In a world ever-changing like ours; in a world like ours where practical is a grandfather to theory; in a country ever complex like Nigeria; one thing stands you out of the rest: that is what you can do better than the rest. Gone are the years when the only chance of getting a good job by university students was a first class grade. Then, student’s live was pinned to only two places: the front seat in the class and the secured corner of a library. Today, you, I, every one of us seated here today, now know that there are as much differences between having information and being informed as there are in having education and being educated. You know why? I’ll tell you why: it is because it is one thing to have a first class degree and it is another thing to have a first class pedigree.

Judges, brothers, sisters, it is the pride of every student and every parent to have a first class certificate, I know. But the truth is not every one would have it. So, if the Third Edition of the Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary defines necessity as ‘something that you need, especially in order to live’, it can only be said that first class saga is not and can never be a necessity! After all, our lives do not depend on it to continue existing.

To further buttress my stand, the quest to be the best is far more than having a paper certificate. But in our school today, we treasure certificate and not certification. By so doing, students have become lovely lover with la cram, la pour, la pass, la forget – which we call, in common parlance, “agberu gbeso” – instead of la read, la understand, la surpass, la recollect. As a result, we have schools producing graduates who are highly knowledgeable in paper work but mentally weak in putting what they know into practice. Because of this you-must graduate-with-a-first class saga, yearly, our institutions produce graduates with certificate without certification.

Esteemed audience, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying having first class is not worth it. I’m only saying it should not be the sole criteria in rating our graduates. Come to think of it. The greatest inventors and investors never became so because of their certificates but rather because of their way of thinking. Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Ben Carson, Albert Einstein, Aliko Dangote were never first class products – that is even if they completed school. This goes to show that not having first class result does not mean not having first class ideas. Hence, this first class saga is not a necessity.

Moving on, school as we know it to be is a home to all learning. From academic to religious, from social to financial, from moral to marital and what have you. In an article published by The Guardian UK on 17 February, 2014, where students from different universities around the world were interviewed, it was revealed that most skills needed by employers are being learnt by students outside the school. Leadership skills, communication skills, self-awareness skills, business skills, teamwork, all were discovered to be gotten in the extra-curricular activities students were involved in while in school. It further says that a 2.1 or 2.2 degree married with these skills are more valuable in the labour market than a perfect first class degree. So now tell me why should this saga of first class be a necessity?

In addendum, in October 11, 2016, The Nation Newspaper reported Caleb University, Imota, to have produced 15 first class students out of 340 graduates – this is 1 in every 23 graduates. This same source of October 27, 2016, revealed Bells University, Otta, to have produced 28 out of 334 – my calculator says this is 1 in every 12. In July 2014, out of 740 graduating students from Covenant University, 82 were on first class – approximately, this is 1 in every 9. You can see how a first class in first degree is as cheap as dust in a sawmill. There is only one thing responsible for this: and that is the first class saga. What this does to our education is, rather than strengthening our mental possibilities, it weakens our cerebral capacities.

Let me conclude by saying that if truly we know that invention is the mother of necessity. If truly we want to produce job-providers and not job-seekers. If truly we want a new face of change not the type we see now. We must look beyond the scramble for a first class certificate; we must cherish what students’ brains show they know and not what the papers say they know. That kind of education is what you and I should chase.



NB: Delivered at The Maiden Professor Umar Abdulrahman Debate Competition, organized by MSSN OAU, held at the Central Mosque, Obafemi Awolowo University.