This entry must come as an irony to many who knows me. Partly because I don’t have a university qualification (my highest academic qualification is SPM), but mostly because I don’t have one due to the fact that I was expelled after being in one (Universiti Putra Malaysia) for far too long. I partly blame my mum for this. When in school, she had always told me to study hard and get myself into university, conveniently forgetting to ever mention leaving one with a scroll. She told me to get an education, when in fact she should have simply instructed me to get a qualification.
I pondered my mum’s old advice again yesterday – which she still gives to my younger siblings and her students in school – after reading an interesting piece of article written by Dato’ Saifuddin Abdullah (Deputy Minister of Higher Education) in Utusan Malaysia – Read it here. And it all now makes clear, good sense. University has both a utilitarian and a moral function. Character and moral development are necessary to give the critical intellect humane purposes.
As I passionately engage myself in my business as a so-called “debate promoter” around and about universities and schools, I too often find that most students and their parents have a misconception of the purpose of university. Most of them enroll in one thinking that university is merely a place that would equip them with the proper instruments of exploitation so that they can forever trample over the less clever or fortunate masses. A pit stop or a transitional journey from teenage life to adulthood.
It seems to me that education has a two-fold function to perform in the life of a person and in society: the one is utility and the other is culture. University education must vest a person the capacity to become more efficient, to achieve with increasing facility the legitimate goals of his life. Education must also train one for quick, resolute and effective thinking. To think incisively and to think for one’s self is very difficult. We are prone to let our mental life become invaded by legions of half truths, prejudices, and propaganda. At this point, I often wonder whether or not education is fulfilling its purpose. A great majority of the so-called educated people do not think logically and scientifically. Even the media, the classroom, the blogosphere, and the pundits in many instances do not give us objective and unbiased truths. To save people from the muddle of propaganda, in my humble opinion, is the paramount targets of a university education. Education must enable one to filter and weigh evidence, to discern the true from the false, the real from the unreal, and the facts from the fiction.
The function of university education, therefore, is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. But education which stops with efficiency may prove the greatest menace to society. Being a university debate trainer, I am privileged to see this for myself. Most student debaters vehemently believe that they are intellectually brilliant and that competitive university debating is a true intellectual discourse. People who enjoys the echoes of their own voices and conveniently turn brain dead by the thoughts and ideas of others. Most debaters are trained to legitimize ideas, argue them effectively even if it contradicts with the very essence of their own values. In a democratic framework, debaters are believed – at least by me – to be potentially influential. But the great Martin Luther King once said, “The most dangerous criminal may be the man gifted with the power of reasoning, but with no morals”.
We must remember that intelligence is not enough. Intelligence plus character–that is the goal of true university education. The complete education gives one not only power of concentration, but worthy objectives upon which to concentrate. The broad education will, therefore, transmit to one not only the accumulated knowledge but also the accumulated experience of social living. If we are not careful and too focused on intellect, our universities will be producing super-villains – a group of close-minded, selfish propagandists, consumed with immoral acts.
I left university in 2005 with a suitcase in one hand and a letter noting my grand expulsion. Did I just waste 7 years of my life? Did I ever hate UPM? No. I cherish the university ever so dearly. I am thankful for being very fortunate and privileged to experience university education before the duration of degrees were shortened, before the arrival of ISO, before they erected a wall separating us from the masses of Serdang, before half of our Wednesdays, weekends and life after 5 pm were taken away from us for more classes or exams, before we were administered by engineers who looked upon us like heartless drones and the list goes on.
I walked away from UPM feeling sad and regretful. Sad and regretful that it may no longer enlighten its future citizens with the kind of education that goes beyond building a person with intellect – soulless and characterless geniuses. But a person which is also cultured and morally apt.