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Saturday, December 13, 2008

The political war to shape ‘intellectually weak’ Malaysian university students

NST (11/12/08): The Malaysian education “systems” (note the enhanced plurality) are a primeval sub-division for contiguous political power play in that students are not allowed to join political parties but can be politically active and run for student office. As pawns and lab rats for socio-education engineering, they are perfect foil for politicians of all stripes bidding to push their parochial agendas.

The continuing battle to ensure dominance of languages to the grudgingly bitter acceptance of English as a crucial medium of instruction to the balkanisation of vernacular teaching guarantees that education, in whatever form necessary, is the hotbed of a nervous political war to shape the minds and mindsets of the young, in this case anyone generally below 23-years-old, the age where most students on a linear progression in life graduates from universities.

Nothing is taken for granted when it comes to our children’s education. While the focus is always on the sacrificially aggressive parents with no qualms of mortgaging their homes to pay for their child’s expensive education, very little attention is paid on their kids’ foetal political growth. The perception is that the Universities and University Colleges Act, 1971 had successfully blunted political growth while the child is still on a fixed studying programme.

Nevertheless, political activism in higher education is an exponential battlefield, the invasion coming from all sides of the well-intentioned to the eclectically-intent political parties to the body with the most extreme views. However you cut it, universities are a pervasive dreamscape of political manipulation and in the attitudes of politicians with the highly infectious doctrines, there is no better avenue than to influence and shape a youngster’s hungry curiosity for knowledge, expression and rebellion, as long as their learning curve is bent towards the politician’s ideology and demagoguery.

Kids from six years on to teenagers of pubescent innocence to those with the juvenile angst, and then to the seriousness of college humdrum and mind-boggling competition, are subtly exposed to the realpolitik of how they should be taught the basics of alphabets, maths, science and life in a multitude of languages and dispensatory control. Case in point is the Chinese educationists’ threat to hold street protests if the Government continues teaching Science and Maths in English and the Malay educationists who insist on teaching the two subjects again in Bahasa Melayu.

Officially, our students must be taught basic information from approved syllabuses but unofficially, the incessant drilling of political doctrines is widely intrusive. Some political parties have successfully drummed up abundant support among students as the cesspool for future support, votes and even candidacy.

It would be fair to assume that not every student is susceptible to this aspect of political inducement, just the ones with the hardiest rebellious streak while the rest are content with earning their degrees unobstructed, perhaps learn a trick or two in academic acumen and then proceed to join the distressing rat race amid the severe global economic doldrums.

This had been the mantra for students for all those 37 years since the UUCA was conceived, and it is also why the troublesome Datuk Tajuddin Rahman (BN-Pasir Salak) rose today in the House to label undergraduates as “intellectually weak”, not because of their busy politicking schedule, but because they are, not to put a fine point to it, “plain lazy”.

While debating the Universities and University Colleges (Amendment) Bill 2008, here was how he dazzlingly characterised the “intellectually weak”: "They don't go to the libraries and pursue additional knowledge to improve their minds. They are even lazy to read reference books as it is in English. They said it is difficult, gives them a headache. They only went for exams equipped with knowledge obtained from the lecture hall.”

And how did he arrive to this tenuous verdict? Tajuddin based his abrasive remarks on interviewing undergraduates for employment in his company. "Many had little general knowledge simply because they did not read enough," he lamented while somehow acknowledging that as political activists, our students need no prodding.

"I am not saying politics is not important. I am saying they should concentrate on improving their minds first. This country needs engineers, accountants, industrialists, entrepreneurs," he asseverated.

Does politics have a correlation between academic excellence and a dolt of a student who nevertheless has high political ambitions? The Oxfordian Khairy Jamaluddin (BN-Rembau) does did not think so, contending that there should not be double standards. He even espouses the ideal situation where the Government allows opposition parties to be active in local universities.

If this is the ideal that Khairy is advocating, then it may be academic: political parties have long penetrated universities to expand their doctrinal base. The students’ rebel rousing protests against exotic female singers performing in their campuses can be regarded as proof of these parties’ triumphant reach.

But Malaysian educators might consider Tajuddin’s brazen raking of our college boys and girls through the coals as obnoxious. Are they so I-Robot like that they are capable only of reading notes provided by lecturers or procured at tutorials as a means to progress?

However, truth be told, even if it is spewed by politicians of Tajuddin’s ilk who are in need of buckets of mouthwash in lieu of his earlier scatological escapades in the House, it is one of the more damning observations a politician can inject during an inflective moment when the whole Malaysian education system is in peril of gross mistreatment by political marauders, opportunists and instigators looking for the next populist issue.

But, ingratiating politicians aside, Tajuddin’s point should be contemplated as an indictment of the whole education system where rote learning, memorising and question spotting has bubbled into a vibrant industry where knowledge, understanding and enlightenment is as unthinkable as imploring our children to play professional sports.

Tajuddin’s allegory is actually unoriginal and unsurprising: children have over the years been reduced to simply attending school and universities to only pass examinations and earn degrees. That’s why books on literature and the great knowledge have become historical dustbins. And that is why workbooks to pass examinations flourish commercially, championed and pitched by principals and teachers with an eye on their next commission.

Malaysia upholds ban on student political activity

MySinChew (12/12/08): Malaysia's Parliament has amended a law to allow university students to join social groups but still bans them from political parties, a restriction slammed by critics Friday (12 Dec).

Lawmakers approved the amendments to the Universities and University College Act late Thursday (11 Dec) to allow students to become members of social and other groups outside campus.

But they left untouched a clause that bans students from joining political parties, illegal groups or any other organizations that the government specifies. The law also states that students are not allowed to express support for any political party.

The amendments need to be approved by the Senate and king before taking effect, but these steps are usually formalities.

"In many ways there is more freedom now, except that they cannot join political parties or express support for them. But they can express their views," said Rozaid Abdul Rahman, an aide to Higher Education Minister Khaled Nordin.

Ridzuan Mohammad, coordinator of a coalition of eight student groups that campaigned for the act to be repealed, said the ban on political activities leaves students reluctant to speak up for fear of disciplinary action.

"Those changes are cosmetic," said the 22-year-old Universiti Malaya education student. "We want the UUCA to be abolished."

Government officials have argued that the law _ introduced in 1971 to quell student unrest _ is necessary so students concentrate on their studies and don't get influenced by politicians.

Opposition politicians voted against the amendments to the law, which they say restricts freedom of expression and fundamental human rights.

"It's strange to say this is an improvement," said Tian Chua, a lawmaker with the opposition People's Justice Party. (And from Google)


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