The purpose of education is to leave the community and the world better than we found it.
WHAT are the qualities that university education should engender in its staff and students? The list is long and expanding. All I can say is that in more than four decades as a law teacher, I have witnessed the ebb and flow of many educational ideologies and movements. Not all of them leave me with the warm glow of being involved in a noble endeavour.
Temple of learning: Traditionally, the university was regarded as a a storehouse of the knowledge and wisdom of the past. It was a receptacle of art, culture and science and a mirror of humanity’s great heritage.
Activity of thought: To paraphrase Alfred North Whitehead, education is activity of thought and receptiveness to beauty and humane feeling. Scraps of information have nothing to do with it. The whole object of education is to develop the mind, not to constrain it; to create graduates who are capable of doing new things and not simply repeating what previous generations have done.
As William Butler Yeats says, “education is not the filling of a bucket but the lighting of a fire”. Noam Chomsky says that “education is really aimed at helping students get to the point where they can learn on their own”. A lively educational system must be geared towards creative exploration, independence of thought, willingness to cross intellectual borders and to challenge accepted beliefs.
Properly trained university students should be broad-minded, ready to receive new thoughts. Regrettably, most syllabi and methods of instruction and evaluation are oriented towards teaching, not learning. They have the effect of strangling curiosity and inquiry. As Robert Ingersoll says: “Colleges are places where pebbles are polished and diamonds dimmed”. The primary aim of public education even at the tertiary level seems to be to indoctrinate and to capture the youth into conformity.
Building character: One of the primary aims of education is to provide all-round development of the individual. University education should produce good democrats, good parents and mature graduates who are capable of being happy and contributing to the happiness of others.
Every university should encourage an activist role in social change. Education is for improving the lives of others and for leaving the community and world better than we found it.
Community service: Besides being profession-oriented, the university should be people-oriented. It should impart a social conscience and a social perspective. It should involve students in the daily struggles of the ordinary citizens. It should teach them the value of social service. It should emphasise town-gown relationships and community links.
Tailor-made, short-term courses for targeted groups should be devised to sensitise them to their rights and duties. These courses should have no formal entry requirement.
Town-gown relationships should extend to links with non-governmental organisations and government-linked companies and even international issue-based groups that are involved in wholesome quests like environmental sustainability.
Research: A university is a laboratory for testing out a new vision of the future.
An acclaimed university must possesses a large number of scholars who are the voice of their professions and who not only reflect the light produced by others (knowledge dissemination) but are in their own right a source of new illumination for the world.
A university should be immersed in knowledge generation, knowledge application, knowledge assimilation and knowledge evaluation.
Career training: The university curricula should show awareness of the needs of the professions and the industries. The knowledge imparted must have relevance and utility. Sublime thoughts must be accompanied by practical solutions to the concrete needs of the times. There must be industry-varsity synergy.
Participation in the economy: In the age to come, one of the new roles of the university will be as export revenue earner and leader in applied research.
Nation building: For a plural country like Malaysia, this role is crucial. It can be achieved by including subjects and topics in our curriculum that foster understanding of and respect for each other’s cultures and traditions.
Globalisation: In an age of internationalisation, university education should impart global perspectives. Students should not only be patriots but also have a sense of world citizenship and of the broader international good.
Western bias: In an Asian context, global views must go hand in hand with “third world perspectives”. We need to develop a consciousness that Asian education is heavily one-sided and suffers from a Western bias. Our programmes of education, curricula, textbooks and icons are all European and American. It is as if the whole of Asia and Africa is and always was an intellectual desert.
For this reason, Asian universities must build their citadels of knowledge with flowers of many gardens. That would be true globalisation!
Democratising education: Beyond all other devices of human origin, education is the great equaliser of the condition of human beings. The university should seek a broad range of students. It must have a balanced urban-rural representation. It must involve itself in adult literacy.
The “quest quotient” should excite us as much as the “intelligence quotient”. A person should be educated because he is human; not because he is likely to produce new machines and methods.
Continuing education: A university must be involved in the continuing education of its staff. He who dares to teach must never cease to learn.
Sadly, the above traditional aims are under challenge. Educational idealism is giving way to pragmatism and functionalism.
The question is being asked: are universities about education or utility? An institution thousands of years old is in the cusp of profound changes, not all of which are wholesome.
> Shad Faruqi, Emeritus Professor of Law at UiTM, is a passionate student and teacher of the law who aspires to make difficult things look simple and simple things look rich. Through this column, he seeks to inspire change for the better as every political, social and economic issue ultimately has constitutional law implications. He can be reached at email@example.com. The views expressed here are entirely his own. The STAR Home > Opinion > Columnists Reflecting On The Law Thursday October 2, 2014 MYT 12:00:00 AM