Education appears to have become a privileged pursuit for the selected ones and for those who can afford it, writes Chiok Phaik Fern.
“Sorry for being late, Miss. We need to submit our PTPTN (study loan) forms!”
At the beginning of each semester, I get to see students queuing up to fill in and submit their applications for PTPTN loans.
Sometimes, students come to me for advice about deferring their studies as they are unable to raise money to pay for tuition fees. Some students work part-time to support their living expenses and then fall asleep in my class. They are a segment of the student community in a private university – one with shallow pockets but big dreams.
When I ask them at each semester to talk about why they choose to study in a private university, I receive replies like these:
“Miss, we are UEC students, we can’t get into public universities.”
“Miss, I do not want to do the course the public university offered.”
“Miss, it is not fair…”
They come into my class with tons of mixed emotions – in particular, the feeling of being deprived and marginalised, the sense of hopelessness and helplessness evident in their eyes.
Their expressions seem to suggest that the very university I serve is a dumping ground for rejected stock. They are rejected by the very education system that promises them a better future.
But does that mean they are bad apples? I don’t believe in that crap! They might be bad apples in the eyes of our education system. But they are gems in the eyes of their parents – and in mine.
As academic staff, we work hand-in-hand with the Programme Promotion Department every semester to promote and recruit potential students. But the most enthusiastic people who come to our counter for enquiries are the parents. Some potential students travel long distances – they take night buses or they drive for eight hours – to come.
These are people that see hope in education – but are disappointed by our education system. They pay more for a similar education at a private university compared with what others would pay at public university. They struggle to survive and complete their studies at a private university.
Many believe that education is a public good that is free and accessible to all. Malaysia’s National Education Philosophy adheres to this notion. It states, “It is an ongoing effort to develop individual potential, …competent and capable of achieving well-being and contribute to the betterment of family, community and country.”
These beautiful and ideal notions of education are not the reality on the ground. Instead, education appears to have become a privileged pursuit for the selected ones and for those who can afford it. As such, it becomes a tool to deprive others from making their choice of courses freely and happily.
At the end of the day, what our education system produces are young people without a soul, merely living puppets serving the selfish interests of power holders and greedy industry.
These days, the excitement of the journey to seek your Master, by climbing up hills and hiking down rivers, seems like a distant dream of the past.
Phaik Fern participated in Aliran’s Young Writers Workshop on Writing About Good Governance and Democracy and a second one on Federalism and Decentralisation, both supported by the Canada Fund for Local Intiatives. “It provided me with a comfortable environment for me to discover my writing potential,” she says.