By Bai M. Gbala, Sr
In her recent article, Reshaping African PhDs (New Democratnews, May 18, 2017), Vice Chancellor Cheryl de la Rey of the University of Pretoria, South Africa, underscored “The growing recognition that knowledge and innovation are critical contributors to national wealth and welfare, postgraduate education – specifically doctorial training – has become a priority for African higher education”.
Chancellor de la Rey strikes at the core of 21st century issues concerned with knowledge – classical knowledge for the sake of knowledge, as it were, and/or “knowledge & innovation” as critical contributors to national wealth (Adam Smith) and welfare.
Indeed, almost, all African countries, particularly, my home country, Liberia, “Slum Democracy”, representing the “Dis-Possessed” poor and un-educated has gained or is gaining popularity.
Domiciled in over-crowded, over-populated shanty-town, Slum-enclaves of Liberia’s Capital City of Monrovia are the children of parents who fled from the towns and villages of Rural Liberia, ignored, isolated and rejected by the nation’s rulers/decision-makers, with little or no socio-economic development such that the parents became part of the world-wide historical process of rural-to-urban migration, but without the necessary requirement for urban, economic survival.
Hence, they (parents) became/become street market merchants, with side-walk, eye-sore shops and displays, and their children became/become street-walking, teen-age peddlers, with some who were child-soldiers, carried AK-47s and graduates of Liberia’s civil war nightmare.
Un-educated but “street-smart” and “with it” leaders of the “consumption-without-production” generation of about age 30 and under, the nation’s overwhelming majority (of the Body Politic) and undisputed “voice of the Wrath of the Dis-Possessed, now elected members of the National Legislature. Judging from the 170-year, historic shenanigans of public/private dishonesty and rampant corruption, including the “12-year business-as-usual” public/private dishonesty and this new democratic approach, the “Slum Democracy”, apparently, it is now “New wine in old bottles”, inexperience due to lack of education, legislative social class vengeance or all of the above.
Meanwhile, today’s upper-class African leaders’ obsession with and for classical knowledge-education and traditional “model of careers in education”, by and large, appears to be unmindful of the 21st century demand that “knowledge and innovation are” or have become the “critical contributors to national wealth”, rooted in post-graduate study, a pre-condition, that the title of “doctor” earned from post-graduate education maintained its respect and honor in society in “traditional pathways” to careers in academia, although informed, also, of the “critical” need for “careers in government, industry and the professions”.
This need is shown by the proliferation or multiplicity of the internet, online schools and universities for post-graduate education with the terminal degree of “doctor” in the area concentration, but there is muted or quiet, general dissatisfaction with the quality of online learning, particularly, online doctorates in government and industry circles.
But research study sponsored by the American Sloan Foundation and the published, research information, The Future of Online Teaching & Learning in Higher Educationby Kyong Kim and Curtis Bonk, also American professional educators, did not address the issue of academic quality of online “doctoral” degrees as compared to ones earned by resident or face-to-face learning. This approach is understandable because:
1. The survey questions did not, specifically, ask for rating the online doctoral degree;
2. The survey questions were addressed not to the end-user, the consumer – government and industry, but addressed to the producer and the product – the online teaching institutions and the students; and
3. With the overwhelming majority of American education privately-owned and operated on the economic theory of profit and loss, with sales (of degrees) to the highest bidder, one can understand the logic of the research survey questions.
Now, our hunch, based on years of interactions with doctors, both traditional and online, tended to support the view held by many that online doctorates do not enjoy credibility and quality, though online study is relatively convenient and inexpensive to older and poor students with family responsibilities, because of:
1. The absence of campus residence, dormitory, college atmosphere with debates, discussions and exchange of ideas with students from diversity of backgrounds, cultures and society, a learning and academic enrichment;
2. Lack or absence of interaction with on-campus resident, major-area study advisor;
3. Use of paid-class attendants representing online students with periodic term paper- writers.
4. Doctoral degree Thesis absent of the level, scope, depth, range and coverage of traditional academic requirement of original thought and contribution to knowledge; and
5. The “doctor” degree has become apparent path or roadway to Government for instant, over-night riches due to public/private dishonesty, moral decadence and Corruption, Incorporated.