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RE – UME: MALLAM SHEKARAU, PROF AISHA MAMMAN

Sequel to last week’s responses on the UME SEASON, two new responses came in; so important they are that I shall have to accommodate them…

Sequel to last week’s responses on the UME SEASON, two new responses came in; so important they are that I shall have to accommodate them this week. The first was from immediate past Minister of Education and former Governor of Kano State Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau, who called me up on the phone; and the second, via email, was from one of the most learned Muslim women around here, Aisha Mamman, Professor of Haematology at Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria and ABU Teaching Hospital (ABUTH), Shika. She is as well a long-time public affairs commentator and ardent reader of this Column. Each of the two submissions would have filled the entire page – a politician and a Professor are not known for a few words! Both comments are hereby presented abridged. Enjoy:
MALLAM IBRAHIM SHEKARAU: I really enjoyed the responses from parents on the UME Season. One has to appreciate the concern of parents and guardians on the future of their children. But one thing we, as parents, have to always bear in mind is that we believe in Islam that each one of us is divinely guided to his or her destiny. I am a case in point: when I finished Secondary School from the Kano Community Commercial College (KCCC, now Aminu Kano Commercial College, AKCC), Kano, I was sure I was headed for a career in the bank. I therefore applied for Accounting at ABU. But something happened to my application form, and ABU sent a telegram to my uncle in Kano for me to come to Zaria and rectify the application (they didn’t know me and I didn’t know anyone). I went. As I sat down to re-fill a newly issued form, someone in the Admissions Office noted my excellent O Level Result in Mathematics. He promptly advised I applied for Mathematics. Impressionable young man that I was, I promptly accepted (little did I know I was being divinely guided to my destiny). As I was about to write “Mathematics” on the application, a professor came into the office, also noted my results and commented, “Why only Mathematics? Why not Mathematics/Education? Why don’t you build a career out of Mathematics?” And I accepted. And the rest is history. Allah destined me to be a teacher, and a teacher of Mathematics, and not a banker or Accountant. Alhamdu lilLah for Allah’s choice as I have never looked back. Of course our own parents were not very highly educated so they couldn’t guide us like we now guide our own children. So by all means let’s offer guidance and encouragement, but if something seems to lead somewhere, follow it. Don’t agonise about the future – it’s not ours to control. May Allah help all parents and all our children, amin.
PROFESSOR AISHA MAMMAN: Thank you very much for the thought provoking article on the UME Season. May Allah accept your efforts as Jihad. Let me begin by saying that children are inspired by what they see every day.  In our society, role model careers are few. Medicine, Nursing and may be Law are the professional choices the child of today is constrained to be faced with. Medicine and related disciplines are the first choice careers because it is nearly impossible not to have interacted with either profession, especially in the early years when ill-health is part of growth and development. For Law, I remember the city dwellers in our generation were also inspired by Case File, the weekly television drama series depicting legal scenarios.
The choices are further limited in Northern Nigeria where industries that would normally inspire and broaden career selection have been dormant for more than two decades. Unlike India, we have completely abandoned our cottage industries. India, Ghana and China modified their cottage industries to meet contemporary challenges and many of these countries have developed careers and gigantic corporations from these same cottage industries. Unfortunately, we abandoned ours for ‘modernity’, and lost out on all fronts. We neither have career options nor do we have skills to sustain even our lives.
Our governments worsened matters by creating an environment for the misery associated with teaching and the agro-allied occupations. Growing up in the midst of ‘old school’ teachers, teaching is a recurrent alternative when all else fails. Besides, our parents’ outlook has always been “avoid that which Allah forbids and engage in vocations that are beneficial to mankind”. Parents never missed an opportunity to remind children on the need for competitiveness.
At the peak of youthful exuberance, adolescents aspire for various occupations, careers and vocations, and changing them on a daily basis. A child would aspire for medicine today, and tomorrow he wants to be a spy. This form of emotional instability related to career selection is tampered by career choice prompted by hobbies.
In the past, students in Senior Secondary 1 were given a series of lectures alongside psychometric tests to guide career selection and likely alternatives.  Counselling sessions helped the student to make informed choices and this limited scope was minimised. If I may ask; what is the philosophy behind the entrenchment of UME in the selection process for University students? Is it a criterion for identifying first among equals? Or is it a medium for ‘shifting the goal post? – an expression Nigerians use when they suspect ambiguity in selection of candidates for work, political appointment, or even school.
The ‘unholy marriage between UME, senior secondary certificate examinations by WAEC, NECO and NABTEB has produced a mixture of outcomes; some depressing, others hilarious, not forgetting the role played by corruption in a minority of applicants. The impression one gets is that the cut-off mark is about suitability and not necessarily a first among equals criterion.  The candidates are therefore at the mercy of both the university and the manipulative skills of parents who are ‘highly connected’. As usual many a qualified poor and unconnected candidate misses out.
Whatever the situation, candidates should be prepared for career choices driven by the need to serve humanity as a form of ibadah; that the choice of career should originate from the person with a passionate commitment, and not the choice initiated by friends, parents, teachers or other external factors so that when all else fails, the driving force remaining in a career is that inner commitment or love for the career,  not money or fame; and that at the point of career choice, usually SS1, students should be guided on appropriate subject combination to study in preparation for the qualifying examinations.
Other considerations include that the candidate should also be informed of alternatives that can be adopted in case the preferred course and career are not obtainable. But it is worth noting that some alternatives are ‘dead-end’ courses and cannot offer a sustainable career path independently. Candidates should be informed that there are careers with perpetual employment potentials if one is resilient and creative. These include Teaching, Medicine and, I daresay, Agriculture. These professions are always in demand for obvious reasons.  What of crafts and skills and apprenticeships in carpentry, auto-mechanics, electrical installation etc?
Brother Bala you have not written the last article on UME and related matters. There are teeming youths out there who need your empathetic support to cope with the ‘loss’ of a first choice course. Most students would not mind teaching.  But the late salaries, exploitation by proprietors and meddlesome helicopter parents are some of the factors that discourage the selection of teaching as a vocation. For any choice our children happen upon, let’s say Alhamdu lilLahi and Allah Ya yi zabin albarka (Thanks to Allah and May Allah bless the choice). Amin!
 

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