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We have valued degrees for too long — Dr Elsie Kaufmann

BY: Emmanuel Bruce
Dr Elsie Kaufmann
Dr Elsie Kaufmann

The Quiz Master for the National Science and Maths quiz, Dr Elsie Effah Kaufmann, has called for the need to reassess the objectives of university education in the country.

She said for a long time, the focus of university education had been on getting a degree, rather than learning the required skills to solve specific problems in the country and it was therefore time for a shift in focus.

Speaking on the ‘African Excellence Series’ on Springboard, Your Virtual University, a radio programme on Joy Fm, Dr Kaufmann said: “For so long we have valued the degrees, so somebody goes to school and the aim is not to learn anything new, but to get the end results which is the certificate.”

“That certificate in their minds entitles them to certain privileges, whether they are using the knowledge they have acquired or not is not a concern to them,” she noted.

Power in knowledge

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Dr Kaufmann, who is also a Senior Lecturer of the Biomedical Engineering Department of the University of Ghana, pointed out that there was a lot of power in knowledge.

“If we had knowledge in science, engineering and mathematics, we should be able to solve all our problems because that is what the training helps us to do, to be able to appreciate the problems around us, understand them and come up with solutions and to even go further in making our environments and society better and more comfortable,” she explained.

“Unfortunately, what has been happening over the years is that people perceive these subjects to be very abstract, so they go to school and study them alright but just for the certificate.

They just go and memorise some facts; they have some knowledge of what these subjects are about, but they don’t continue to the actual problem-solving part of it,” she added.

She said the universities continued to give certificates to graduating students without finding out if the students had indeed learnt and acquired any skills to help improve society.

“We are not applying or translating the massive amount of knowledge we have into application. You get knowledge in a particular discipline in order to equip you to deal with your reality.

If your realities are problems with food, health care and you are not addressing your knowledge to solving those problems, how useful is it?” she asked.

How do we change it?

When asked about how the country could change this mindset, she said: “We are all part of the problem because we haven’t clearly defined what our objectives are as a people.”

“When you come to the university, what sort of skills are you supposed to acquire? What should you be able to do? These are questions we need to start asking ourselves,” she stated.

“If I know when I go to school to study a particular course, these are the things I’m supposed to do with the knowledge I have acquired, things will improve,” she added.

About science and maths quiz

Commenting on the annual science and maths quiz, she said the competition was improving each year as the schools were now taking it more serious.

She said the objectives of the quiz were to get people excited about science and maths, to get the schools to compete in a healthy manner and to improve the study of science and maths in the country.

“Whenever the students come together and show what they have been learning, they encourage others to continue learning,” she said.

“There are a lot of schools that are spending a lot of time and resources to prepare for the quiz and the stakes are getting higher,” she added,
She said the level of difficulty was also getting difficult with each year, adding that “I look at the questions we used to ask 10 years ago and if we bring those questions back now it will be a joke.”

What does excellence mean?

When asked what her definition of excellence was, Dr Kaufmann said excellence was about finding out what was expected and committing to do what was expected and going beyond the expectation to give something better.

Unfortunately, she said the country could not boast of enough of it.

“We have too many people who are satisfied with mediocrity,” she said.

“To talk about excellence means there is a standard or there is some expectation beyond which a person must go but when there are no expectations, when people pick activities to do, don’t bother to find out what expectations there are, they are just happy in there without knowing what is expected of them and do things anyhow to satisfy their own objective then we have lost track of what excellence is,” she explained.