General or Other

17 years after dropping out of school, these are my thoughts on the perceived value of University Education.

At some point in 2002, I dropped out of my first semester (Kyambogo University) and never attended any school again.

Obviously, my dad was mad pissed; we barely spoke after that. My relatives all thought I’d gone mad, and to this day, most of them still cannot explain what I do.

In hindsight, it was a very poor decision. In hindsight also, it was the best decision of my life.

I dropped out because education wasn’t working for me. I wanted to do robotics or microelectronics, none of which was an actual course in Ugandan universities, and obviously, I couldn’t afford the costs of studying abroad.

The final nail in the coffin though, was that after 12 years of performing exceptionally well in primary school and decently well in secondary school, I flunked my U.A.C.E exams, which meant I couldn’t get the Electrical engineering course I had settled for. I still got government sponsorship for a diploma in architecture, but, meh.

So I switched courses around, eventually settling on Science Technology – Physics and Maths (or something like that) and after a couple of weeks, realized that I was truly done with formal education. I remember walking in late for an exam and realizing I truly didn’t want to be there.

The hilarious irony was that the only feasible career I saw with the last course I tried was to become a teacher, which I absolutely did not want to be. And yet here I am with Fundi Bots.

The last formal employment job I held was in 2003, when, after six months of backbreaking work, I decided to quit and start my own company. It was called Rogue Digital and earned approximately nothing before I partnered with a friend and started NVGOR8, which basically kickstarted my entrepreneurship career.

The years between 2002 and today have been… tough, fun, exciting, frustrating and extremely complex and one day, they will be well documented.

But the reason I’m sharing this is because every other day, I get students asking me whether they should drop out of school and follow their dreams, because they see me as a role model. And while I’m honoured and flattered, my answer is always, “No, don’t drop out of school. It’s a bad idea.”

Let me explain.

The average Ugandan student (other African students as well) wants to drop out of school because they do not see the value provided by the education system. Many parents, too, are tired of paying fees for a system that doesn’t seem to have commensurate results.

But even within the limitations of the education system, there is value. It is small, possibly useless, but infinitely important, given the way our world is socio-economically structured.

That value? The degree. Or diploma. Or certificate.

See, many, many opportunities are designed to filter candidates using those tiny pieces of paper. Those pieces of paper say “this person went to this school, studied something and can provide value to this role.”

Unfortunately, in our case, most times, what the paper claims and what the holder of that paper can actually do are not the same thing. Why? Because the education standards as delivered in the classroom don’t match up to the expected outcomes upon graduation.

So my (broadly generalized) advice is always this:

  1.  Don’t drop out of school. It may be frustrating and seemingly unimportant in the grand scheme of Ugandan things, but that piece of paper is generally important. For example, there are consultancy projects I am exceptionally qualified for (through experience), but which I cannot get because I am not qualified at the first elimination stage (academic qualifications).
  2. Just because you’re not getting the quality of education you deserve doesn’t mean you can’t get a better education. There are hundreds of thousands of resources online through which you can study extra – and better – material at no cost to you. The average university student can create a lot of free time that can be channelled into better learning opportunities.
  3. Work hard, get your degree, to the best of your ability. [Quite frankly, the subject matter you’re studying is not as complex or as hard as what you’d be studying at universities that take their education seriously]. But spend double the time and effort learning outside the classroom. Go beyond your lecturers’ notes or assignments. By the time you graduate, you’ll be miles ahead of your fellow students and ready to compete internationally.
  4. You’ll have to make a lot of sacrifices during your university years in order to graduate with the knowledge and the skills you need to succeed in your career, whether you’re self-employed or working with/for someone else. But that sacrifice will pay off in unimaginable ways in the long-term.
  5. Daily growth is exponential growth. If you create a routine of building yourself mentally, physically and financially each day, by the time you hit 30, you’ll be exceptional in every conceivable way.
  6. You’re an adult for much, much longer than you are a child. The three to five years you’re lamenting about in university are tiny compared to the rest of your life, but what you do in your early twenties will lay the foundation for the decades that follow. Treat those years with respect.
  7. But don’t forget to have fun. Body, Mind and Soul. “Perfectly balanced, as all things should be.” – Thanos.

Have a blessed week!

Img Src: JESSIE JACOBSON / FLICKR

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