Ooi Kok Hin studies Political Science and Philosophy at the Ohio State University. This column is a satire. A satire is never fair or objective. It is meant to provoke thoughts and leave the reader with unanswered questions. Do not take it literally, though it might be factual. If you find it addictive, get your daily dose at https://www.facebook.com/thebawangreport
Ooi Kok Hin
Published: 7 February 2015
A survey conducted by a think-tank in a local university has revealed that most university students in Malaysia don’t have a clue about what they are doing.
Merdeka Analysis Center and Information (Macai) conducted a random poll among students across over 20 local universities and some overseas students sponsored by JPA, Mara, Petronas, Bank Negara, and Fama (father and mother scholarships).
The researchers obtained shocking results from their data. So much so that they need to drink two cups of teh tarik to calm down before publicising their results to the media.
Macai researchers asked a range of questions to the students, such as their study plans, opinions on current issues, contribution to society, budgeting, ambitions, and future plans.
More than 80% of the students own an iPad, a smartphone or both. But less than 10% donated anything to recent flood victims.
In this era of Paypal and online bank transaction, there is really no excuse for the privileged students to not help the less fortunate if they want to.
About 70% has a personal car or/and motorcycle, but less than 5% has ever given food to the homeless.
Only 2% has volunteered at least once at social initiatives such as Kechara Soup Kitchen, #FreeMarket, and The Wakaf Buku.
Some 80% of the students are engulfed in debt. They are already in debt before they have any income, which means that they have no option but to work and pay off their debts.
The students not only regarded their student debts nonchalantly, they also plan to increase their debts by taking car loans, housing loans, and credit cards.
According to one respondent, “I don’t have any specific plan after graduation. I am just going to attend classes, play DoTA at night, watch EPL during weekends, and keep my CGPA high enough to graduate. After that, I will follow whatever my parents, sponsors, or corporations want me to do.”
What if they don’t have anything for you to do? “Oh my god, I don’t know what to do with my life then! I will just sleep till a job lands on my knee and gives my life a purpose again, I guess.”
On current issues, 50% of the students say they don’t give a damn, 30% are divided along partisan lines, and another 20% can’t even spell the name of the current Prime Minister.
One of the researchers explains it this way, “It’s as if these students are sheep in a farm factory. The university is a manufacturing centre and based on the industry’s demand, they shape the students (input) into specific products (output). As a result, the students are not able to think by themselves and are disconnected from the real problems in the society. They fail to apply their knowledge and skills to solve urgent problems in the society”.
“Fail” is an understatement. The students are not even aware that they ought to help the society and rise with the people, not above them.
The report claims that they are subconscious individuals who submit to a pre-reflective agreement to live their lives in a certain way (go to school and get straight As, go to university and get the degree, plunge into debts and work like slaves to pay off debts) and never questioning it.
School kids are shaped by the system to be highly individualistic and competitive, so much so that they are more likely to spend RM500 per month for tuition rather than helping the orphanage home next to their school which can barely afford basic education and keep up with the 3M.
Privileged students who get to study abroad are not better off. The researcher further commented, “One would have thought that their stay in developed countries such as United Kingdom and United States would have enable them to contribute to something. 1 US dollar is currently equivalent to RM3.58. According to US Embassy, there are over 6,700 Malaysians studying in the USA. If 10% of those students give US$10 each, we would have US$6700, which is equivalent to RM24,038.93.
“That could bring a lot of supplies to flood relief, homeless shelter, disability centres, and abandoned communities such as kids in Chow Kit. The Wakaf Buku can build libraries for 10 orphanage homes with that money (Each library project consists of 500 books, 1 bookshelf, 1 big table, and 4 Ikea chairs).
“But the reality on the ground is very different. None of the students I interviewed has organised any such efforts to help the society. Zero. I don’t expect them to solve all the problems, but I had hoped to see at least a bit of effort to make things a little better back home.”
Another researcher couldn’t hide her disappointment. “I have not seen a single economics student dissecting the GST issue. This is the big economic issue in Malaysia right now and these students are supposed to share their knowledge and discuss with their friends. But they don’t even keep track of what is happening.
“All they do is pass their exams and wait for semester break so that they can go back to their family. Like herds going back to cattle farm after a day in the sunlight. The science students (those who study medicine, engineering and natural sciences) are mostly bright students but they do not venture to learn other fields of knowledge.
“The social sciences and humanities, including those who study law, education, sociology, and political science, ought to be the ones spearheading the student groups to help the homeless, push back against extremism, and organise the students into meaningful political action.
“Instead, they channel their energy into non-productive actions such as complaining on Facebook, blaming the government for everything, or waiting for somebody else to do something.”
A professor at a well known local university, who preferred to be anonymous, defended his students. “Why do you act surprised and then blame the students? This is exactly what 11 years of rigid schooling intended to produce. The system taught them to memorize answers and if you don’t get straight As, you are going to be left behind while your friends get high-paying jobs.
“We don’t emphasise the noble attributes of contributing to society and building better interracial relations. Everyone is taught to be selfish and ignorant. Once, I saw a student asking a critical question to his teacher.
“All the teacher replies is, ‘That’s not in the exam. You don’t have to worry about it’. This is no rocket science. The state of our students’ attitude are natural consequences of the policies in the system.”
In an immediate response, a spokesperson from the Majlis Perwakilan Pelajar (MPP) said that the council disagreed with the survey findings. “It’s not true that we students do nothing for the society. For example, we have negotiated with the canteen operators to reduce the price of nasi lemak from RM1.70 to RM1.50.
“We also successfully break the “Malaysian Book of Records” for the biggest donuts made and most selfies taken. Speaking of which, we are proud to say that the most difficult question we had asked Barack Obama when he visited our university is whether we could take a group selfie with him. If that is not an outstanding achievement, I don’t know what else is.”
A vice-chancellor, however, disagreed. “Every year there are at least 400 student leaders produced in our universities through MPP, assuming that each of the 20 universities has 20 committee members in their MPP. And there are hundreds of papers published by our professors.
“But only a tiny portion of those student leaders and papers actually contributed to the society. The rest are just ‘syiok sendiri’ and ‘poyo’ trying to get promotion. Our students and faculty members are content with being average and isolated from society.
“How to produce Nobel prize winners like that? What’s the use of higher education when we are stuck with low class mentality?
“What’s the use of our knowledge if we just keep it to ourselves and confined it in the classroom?
“That’s why whenever our students and professors try to do something meaningful for the society, we give them space to do so and not suspend them from the university or charge them with Sedition Act.”
Surprisingly, Macai’s chief research officer is not pessimistic about the future. “Perhaps most university students would remain selfish, ignorant or/and useless to the society due to the current system,” the officer said.
“But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. On the flipside, because the situation is so bad that it can hardly be worse, it means that only a few is needed to step up and make things just a little better. We need to speak truth to power and rescue our academic integrity. Only then, our universities will be worthy again.”
When asked if he plans to present the research report to the ministry as constructive feedback and push for reforms in his university, the officer looked mournful and expressed apologies.
“Not me lah. Someone else will do it. If I do it, I will incur their wrath and not get my promotion.” – February 7, 2015.
* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.