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Social commentary


I get peeved sometimes when our CS lecturers and some other educationists chide us for not daring to speak up, not participating in class and so on. They like to point out how spoon-fed we are and that we expect everything to be done for us. To be fair, many of our lecturers are really understanding – “I know its 9am in the morning” or “Looks like you’re not sufficiently warmed up yet” and I admire their dedication in that they constantly try to engage and encourage us in spite of our ‘golden mouth’ syndrome. In this they labour day in day out.

It’s now unpopular to attribute it to a cultural thing – that speaking up to a person of a higher stature is rude. Personally I think that the right to speak up should be exercised appropriately and in a respectable manner – not something we should take for granted. And unfortunately, it’s not simply about saying what you feel, but doing so with the temperance that takes into account everyone else around you, including the lecturer you are addressing. In intellectual discourse there is no excuse for insensitive language or crude mannerism.

Now we are all ordered – to speak our minds, never mind if it’s the wrong answer. But herein lies the stumbling block. Our concern here is primarily about getting the ‘right’ answer. No matter how much the lecturer tries to convince the student that the wrong answer doesn’t matter the truth is, that’s what’s at the back of the student’s head. It’s not as much about as being afraid to try and make mistakes but more about the over-emphasis on getting things right.

Typical student culture is about getting things right. Of course, that’s where the grades are. It’s where the results lie. Now, to balance my point, of course it’s important to get things right, that’s an indicator that we’ve learnt something. But education, especially at these higher levels, does not have an end result which wants us to get everything right. It’s to cultivate the thinking process. University education is an experience, (and I don’t just mean having fun in hostel life). The only real way to encourage people thinking is to put them through experiences of thinking through, slugging it out on their own in the directions that their field of study so dictates.

I’m not saying every student has to rediscover Newton’s Laws of Gravity all over again. Only he can hold that honour. But point being, if we are to really fully understand and appreciate it, we’d have to study it in such detail that would amount to our own personal discovery of it. Not just a set of rules that we can apply and watch.

It’s like for example, when we learn some facts about a particular country. Fair enough, we know sufficient facts to form an image in our heads. But our knowledge of the country is nothing unless we one day visit the place itself and see the land, culture, people. And I mean in a real immersive sense, not just visiting the popular tourist sites or activities “Amazing Race”-style. Only then will we actually discover more of it for ourselves.

So why do students obsess with getting things right, such that it hinders the thinking that we are trying to cultivate? My take: it’s in our society.

It used to be, no degree no well-paying job. Now it’s no 1st-class honours no well-paying job. I don’t dare to suggest that all students are obsessed with high-paying jobs, it’s just that our value system of fostering healthy competition is getting excessively overblown. And all around, from all sectors of society, students grow up with this innate pressure that ingrains our result-oriented mindset. (Here “result” meaning a tangible, usable outcome.)

So here’s the point: there’s no pragmatic value in speaking up during class. Just cut to the chase and deliver the answer already. The expectation is reciprocal.

There have been educational reforms. Good-intentioned attempts like the SAT system and the new CCA requirements were however, symptom treatments defeated by our own mindsets, which is the root cause.

What hope do we have? The first step is always the most painful. The national obsession with competition and results has to be checked. There is an agenda behind why this attitude is continually drummed into our daily conversations. From which part of the country could such a shift in our societal mindset begin? It’s your call and mine.

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