Highlights from a conversation with education entrepreneurs

April 20, 2010

Jane Wales is discussing the ways that higher education options affect developing countries at a deep level: who stays, who leaves the country? How does government function? What is the expectation of ethical behavior? Can a country solve its own problems or must it turn to others?

Syed Babar of Pakistan and Ali Patrick Awuah Jr., founder and president of Ashesi University in Ghana both tell powerful stories about the colleges with which they are working. Awuah talks about why he founded a liberal arts college that teaches his students how to think. “If you only teach how to memorize information, you only teach them how to go backwards,” he says. He then goes on to tell a remarkable story about how Ashesi University has ingrained the importance of ethics into students to such a degree that they can now hold unproctored exams. The Ghanaian education ministry cannot believe that students would not cheat in such a situation, but the students and faculty agree that this does not happen and both are passionate about protecting and upholding this practice, which they have come to view as a badge of honor.

Another theme is the marked difference between students who learn to think critically and those who have only learned to follow orders. Awuah tells of a government minister in Ghana who complains that his staff can’t come up with ideas on their own; “The only thing that causes change is a crisis. And those changes will probably come from a consultant from outside of Ghana,” he says. But a different kind of education changes all of that. Says Awuah: “When an employer hires an Ashesi student, they are hiring a mind, not a pair of hands.”

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