Failure in our universities: A matter of placements


As we hear mentioned repeatedly, education is essential in the pursuit of happiness for oneself, family and country. Our individual interests must be supported by education and so, every citizen must go through years of schooling. Does it really pay to support individuals towards the realization of their dreams, or so that they can be helpful to society? Passion for the topic of education is essential to the individual. It is what drives someone to try harder, to do better. And university is that institution in which students, with passion, develop progressive ideas that bring change, and growth.
Here in our country, university students are placed in departments in which they have no interest at all. Assigned to learn about matters they do not particularly care for, and expected to master topics that do not inspire them. When students’ interests are mismatched with their disciplines of study, any passion for learning and for excellence is lost. It may sound like the trivial concern of an ungrateful youth, considering that a generation ago going to university was a privilege, but what is at stake not only concerns this generation but the country’s future. The lack of passion felt by many students across the country undermines the value of an already fragile education. It stunts the youth’s personal, psychological and intellectual development. And yet it is not uncommon to hear complaints from the wiser and older populous that youth of the day are ‘lackluster’ at best, ‘irresponsible,’ ‘disrespectful,’ and ‘unstable’.  Even more common to hear that university students these days do not know a thing about what is happening in their own country; their concerns lie elsewhere and they live like whatever happens in Ethiopia is none of their business. Well, could it be something to do with the lack of concern our education system shows for individuals’ passions? Dissatisfaction can make students erratic, uninterested in national topics of concern.
The benefits of such a system should be questioned, and especially so, when today’s students are the nation’s future. There are a very lucky few that can disregard the departments they are placed in, thanks to their money— those who can afford to align their education with their interests. There are also others who land positions in their chosen field and go on to succeed with their dreams. Many, however, graduate but not with excellence and never knowing fully what they are going to do with their degrees. Can we blame some of these students for not making the most of their education? Placed in departments they are not interested in, graduating with a degree they managed to get through and fated to work in a field that they may not like; this is the story of a number of university students today.
This is not to say that student’s dissatisfaction and lack of interest come solely from being placed in the wrong faculty. The bureaucracy that greets them when they enter institutions of tertiary education is also not very inspiring. Too many times I have entered offices of those employed to serve me and thought to myself “Do I really have the right to be served at this place?” What makes matters worse is that if I were ever to say this question out loud, no one would give me an answer. Bureaucracy ensures that procedures are followed, egos are controlled, and that at end of the day, the rule of law stands, but from the way it is practiced in our universities it seems to work in reverse. Bureaucracy welcomes new students to universities, and plagues them throughout their years of education. When they enter lecture rooms, what often awaits them is not an instructor seeking to teach but rather a person that like them, does not want to be there. Interactions between students and instructors are uncomfortable to witness. It is a battle between students who show disrespect, and teachers who seek to enforce respectable behavior through their authority, contradictory to the spirit of learning expected in institutions of higher education. So, how could we revive passion for learning and excellence in such an environment?
Our predecessors and our gallant warriors motivated themselves with cries of ‘Zeraf!’ before challenges or battles, to hearten themselves. They sung out and bragged about their abilities, victories and history, reminding themselves of their greatness and their need to defend it. Motivation stems from feeling involved in a subject that inspires eagerness, that keeps an individual engaged in times of difficulty. In the past, ‘Zeraf’ was relevant in wars, in victory over those that challenged the nation’s sovereignty. Now, it is relevant to inspire passion in students, to learn in situations of discomfort. Motivation is what leads individuals to toil, to strive for greatness. Certainly, the country may need 70 percent of its workforce engaged in the sciences, in this crucial period of growth but the aim should be to raise citizens that choose to respond to the needs of their nation, not to foster an uninspired generation of professionals. Having had decisions made for them by their families as children, and the government as adults, how are the youth of today supposed to learn to decide on matters of national concern when it is their turn to lead?
Education is not simply a matter of vocation, it is also about citizenship. Students’ ability to become educated in topics that interest and inspire them is crucial. It is what leads them to strive for better, to succeed as individuals and as citizens, and to participate in building our  nation.