Saturday, 9 January 2016

I DIDN'T WRITE A LONG ESSAY

WHY DIDN'T I WRITE?

In my final year, I was still very much occupied with leadership activities both within and outside the University of Ghana campus. I still was attending all manner of meetings, conferences and events. One day, a friend of mine asked me whether I had any regrets as a final year student and I said yes. There were so many things I did and didn't do on campus that I regret even today (which I will write about some other time). Certainly, not writing a long essay wasn't one of my regrets.

Everybody who has passed through University knows what a long essay is. Its purpose is basically to give students the opportunity to practicalise their research skills by investigating a specific social or scientific issue using appropriate research methodology and writing a 5000-word report on it. It used to be compulsory in the University of Ghana as it still is in other Universities. But few years ago, it was made optional in some departments including my major department, the department of Sociology.

As expected, a lot of my classmates opted out leaving only a few to write. I was part of the few writing, initially. My topic "The Influence of Religion on Students' Academic Life" was approved and I was given a supervisor, the late Professor Max Assimeng. For well over one month, I never got the time to meet him to discuss my project and by the time I did, he had already taken all my colleagues under his supervision through the process. That day, he lambasted me without mercy, and rightly so. That pushed me off but then it also brought the reality upon me that I seemed too busy to do the long essay as well as I would love to. So I quit. That was my "official reason" for not doing a long essay. However, having given some thought to how our University system is run, I think I have another reason. It is that writing a long essay would have been a complete waste of time.

THE ISSUE
There are millions of long essay reports on millions of social, business and scientific issues. Not one of them has been translated into something concrete. People merely write, obtain grades and rest their works on the shelves. Apart from the experience in research that students may gain (not in all cases), there is absolutely no benefit to the individual, to the school or the Ghanaian society at large. All of those reports have been gathering dust on the shelves, just like any other report in Ghana.

There is the need to make long essays relevant to building our country.

THE IDEA
Our universities should make all long essays applied research work. In other words, the work should trigger actions on specific social problems and propose solutions to them and these actions should not be recommendations to government or any other agency. The processes of working out the actions should become projects for the students to carry out. Let me give an example; if I chose to write a long essay on open defecation, I should be able to properly investigate the causes and effects as well as propose actionable solutions to it. So if I proposed that for open defecation to be solved, faeces must be made 'sellable' and 'buyable' commodities, then I should design a project as part of my final level 400 work to put this idea into action. I should design alone, or in collaboration with others a system to make people sell their faeces for money such that they will be reluctant to throw it away in the open. Indeed, by the time I complete level 400, I might be able to translate this project into a permanent job for myself and graduate unemployment can be reduced.
But solving problems is not the only way long essays can be made relevant. Innovations can be unearthed through the process as students will be challenged to think critically about solutions and new things. The current system stifles creative and imaginative thinking. Students only regurgitate old topics and notes, after all they know their essays are completely useless.

For us to develop, our Universities will have to play a much bigger role than just churning out graduates to fill the streets. One way to do this is making final year research work (long essay) relevant to society.

Hardi Yakubu
Vice President (Research & Strategy), NERA

3 comments:

  1. The question arises as to who is to utilise and make relevant a student long essay....is it the Student or the Lecturer? Students must write long essays in what they truely believe in and practicalise it when they leave school. The main focus shouldn't be on publizhing it and what govt does and doesn't

    ReplyDelete
  2. I truly share in your views.
    I had a similar experience and couldn't write my long essay. I dropped it.
    I remember how my supervisor continuously sends me email even when am outside the country, prompting me about deadlines that I never met and those that I must work to meet.
    Eventually, I couldn't meet any since I was still not available.
    I also looked at the impact I was making which I think was better than trying to recoil and write long essay.
    But I believe if it was result and impact driven, I would have done it.

    ReplyDelete