Alagi Saidy-Barrow: Let’s Talk Degrees

Alagie Saidy-Barrow

If you are on any social media platform, you’re likely to see someone announcing that they’ve “bagged” this or that degree. Oftentimes, the announcement is accompanied by a picture of the graduate or “graduant” as some call it, posing in a cap and gown.

Graduating with a degree from university means a lot more to some people than it does to people like me. You see, I never even bothered to attend any of my graduations. There was no cap and gown for me and there were no pictures. The degree was just some paper that said I successfully completed a course of study in the fields I specialized in.

Sometimes, when I see fellow Gambians posing in caps and gowns, I cannot help but wonder if they cared to know the history or meaning of the cap and gown they pose in. I saw some nieces and nephews from the Tallinding Islamic school also posing in a somewhat Islamized version of the cap and gown and I chose to keep my thoughts to myself. I’ve seen Gambian women in hijab also balancing the cap on their heads. I wondered if they knew the medieval Christian roots of their attire.

When I hear Gambians go, “Alhamdullilah, I have bagged a “bachelor’s degree or a masters or doctorate degree,” I can’t help but wonder if they even know what is the history and meaning of the words “bachelors, masters or doctorate.” Or do they even care to know? What is the significance of these degrees? Does having a degree mean you are more qualified for a position than another without a degree?

For me, education goes way beyond getting a degree. Time was, being conferred a degree meant one possessed specific skills in their field of study. These days, with the proliferation of degrees and the mediocrity that abounds, you can’t help but wonder what skills folks graduate with. I remember seeing someone announcing that they were now a “barrister and solicitor of the Supreme Court of The Gambia.” Beyond the highfalutin title and colonial hangover, this new lawyer didn’t even bother to spell “pupillage” right. He announced that “he completed his “pupellage”

I brought up the issue of caps and gown and the meanings of the names of the degrees we announce to family and friends to underscore a larger point: If you don’t even know why you wear a cap and gown or why your degree is called a bachelor’s or master’s degree, doesn’t that in some way illustrate the type of education you had? Where we simply do without thinking? How educated are you if all you do is accept what you were taught?

Go to any Gambia Government office and you will find staff sitting on all types of degrees! If you go by degrees alone, you will be forgiven for thinking that we are the most skillful people around. Yet, most of us don’t even know what the names of our degrees mean. Simple tasks like building a formula in excel eludes us. We conflate degrees with skillsets.

Many of us can’t even tell you what was the name of The Gambia before colonialism! That’s because before the colonialists came, there was nothing like Gambia! But ask this question and see how many people with degrees will start wondering how come no one told them Gambia is a colonial creation!

You see, if people with degrees are what it took to develop nations, Gambia would have realized it’s Singapore dream eons ago! Rather our dreams are manifested in nightmares of presidential advisers whose claim to fame revolves around Dahini Sipasipa and pooch-paach! You don’t need any skills to be a president or presidential adviser. That’s why those with degrees are revered among the various mandarins that surround the President.

In these days of academic inflation, all you need to do is ask our graduates for their CV to realize that most of them graduate with zero skills! But since one doesn’t need any skills (I didn’t say degree) to be a presidential adviser, we can all aspire to someday sing Dahini Sipasipa and wail pooch paach everywhere we go. Who knows, we may end up with a Gambia Government luxury car and a bodyguard to boot!

The day we wake up to the reality that skills are what it takes to develop nations, and not a potpourri of degrees that can be bagged with zero skills, will be the day mediocrity will write its own epitaph!

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