|Denison, Ruhan, Bavani, Datuk Saifuddin, Adam, Ismail & Jing Cheng|
By Datuk Dr Denison Jayasooria (Proham Secretary General)
Proham hosted a discussion on Feb 6, 2013 on the theme of nurturing thinking university students which was attended by about 45 people - a majority university students or recent graduates. The panel was made up of a dynamic team of young intellectuals. We had the opportunity to hear Muhammad Ismail (UKM); Bavani KS (UUM); Ong Jin Cheng (USM) & Adam Adli (UPSI).The discussion was ably moderated by Ruhan Shahrir (KITA-UKM) who made linkages to sociological theory as well as captured very systematically the voices to young intellectuals. Participants too spoke up and enriched the discussion.
The issues and concerns were well articulate by both the panel and particpants. They spoke from their experience of being victimised and restricted by the institutions for speaking up on contemporary issues which are often categorised as political or sensitive. Yet these young people during the discussion spoke with maturity and calmness drawing from their experiences as well as the experiences of others. They were frank and honest. They all had one thing in common namely the determination to voice out their views and in doing so were exercising their fundamental human rights.Structural issues a hurdle for nurturing a thinking generation
The discussions were of very good quality and in-depth. More senior people should have come to listen to their voices which can help to mould and nurture a new generation of outspoken young people, all doing their best in the interest of the nation.While each panellist started with some personal experience, they all also highlighted the macro issues and concerns negatively impacting the emergence of a truly thinking society. They referred to ‘structural dimensions’ and issues which are perpetuated in ‘national interest’ but which is a stumbling block to creative thinking within modern democratic societies
They highlighted the current system of education which is not nurturing thinking from an early age which demands from students to be passive recipients of information and knowledge. The public or open space to interact, challenge and question is not provided. They cited the streaming of students into arts and science with students receiving higher grades into science even if he or she had an interest in arts or social science as a negative dimension has it denies them the right of choice.They narrated the oppressive environment which is restrictive with so many rules and procedures especially in higher educational institutions which robes them of their creativity or opportunity to intellectual activism. The spoke of the intense control of student elections by the administrations favouring pro-establishment student candidates. They illustrated that the ‘speaker coroners’ are not really democratically hosted and free space for expressions. They noted the role played by university security personal as like a special branch monitoring every move. The catch phrase “ikut’ (follow) the rules and guidelines and do not question it is dominant. They did highlight of ‘brain washing sessions’ which does not enable a thinking mind.
The panel and many participants who spoke up called for greater autonomy for the students to manage their affairs like student body elections. Some spoke of the brain drain on the aspect of those leaving the country but other said that who did not migrate but remained were physically here but had their brains drained out of them by the system.They see education being do market oriented with learning becoming a product or commodification of learning which has very negative consequences to fostering a thinking society. They felt that private sector is making money and called for government to enlarge public sector opportunities and also provide higher education free for all without the burden of student loans.
They feel that a majority of students are trapped in a culture of fear, making them afraid to speak up as they fear losing their place or scholarship or student loan. One participant called the learning process “membodokan” – the system is making us stupid. Another participant spoke up on the ‘dehumanising aspect and effect’.They want party politics out of the universities. They note that many positions including the appointment of the Vice Chancellors as a political process and not a merit one as they see the VCs as being pro administration and ensuring student responses are also directed in this form.
They want universities to be run and managed by academics and intellectuals. They see universities as a place of learning and not a factory producing workers for the factory. They want it to be a place for ideas, dreams and hopes. They want the current legislation reviewed to give greater space for both student and lecturers in intellectual activism.YB Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah
YB Saifuddin’s presence and closing remarks was encouraging as a voice from the Federal Administration. He came also as a friend of young people to hear their view, encourage them and reassure them that government is reviewing these matters seriously. He also indicated that he was aware of these issues and said that the Minister of Higher Education is instituting a higher education reform process. He called on Proham to continue this process and document these findings for policy review.Proham’s response
Proham hosted this discussion so as to provide the space for young intellectuals from local universities to article their issues and concerns from a human rights framework. We recognise that this dialogue is important and that formal spaces must be provided. We note that the young have an important role and contribution to make.The discussion findings are being documented and Proham hope to release them to the Federal government for their review and adoption. Proham will continue to champion the conducive environment of learning to nurture creative minds as young people are the future of this land.