Friday, 14 November 2008

AUKU and the Generation of the Uncurious

"Our education system must change. Our children are just not curious enough. They must be curious about the world. They must ask questions." These are the words uttered by Deputy Prime Minister (and in-coming Prime Minister) Najib Abdul Razak in his opening speech yesterday at the Seminar on Creating a Blue Ocean in Education and Training Sectors in Kuala Lumpur.

Back in August this year, I attended a forum organised by the network of academic staff associations to discuss suggestions on amendments to be made to the University and University College Act (more widely known by its Malay acronym AUKU – Akta Universiti dan Kolej Universiti). AUKU (in its current state today) was enacted in 1975 to disallow university and college students as well as all academicians from being actively involved in political parties. The bill was tabled by the then Minister of Education Dr. Mahathir Mohamad in the aftermath of the Baling Demonstration organised by student and youth organisations and supported by many academicians. Anwar Ibrahim was allegedly the key youth leader who organised the demonstration, and Dr. Syed Husin Ali (then a senior lecturer at the University of Malaya) was one of the academicians who openly supported the event. Both were swiftly detained under the ISA, and both are now respectively the De-Facto Leader and Deputy President of the main opposition party, Parti Keadilan Rakyat (National Justice Party).

In the AUKU forum mentioned above, the keynote address was delivered by a former vice-chancellor of a public university here in Malaysia. Reminiscing on the ‘good old-days’ of pre-AUKU, the former VC described the time when academicians were welcomed to express their critical views on political leaders and current issues effecting the country, student unions very active in various social-political activities, and student leaders celebrities in campuses across the country. But to me, the highlight of his presentation was his response to the oft-repeated statement that "AUKU is important to make sure students concentrate on their studies." His swift respond, "close all campuses... have all academic courses conducted online".

Let me add a bit more to the point above. Since public universities nowadays are pressured to become more financially self-sufficient, all lectures should be pre-recorded in an 'infotainment' format, mass copied in DVDs and then sold to students. Thus, at the start of every semester, after registering for a set of courses, student can go to bookshops as well as Tower Records and Speedy video stores to buy the DVD’s and then view them at their own convenience any time anywhere throughout the semester. If they have any inquiries, they can email the academic coordinator of the course, use Yahoo Messenger and other chatting programmes, or even use video conferencing for individual consultation. Students need only come to campus to take their exams. If this is done, not only will universities make money from the sales of these 'academic' DVDs, they will also reduce drastically their operation cost. Students would be happy having been given the freedom to study at their own pace and not troubled by the need to rush from class to class every day. Professors and lecturers can thus devote more time in research and academic activities other than teaching. Surely, this is a win-win situation, or is it?

Coming back to AUKU, if the reason to continue to have it is to prevent students from getting involved in partisan politics, I can agree with that to a certain extent. As my university’s former president once said, "there are no principles in partisan politics." But then, if that is the case, let us be fair and not selective. If students can be charged for misconduct because of their involvement in campaigning for opposition parties, students who act as 'volunteers' in UMNO gatherings should also be charged for the same crime. If the PAS youth movement is not allowed to infiltrate into campuses, Puteri and Putera UMNO should also be barred from recruiting members from among university students. If professors and lecturers are not allowed to become members of PAS, DAP and PKR, they also should not be allowed to become members of UMNO, MCA and MIC.

My personal view, and in respond to the DPM’s statement quoted in the first paragraph, let us abolish AUKU. Give freedom to students and academicians to explore their own sense of idealism without fear of punishment. Of course, if anyone transgresses; immersing oneself in politics while neglecting one’s principle duties as a teacher or a student, the person must be punished. But let’s not punish people for questioning the status quo and exploring differing political ideologies.

I am quite certain if the government decides to abolish AUKU, it will not result in an explosion of public support for opposition parties. When given the freedom to explore and reflect, people will eventually realise that while the current government is not always right, the opposition parties are not immune from mistakes and weaknesses either. The main thing is, students should be allowed to question and encouraged to develop a healthy sense of scepticism about everything they learn.

Three decades of AUKU has produced a culture of passive submission prevalent among university students and academicians. Should we then be surprised that "our children are just not curious enough"?

8 comments:

bubu said...

Quite interesting that you relate DPM's statement (which he targeted to school children, I assume) to AUKU and university students.

