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To what degree is a Jamaican degree useful?

Published:Monday | May 19, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Robert Mitchell, Guest Columnist

Let me put it on record from the outset that I do not have a degree. Subsequent to reading this, I know some of my relatives and friends who do have degrees will, as we say in Jamaica, 'have mi off'.

I believe that persons having a degree means nothing more than they spent more time and money in or on school. In some instances, money is spent and degrees disbursed without any time being spent or work done. In other words, the degree was bought - literally.

I also think a degree obtained today does not carry the weight of one obtained 30 years ago. Back in the good old days, sourcing information in the pursuit of a degree took REAL work, whereas today everything is but a few keystrokes away, thanks to the Internet.

It has long been held that the main purpose of a degree is to make one more marketable on the work front. I posit, though, that in Jamaica, that notion has been tossed out the window. A degree here now acts as a status symbol, something that entitles its holder to look at and treat those without one as inferior. Another of its functions is as a tool, used by employers, to restrict the number of applicants for job positions.

A former colleague of mine who had just completed his degree out here decided that his best option was to migrate. He has subsequently informed me that the degree he spent four years of his life acquiring is of absolutely no use in the United States.

I know people who left their jobs to further their studies and obtain a degree, only to find, upon trying to re-enter the labour force, that there are virtually no jobs to be had, degree or not. What usually happens next is that such a person will take up a job for which they are overqualified and underpaid to boot. And am I the only one who wonders why is it that a degree gained at some unheard-of community college overseas seems to get more ratings than one obtained from our top universities here in Jamaica?

Not envious at all

No, I am not envious of people who have degrees. In fact, based on the Jamaican experience, it would appear that people generally are worse off for having them.

I was at one time under the impression that being in possession of a degree meant that having undergone special training, one had attained a level in thinking that was above that of the ordinary person. Listening to and seeing some of the people who have degrees in action, though, I realise how far off the mark I truly was.

To illustrate my point, I ask readers to impartially answer one question: Given a choice between Kingsley 'Ragashanti' Stewart and Wilmot 'Motty' Perkins, who would you prefer your child to be like when they grow up? Both have the distinction of being talk-show hosts, but one of them just happens to hold a PhD.

The people tasked with the responsibility of managing the affairs of the country are, in the main, holders of degrees as well. The majority of our parliamentarians are lawyers, doctors and other professionals. When these people cannot only conceptualise, but also vocalise the issuing of passports to cows, and the licensing of handcarts, what does that tell you?

If we are honest, many will admit that a mechanic who has never got beyond high school but who has 20-odd years of practical experience working on car engines is preferred to a 20-year-old who has a good first degree in auto mechanics but has less than one year's practical experience.

I could be wrong, but indications are that having a skill trumps having qualifications.

I had decided a long time ago that were I to pursue a degree, it would not be in Jamaica. To date, I have seen nothing that would make me resile from that position. But then again, a degreed person might argue that this type of reasoning is to be expected from someone who does not hold a degree!

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