In light of the decision by University of Malaya (UM) to warn, fine and suspend some of its students for organising and participating in an unapproved event, I felt that I needed to say a few things about this whole idea that undergrads should focus on studying and graduating.
Our education system is plagued with this sad mentality that is education is equivalent to certification, which it isn’t. Therefore, we have school students who are capable of scoring strings of A’s but are unable to actually understand what it is that they are supposed to have been taught in school, much less apply their knowledge.
This problem is exacerbated at universities, which are supposed to be institutions of higher learning but are relegated to extensions of high school tuition centres these days. The ideology behind tertiery education as expounded by our authorities is that the students should study first and graduate, then worry about the real world.
What is really needed is the ideology that university education isn’t about studying but rather learning, specifically self-learning. However, students these days are no longer capable of learning due to the policy in our education system.
If a lecturer goes to class and does not provide a set of prepared notes and slides, the students are at a loss. Some would whip out their smart-phones to record lectures and take pictures of the lecturer’s scratches on the board. That’ll help with studying, but not learning.
I once tried to encourage learning by providing a reading list instead of notes, and talking in class instead of writing on the board. The result was that half the class failed the course and signed a complaint letter to the dean.
They even fail when it comes to extra-curricular activities. Where in the past I raised RM10,000+ from external corporate sponsorship to run student activities, the students these days tend to rely almost completely on internal grants to run their activities.
The thing is, our graduates are useless because they have been treated like children for far too long. University should be a safe place for them to experiment and explore with independence. They need to be given the opportunity to learn for themselves and do things for themselves. In simple terms – to grow up.
This is why I think that the decision from UM to suspend students who show any sign of independence is downright stupid. Now, keep in mind that these students are not your typical mat rempit troublemakers. Most of them are what would be considered good students with good grades and strong extra-curricular activities. All future leaders.
However, the message that we are sending is that we’d like the students to limit their extra-curricular activities to only the approved list of cultural and recreational activities. Any sort of serious activities need to be organised with great caution.
The fact of the matter is that the university panicked. Anyone looking from the outside could immediately see that. Then, they victimised the students in order to cover up their sheer incompetence. That’s the way that I see it, at least.
Years of promoting mediocrity has resulted in the upper management of the university being manned by people who are unable to think outside the box in tackling the students. Therefore, they have had to resort to the only tool that they have at their disposal – oppression.
Undergraduates need to be given the room to explore and expand in all ways, which includes exploring sensitive issues. If they are not allowed to do it, their development would be stunted. A university should be a little petri dish, giving the students a way to safely try things out.
Now, our undergraduates have learned that the university will take a sledgehammer to force the dough through the cookie-cutter. What the university fails to realise is that the sledgehammer would damage the cookie-cutter when used this way.
Anyway, I’m just rambling now.
I hope that the students who have been suspended will take the opportunity to play a more active role in civil society and student activism. Honestly, they have plenty of spare time on their hands now. They could view this as a form of extended internship which would help the months to pass faster.