Prejudice against certificates and diplomas issued by distance learning institutions are sometimes justified but often are irrational. Some people occupying official desks assume that a certificate issued by a public examining body is always more reliable than that from a school, whether a formal or correspondence school. They forget the truth of experience.
From time to time, we learn of an MSCE holder or graduate who cannot compose a letter or in some other manner does not convince the employer that he passed these examinations. Why are security measures being stiffened every year? It is not because some candidates cheat through examinations, sometimes one person has impersonated another and sat the exam on behalf of the genuine candidate.
It is irrational to question the authenticity of a certificate without interviewing the job applicant and screening him on the message the diploma gives. If his diploma is in marketing or human resources management, why not bring in someone who is qualified in this discipline to give the applicant a test?
When Aggrey Memorial School started its operations in 1977, it was easy to enter students for British public examinations like Royal Society of Arts, Pitmans, London Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCCI). The student to whom we issued diplomas and certificate in salesmanship, marketing, accounts went to sit exams of these bodies and most of them passed. This meant that in essence, the certificate or diplomas we issued were identical in standards with those issued by overseas examining bodies.
In those years with two to five kwachas, you could buy a British pound. Students were able to pay entry fees for British examinations. With the present depreciation and devaluation of the kwacha, students find it too expensive to sit for British exams. If it is official policy not to recognise certificates or diplomas issued by a distance learning institution, the government should establish a local examining body.
There are people who think you cannot acquire sound education unless you go to a reputable school or university and come out with a string of degrees. Biographies of great people of the world do not support this view. At the beginning of this century, English people were asked to vote on who were the greatest English people of the past millennium. The majority chose Shakespeare and Winston Churchill, both of whom left school with the equivalent of what we call the O-Level. But both were well read on their own after school days.
Charles Darwin and Isaac Newton left Cambridge University with third class or mere pass degrees. I have read the biography of John Maynard Keynes, perhaps the world greatest economist of the 20th century. I have never come across any sentence that he won a PhD by thesis; some people who have made brief sketches of his life have said he never took a second degree and was just a twelfth wrangler at Cambridge, whatever this means.
You can never tell how profound a person’s learning is until you see what he has done or what he has said. He fools himself who says because he has taken a string of degrees topping them with a doctorate he is at the summit of knowledge. The Germans are a nation of great achievers. One reason is because they say “Es lernt neimand aus, Bis das grab ist unser Haus” which translates as ‘no one is through with learning until the grave is his home’. It is said that by hook or by crook, German mothers see to it that their children start to learn early.
No government, however ample its budget, has been able to educate its citizens alone through the formal system. Even when the private sector takes part in the formal system, there is still the need for open and distance learning; both State-sponsored and private. Our government should take note of this and devise a policy towards open distance learning that boosts the morale of those who want to avail themselves by these facilities.