I might not be the right person to say this, as compared to you whose job is a lecturer, but I do agree, to some extent, that university students are not curious enough. If this is not accurate (as it is hard to measure curiosity among students), then they might not be brave enough to voice out because of social desirability (saying with a humble voice). Again, I can be wrong.

The online course that you brought up actually reminded me of a friend who once told me of that system being done in a university. Except that it is not done online, but you have to come for the first class (to get infos, notes, etc.) and then other classes are optional up until final exam, which constitutes 100% of the course grade (which is quite scary to some extent). It would be better to see the comparison of the effects of implementing both types of course-admin (online and normal classes).

p/s - And yeah, as s student, It'd be great if classes are optional. Hehe.

Zaki Samsudin said...

Brother Bubu,

As always, thanks and appreciate your great comments.

First-of-all, the DPM did relate his address to university students. The linked NST article below should clarify things

http://www.nst.com.my/Current_News/NST/Friday/National/2401829/Article/index_html

To explain more a few points, to repeat my comments in YB Tony Pua's blog (my MP in Petaling Jaya Utara), "schools and universities are places for them (students) to interact, to talk, discuss, agree & disagree and learn to deal with different personalities (teachers and friends); to be challenged, cajoled, ridiculed, provoked and inspired. If schools and universities are only for students to listen and submit, as the former VC said, we might as well record all lectures in DVDs and sell them to students. Guarantee easy money. We don't need to spent on building and maintaining premises."

To be physically present in class is to enable students and teachers to have face-to-face discussion. Sometimes I do wish that I can just assign students to do their own readings and devote class hours only for discussion. But I do understand that there are certain barriers to that; language is one, culture is another (as Prof Malik Badri often says, "Malay students are over-adabised", feeling shy and not wanting to question and discuss with their lecturers).

I have certainly failed miserably in getting student to talk in my classes, to the extent that now I don't even care to ask "do you have any questions?"

How can I change that? Brother Bubu, could you please enlighten me?

JazakAllahu khayr.

igUm said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
igUm said...

Great...Great....
Good posting bro.
i think all Malaysian students, university ones especially, have to read this including minister of higher education..

why don't you copy and spread it to the people in the your class

submissive culture just makes people dull....

fatmax said...

Salam,

It would be exciting if we could have a situation where both parties, lecturers and students, can speak up and discuss on one agreed topic in a class. I believe the idea of having students in a class, physically, is for the class to benefits from each other fluidly and not only focusing on lecturer-students basis. Skeptically speaking, I can see that somehow not every student voluntarily share this idea.

Referring to your points regarding to the AUKU, I believe the system can be flexible enough if the students’ knows how to think creatively. While AUKU was created long time ago in order to 'maintain' the order of the then university students, I still think AUKU can be relevant to the current generation. I presumed if the current university students aware of their capabilities and know how to materialized it in order to 'abide' the rules introduced by AUKU, AUKU should not be seen as a problem. Instead of abolishing AUKU, I would suggest that university students be more creative and proactive in capitalizing their ideas in tackling AUKU issues henceforth portraying the image of a sophisticated student.

However, the present university students should also bear in mind that for any actions taken by them concerning to the AUKU issues, it should reflect the interest of the present students as a whole and possibly for the future students as well. It would be useless if the ‘fight for you right’ slogan serves only one particular group interests while ignoring the rest hence creating further complications.

Zaki Samsudin said...

Brother fatmax,

Appreciate and respect your views.

My reasons for still advocating the abolishment of AUKU is:

1. AUKU is often applied selectively by powers-that-be

2. the mere existence of AUKU serves as a deterrent, a psychological chain that shackles expression and exploration of different ideas.

Of course, there are limitations to freedom of expression and participation. For that, I think we have other laws and exisiting regulations to refer to.

The lack of intellectual sophistication among students is of course not entirely due to AUKU. But AUKU is most definitely a major contributing factor.

Thank you,

Zaki

bubu said...

Slm w.b.t.
Apologize for the late response. My reply to ur request would be a lil bit too long to post as a comment. I'd like to have ur email address so that I can mail it to you. Thanks.

*Apologies to other readers that may want to read it also, but I have no idea how to post it in any other way. Am simply fulfilling my responsibility to answer the request.

Zaki Samsudin said...

Brother Bubu,

You may email me at mohamadzaki@yahoo.com