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THE NEXUS BETWEEN EDUCATION AND COMPETENCE

 

For decades, our continent has suffered from dictatorship, poverty, diseases, bad governance, lawlessness and lack of basic infrastructure. In the eyes of the modern world, our people are perceived as the least competent and the least competitive of this modern age. “ Perception is reality ”so goes the cliché. While we may not agree with the perception of us, it’s still our responsibility to change it.

 

While this --un--fair perception of our people is unfortunate, it informs us of the opportunity to address the root cause of this --mis--characterization of our people. In this article, I like to address the topics of education and competence and try to establish a link between the two.

In 2011, it was recorded that the literacy index in Cameroon was about 68 %. What this means is that about seven in ten of our people attended some level school, and as a result they know how to read and write. This rate of literacy earned Cameroon the rank of 151st in the world behind countries like Nigeria (72%, ranked 142), South Africa (88%, ranked 113).

While these numbers can certainly be improved, they remain acceptable for a country that is still to overcome so many challenges of its development at this point in time of its history. However, the affect of such a number would be more positive if it reflected on the overall state of the country. So, why is it that a country of relatively educated people can’t seem to deliver a functional Government or services to society ? Why is it that the rate of literacy has not effectuated positive and creative societal archetypes, where citizens are competent and well-mannered in whatever carrier or profession they may exercise ? Why is it that our society and country as a whole have not benefited from its literacy level ? Why is there such a chasm between education, competence and civil amity ? What can be done to fill the gap between education and competence ? What’s the nexus between the two ?

Before we delve into the discussion, let’s get some keywords.

Competence: Possession of the required skill set and knowledge to perform a duty. Capacity to understand and implement what needs to be done and how things should be done in a personal or professional setting in order to effectuate the best possible outcome. Competence is usually associated with terms like due diligence, due care in a professional context.

After many years of sacrifice and endurance in an educational institution such as a college or a University, the graduate acquires a wealth of knowledge in his area of discipline and is certainly competent to operate within his area of study. Right ? Our Government is run by mostly learned people with post graduate and terminal degrees –Masters and PhDs--. Why is our Government so ineffective ? Why is it managed so poorly ? How can a ministry not know how many civil servants it employs ?How can deceased people, or people still working be collecting pensions and the system has no built-in checks to detect such a scam ? Why so much incompetence in the presence of so much literacy ? Let’s actualize the discussion with the examination of a few cases.

Can a Medical Doctor run a hospital ? Is someone with a PhD in public health necessarily competent to run the ministry of health ? Does someone with a degree in petroleum qualifies to run Sonara ? Is someone with a degree in Journalism necessarily competent to run the CRTV ? Can knowing how to make coffee qualifies you to operate a Starbucks ? Can having great culinary skills to prepare a very delicious Ndole, Achu or Okraw soup qualify you to manage a large restaurant ?

Well, in the case of the Medical doctor, after some 7 plus years in medical school, the graduate certainly knows enough to perform the duties of providing Medical care to someone in need. Which is essentially to diagnose and treat an ailment. So can he manage a medium size hospital ? Well, running a hospital requires more than just treating patients right ? There is more to a hospital than just doctors, nurses and patients. A modern hospital has Policies and procedures, it has resources, --tangible and intangible--, it has people, paramedics, ambulance service, reception, emergency, beds, admissions, huge and expensive medical equipment, medical supplies, triage, billing, parking lots, elevators, building and so forth.. Let’s get back to the question: Can someone with a Medical degree run a hospital ? The short answer is no. Not if the only knowledge he possesses is in the field of medicine. Running a hospital requires a great deal of management skills, some of which may or may not be part of the medical curriculum. A modern hospital needs the following: Policies that articulate the vision, the objectives, the scope and size of services that the facility can provide. It also needs well defined procedures on how the hospital will operate to achieve its objectives and goals. The writ of the procedures also defines how processes and tasks are carried out in the hospital. Proper codes of conduct in the hospital premise must be well defined and articulated. There must be other administrative controls such as, a resource allocation timetable, scheduling, in hospital training, “on call service” staff, facility maintenance and management..etc.. When all of this is drafted and put in place, there must be a plan of execution that details how the information and instructions in these documents are disseminated and socialized with all the staff in the hospital. How will duties and responsibilities be separated, how personal responsibility is effectuated and how accountability is enforced ? Who is supposed to put these documents together ? Who is supposed to insure that the policies are reviewed and updated on a continual basis to ensure continual Service improvement ? Whose job is it to insure that the policies are being implemented and executed and that the intended objectives are being met?

