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A Rant against Mediocrity

Seeing a university student reading a PowerPoint handout on a train in Melbourne Australia triggered mixed thoughts in me. Having firmly agreed with a derogatory term coined in my university days that our degrees are “PowerPoint – degrees” I couldn’t reconcile my respect for universities in western countries with the thought that this student of – most likely – economics or business was going to get a PowerPoint degree “just like I did”. Then I thought maybe it’s all a mirage; maybe it’s a myth that in certain universities in the west; students are taught thoroughly and have to milk a stone to get marks, so that by the time they reach the workplace, they have been worked so hard that they are better placed to meet th

e requirements of the world of work. For a second, I thought – “twakoowa, the west is overrated”.  I certainly need to research a little more into this but for now, here is what I think. Many of the things we do are actually copied from the west. The only challenge is we are not so good at copying. We just produce poor quality variants of western systems. If we can’t produce our own, then at least, let us perfect the art of copying. Lecturers in Uganda did not invent powerpoint handouts. They copied them from universities abroad just like the course content they teach.  But having worked with fresh graduates of Australian Universities and found them more knowledgeable than their coun

Rwebembera Job and Wife Lynette
Job and Lynette in Melbourne Australia

terparts in Uganda, I have a theory that much as they do powerpoint too, they have textbooks not only in a library but also in their rooms because as part of their semester tuition, they pay for books which they receive at the beginning of the semester. The lecturer’s handout therefore is only a guide to ensure you don’t miss the main points the textbook has. But ultimately you won’t pass his exam if you only depend on the powerpoint. That is not the case in a Ugandan University, at least not the one I attended. You can pass a huge majority of the course units comfortably without even knowing whether or not textbooks exist in that field of study. The result is, at graduation, the graduate is so half baked that it’s fair enough to call them a powerpoint graduate. You see, universities should be “places of HIGHER LEARNING”, but we have reduced them by converting them to just “HIGHER PLACES of learning”. At University, we should learn concepts and ideas instead of points and formulas.  But the problem is even bigger, these universities are powered by pamphlet driven secondary schools. And like handouts, pamphlets are just many pages of bullet points. And though you can pass the exam with a pamphlet or handout, the world won’t respect you for only a good grade, it requires you to have a command of the subject matter.

Way forward for students: don’t settle for a powerpoint degree. Those 2 slides in the handout of “CSC 1100 – Introduction to computers” represent 45 pages in the textbook “Computers – Novice to Professional”. How about you pick up the book and read it. Those 3 slides on page 5 of the handout on “Organisational Change”, come from 78 pages in 3 different textbooks. How about you read through 2 of them? Aaah I hear you, it’s too much work Job, it’s too much work – you say. Let this quotation from one of the wisest men ever answer you: “Do you see a man skillful and experienced in his work? He will stand [in honor] before kings; He will not stand before obscure men.” . Proverbs 22:29 [Amplified] I will not water down that verse with my understanding of it. Read it again please and think about it. And before we make up too many excuses, let us remember that the word of God is more true than our opinions. So in the above verse’s case, a non committed Christian person who is a more skilled manager will get a better managerial job than a committed Christian who is depending on just God’s favour and not deliberately up-skilling him/herself in management.

It is sad to know that our small economy does not create enough jobs for us and that corrupt people who are well connected will get employed when more qualified people sit at home. The situation is so demoralising that we may say, why try to excel, why get a first class degree if corruption is standing in my way. My short answer is, how about we do what is in our power and let God do the rest. Its within your power to do whatever you do with an attitude of excellence; do that and let God deal with opening doors and taking injustice out of your way. I remember a story of a person I know. This person applied for a job that would be a promotion for her at her workplace. The interviewers asked for money from all the candidates except her because she knew a number of them and they would be ashamed to ask her to buy the promotion. She was on maternity leave when the interviews happened. She just came in to be interviewed on the last day after all the people who had “bought” the job had finished their interviews. One of the most senior people on the panel did not even know her but when she finished the interview, the interviewers discussed how they had already compiled the list of people who would get the jobs since they had already taken money from enough candidates. This senior person put his foot down and said that this lady is the best among all the candidates we have interviewed and she must get one of these positions. I don’t care how much money the other candidates paid, find a way of taking one of them off the list but this lady must get the job. Long story short, she got the job without paying a coin. This is what it means for your excellence to bring you before kings.

Don’t buy the crap of lies that the world is a hopeless place and we might all just give in. Do your part and stay hopeful. God will fight that boardroom battle in your absence. But do not use God’s favour as an excuse for mediocrity. Moses had God’s favour but Acts 7:22 says “Moses was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was powerful in speech and action”, Daniel and his friends were 10 times better than the Babylonian “intellectuals” Dan 1:20.  God’s favour/blessing is the power to make wealth Deuteronomy 8:18, and I believe that it is the blessing that enables us to be thorough at our work. It is the blessing that enables us to be diligent and excellent at whatever we do. And if God will bless ALL the work of your hands as Deuteronomy 28:12 says, its means that if you go the extra mile, you are creating an extra mile for God to bless.

Finally for today, I will counter this lie that we have swallowed hook line and sinker that there are no opportunities; there are no jobs, e.t.c. The reason I call it a blatant lie at the risk of sounding too detached from reality is because I want to catch your attention so that probably, you will think differently about it. Ecclesiastes 9:11 says “I have seen something else under the sun: The race is not to the swift nor the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all.” If you had believed the lie that there are no opportunities, that there are no chances for you, let this verse settle the matter for you. The truth is in your lifetime, irrespective of how good or bad you are at different things, opportunities will come your way. Irrespective of the corruption and the injustice in the world, time and chance happens to all men. Make good use of the opportunities that come your way. Seizing opportunities is a tough task and there may not be a proven approach to doing it well but one way to make good use of opportunities is to be prepared. The Batoro have a proverb that says – “Obutetegeka, embwa ekairuka omukaro” loosely meaning “because of not being ready, a dog fled from meat”. Whoever threw meat at the dog wanted it to eat it but since it was not prepared, it thought maybe it is a stone coming its way, it fled from a delicacy. You may never be “fully prepared” but you can certainly be “better prepared” for the opportunities that come your way. If you thought this was an article about university education that has many quotations from the bible, let me correct you, this was a rant against mediocrity because with or without University education, our own mediocrity is the biggest hindrance to success in life. Over and out!!!

Job Rwebembera is a Software Developer and lives with his wife Lynette in Melbourne Australia.

One thought on “A Rant against Mediocrity

  1. The truth is many of us belong to the PowerPoint generation and carry the PowerPoint degrees. It is not too late to discover your potential; pick up those books that you missed and this time with mature approach everything will be a walk over and remember that with God everything is possible.. Thanks Job

  2. Thanks Job for the article and i believe there is a problem in accepting the educational paradigm shift. Here is a situation were educational has changed from Teacher centered to student centered and therefore the delivery methods have to change too. However, the expectations of both the teacher and students are not appreciated by either side within the context of Uganda. The teachers want to be more of knowledge facilitators but the students who have been prepared to be knowledge recipients right from lower schools can not come to terms with the new teaching methodology. This scenario causes the teachers to fall back to the old ways of doing things and allow the students remain in their comfort zone. This is the reason why the students cant even read an article presented to them but would prefer some one to interpret it for them. What do we need to do? Change the lower education curriculum and teaching methodology, retool teacher, reward teachers, establish systems of monitoring and evaluation on what is being done in education. Those starting strategies may help to change the situation so that Uganda does not just copy from abroad but copies right and implements right.

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