A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste

“A mind is a terrible thing to waste.”

– Slogan of the United Negro College Fund

In my daily interactions with Ghanaians, I frequently lament to myself all the human capital that is going to waste.  Many people are under-employed as waiters, drivers, cleaners, bank tellers, secretaries.  Others are not working at all.  For many, a whole day could be spent sitting on the Ghanaian “stoop.”

Someone should gather all these people and drop them off in China to work for a few months.  Then everyone will move three times faster.

Who is to blame for this under-utilized human capital?

Toy Robots

The education system encourages Ghanaians to behave like robots rather than as sentient beings who need to think for themselves.  Many high school and college graduates cannot add quickly nor multiply.  Furthermore, I have not been impressed by their composition skills either.  For instance, I once asked a graduate of the esteemed Achimota (High) School to write a movie review for me.  I was stunned by how bad it was.  I thought maybe she was writing at an American sixth grade level.

Most Ghanaians are robots.  They go to school, pass exams, and proceed to the next level; however, they never learn how to think.  Instead, they believe that having a degree or certification entitles them to a higher salary.

Teresa told me that at the University of Ghana at Legon, often times, her final exams will be graded more than a year after completing the exams.  “How do you know if you passed?” I asked.  She said the system promises you four years to complete your degree in that time.  Robots!  Never mind if you don’t deserve to pass or if you learned anything.  Just go to the next level.

In the US, we call this practice “social promotion“: ” the practice of promoting a student … to the next grade only at the end of the current school year, regardless of when or whether they learned the necessary material, in order to keep them with their peers by age, that being the intended social grouping.”

Perhaps just as disturbing, my French language classmates complained that when they attended their universities many female students slept with their professors for high marks.  I believe this happens on occasion at US universities; however, considering this practice is common in entry level hiring, I believe this practice may be pervasive.

All this social promotion cultivates an educational — and contributes to a work — culture where the appearance of graduating or “completing” is more important than actually learning anything.  Perhaps this explains why everyone’s math and writing skills are so poor.

Many working people attempt to garner higher salaries by completing various certificate programs.  Most of these things are probably only recognized in Ghana and have limited value outside the country.  Of course, if these certificates are little more than diploma factories and getting a “pass” is similar to what occurs at universities, then the “learning” done is probably of no real value.

As an employer, I don’t place much emphasis on where you went to school.  If anything, I look at the name of the school as a screen, then try to assess your motivation and character in both the interview and over the 3 month probation period. Most Ghanaian labor start off strong then lose motivation almost linearly over time.  You can expect to hear of a death in the family or latent medical conditions pop up from 1-3 months onwards.

Ghanaian work and productivity will only improve if Ghanaians recognize that it’s important that you go to school for an education and then work hard.  You don’t deserve a higher salary because you earned high marks in school.  You must justify your existence at work every day, week, month, year.  There’s no cheating the capitalist system.

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