a point in the theory of evolution. So he went to his lab and began the project of cutting off the tails of his poor white mice and went on for ten years with his alarming activity probably hoping to win a Noble Prize in Biology.

A friend who heard about this strange experiment went over to him and had to tell him the painful truth. “Look,” he said to his learned friend, “the Jews had their foreskin cut (Circumcision) for over six thousand years. Now have you ever seen a Jew born circumcised, with his foreskin gone?”

The scientist turned pale. His academic knowledge stood as a curtain between him and reality. How many mice suffered because he refused to break out of his grooves of academics. How many more mice were going to suffer if he stopped listening to common sense.

It is said that in traditional Eritrean society, people had more trust in wise than educated men. The kings asked for educated people or experts only when they felt the need for weapons or infrastructure that helped them expand their territory through invasion and plunder. For matters that dealt with politics and administration, they preferred wise and experienced people and left the church to deal with the learned and the scholarly.

Nature has in many instances defied learning and humbled those who pride themselves on their scientific achievements.

According to the theory of aerodynamics, say scientists, the bumble bee is not supposed to fly, but it flies just the same. How? Well, just revise your theories, for you can never prevent the bumble bee from flying.

In the decades after the independence of African countries, many representing NGO’s or welfare organizations had sent sewing machines as donations to people who walk half naked because of heat, or even sent irrigation experts to places where the rain never stops.

Academic excellence is not to blame. The learned is more useful than one who is not. But, it is only when learning is used in the service of humankind that it becomes a useful tool. A person with a degree in this or in that field has first to come out from its academic cocoon and try to gain insight and vision. Real knowledge abhors dogmas and rigid forms. Real knowledge is a window not a curtain.

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