Then, there is the Operational phase. There must be a standard operating procedure –SOP-- on how this hypothetical hospital --as a unit-- is supposed to be operated on a day to day basis. What happens when a patient walks in ? Who interviews the patient at check-in ? In what manner should the interview be conducted ? What should and shouldn’t be asked of the patient ? How to coordinate all these services ? How about Medical Equipment and facility maintenance, medical supplies, how do the patients get billed for the treatment they receive ? How are payments made ? To all this should be added other Administrative, physical, environmental and technical controls to keep up with known standards of a modern facility of this type.

Defining the above requirements, implementing and executing these controls, and managing the hospital on a day to day basis is what makes a person –who may or may not be a Medical doctor--competent for this job. A medical doctor will need additional skills set --some in Management-- and “on the job training” to be able to fit the bill. The requisites for the position may or may not require a Medical degree.

This is what Management functions calls for. We all manage things in our daily lives, albeit in very miniature scale. But managing complex structures –such as a hospital, a Government agency, or even a private institution—requires a very thoughtful, lengthy, tedious and intelligent process. It certainly requires skills other the one you may have acquired and mastered in your area of study. It requires hard and persistent work. It requires due diligence, mental rigour, good judgment, strictness and discipline that conceptual knowledge alone may not be enough to dispense and for which experiential knowledge is the subsidiarity. The combination of all these skills are indispensable to operate structures –that provide services to society and country -- like a Hospital, an Embassy, a Ministry, a Government agency, or building a bridge such as the BanaBeri bridge.

If you have ever been to a hospital in Cameroon, -- A police Station or a Government agency-- you can tell –for yourself-- whether the people responsible for running these institutions of society are competent or not. From the many stories I have heard coming from Cameroon with respect to hospital visits, trying to get a Government issued document or a service –which are citizens’ rights and privileges--, they are not. Corruption is just one manifestation of incompetence. It’s the one tree that hides the forest of incompetence.

The same analogy applies to the guy with a PhD who has been given the responsibility to manage a Ministry. The job of a Minister requires an in depth understanding of Government bureaucracies, Government structure, policies and procedures, laws and regulations. In addition to his very honorable achievement of PhD, the candidate, to be effective, must acquire additional skills and receive “Problem solving” on the job training to be competent. Just having a PhD does not necessarily make him competent for administrative and management functions of a Ministry. –No disrespect for this highly Honorable academic achievement--. The same applies to the case of the Sonara and the CRTV mentioned above. We can also consider the case of Law enforcement. A properly trained and competent police officer will not ask the driver of one vehicle an ID and a driver’s license, while asking another for a passport and an ID –even though both can serve the same purpose--, and a third driver for a proof of taxation and a birth certificate. –I may be dramatizing a little, but I am sure you get the point--. To be an effective law enforcement agent requires more skills than just one or two years of physical training, packing revolvers and pistols and firing at the shooting range.

I grant that while some of this behavior may be pre-meditated intention to incite bribery, it could also be due to gross incompetence. The officer may simply not know and understand what the job of Law enforcement is really all about. So he improvises and creates new rules –his own rules-- as he goes about it.

This is why in the eyes of the world, we are seen as incompetent. This is why we are least respected. It is why we are seen as a people who can’t seem to know how to govern themselves and their countries. The world sees that we are unable to setup functionally sound structures –based on structurally well-defined processes-- that provide services to our citizens in an organized, dignified and honorable way, even in the 21st century. We all complain about it. So what can we do about it ?

I have urged our young graduates not to abandon the books upon leaving college. Don’t spend too much of your time drinking beer, dancing Makossa and entertaining the sensual pleasures. I am not suggesting that you stay away from it completely, for it is part of the joys of life. What I am saying is that, after leaving school, take the time to read books in other areas, in order to expand your knowledge and understanding on topics other the one you studied in school. Keep your knowledge and skills up to date, while broadening the scope of your knowledge base. Go to the library and pick up a book in Management or developmental psychology, or in spirituality to expand the scope of your understanding of the topics that matter. Do selective “problem solving” reading to improve and leverage on the great knowledge you have worked so hard to acquire. Knowledge is not a static value. It’s dynamic, evolving and changing. Your knowledge is only as good as today. You must stay abreast on the topics of our time.

To those who are in government, or in Business, I urge you to identify your areas of weakness and find a way to transform your weakness into strength. It begins with identifying things that can be improved upon, and work diligently to acquire the extra skills needed to accomplish the goal. Find a training in Management or psychology, buy a book, or go to the library to search and research. Build and maintain a small library of yours at home. You will be glad you did this investment. You can use the internet to find free seminars, webinars, free literature on the topic of interest. Find something around you that you can improve –there must be--, and research how to make it better. Our Government should incentivize continual –problem solving-- training to all civil servants in Government agencies. Get them the correct set of skills they need to perform the duty for which they are responsible. Policies and procedures should be drafted. SOPs, SSPs, MOs, processes and tasks must be clearly defined and documented for review and improvement. The “what” and the “how” things are to be done must be defined and documented in all Government Agencies. We must have a system in place to audit these Agencies to insure that they are following their own processes and procedures, and that they are continually reviewing and improving their policies and procedures in order to be more effective and productive. And if it’s determined that they are not doing due diligence and due care, there must be sanctions in place to hold them accountable.

Pervasive corruption is a culmination of failure to define and implement well-structured, thoughtful and intelligent policies and procedures and Standard operating procedures. Corruption is a symptom of a dysfunctional and thoughtless system. It’s the one tree that conceals the forest --of incompetence--.

Our Government can implement mandatory “on site” in house training programs in our Government Agencies. The training can be administered by instructors who come to the facility or they could be computer based in some cases. We can have programs such as:

-Corruption awareness Program

-Anti-tribalism awareness Program

-Personal and interpersonal Code of conduct awareness program

-Competence awareness Program

-Process oriented awareness program

-Project management Program

-Respect for the Law awareness Program

I understand that the cost associated with the dissemination of these programs can be high, but the greater cost to society is having corrupt and incompetent civil servants and citizens. The money spent for keeping our people’s skills up to date and increase their productivity and effectiveness, pales in comparison to what we lose by maintaining a dysfunctional, corrupt and incompetent system.

Getting our people the proper training will harness and leverage on the knowledge they have put so much hard work to acquire in colleges and Universities. That’s how we get our people not just the knowledge but more importantly the competence to do what is asked of them in the 21st century. “Practical Problem Solving Oriented Training” at the job, is the nexus between education and competence.

When we do these things, we will begin to change the negative perception that we are incompetent and irrelevant as a people. And we will earn more respect in the eyes of the world.

“Corruption is just one manifestation of incompetence. It’s the one tree that hides the forest --of incompetence--.” –ANST--

--Well-defined Policies and procedures and “Practical Problem Solving Oriented Training” constitute the nexus between education and competence.—ANST—

"Pervasive corruption is a culmination of failure to define and implement well-structured, thoughtful and intelligent policies and procedures and Standard operating procedures. Corruption is a symptom of a dysfunctional and thoughtless system. It’s the one tree that conceals the forest --of incompetence--." --ANST--

“Our President, our Ministers, our Government are not the change we have been waiting for. We are.” –ANST—

--Powered by the ANST Brotherhood--

 

 

 

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