Don’t clip university students’ wings; let them fly

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Students partipating in a #TangkapMO1 protest rally - Photograph: @PutraREFORMASI

It is in the nature of college and university students to rise to the sky and look around the world, says Barathi Selvam.

“The balloons only have one life and the only way of finding out whether they work is to attempt to fly around the world.” – Richard Branson.

Life as a university student is always challenging – fringed with piles of assignments, hectic schedules, pop quizzes, bombastic terms found in reading material, not forgetting parastatal laws such as the Universities and University Colleges Act (1972) (popularly known as Auku) and many more that keep us awake even in the wee hours of the morning.

Despite the constraints and challenges, students from both private and public colleges and universities have excelled in the academic, extra-curricular and research arenas.

Bear in mind that life at the university often comes as young adult minds begin to explore the world, learn from new experiences and cultures, rebel against social taboos and stereotypes, question unruly systems, articulate strong opinions and voice out their views on political issues (but most of the time, only when the issue affects them directly).

The participation of students in calling for a better nation, especially in socio-economic and political aspects, has been rising in Malaysia, even though moderately. Students consistently appear in large demonstrations demanding free education and a country free from corruption and despotic paternalism in rallies such as ‘Mansuh PTPTN’ and “Tangkap MO1” organised and led by students themselves.

Breaking the barrier of political ideology, affiliation towards certain political parties, race, religion and languages, students and teenagers have come forward as a united force to make a loud statement that they are aware of and greatly concerned about the political situation of the country.

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But one of the main obstacles that emerge in the form of a critique is, “students are sent to varsities to get a degree, not to protest” or “study first, can join politics later”. This is the common emotional, imbecile criticism levelled at students who are politically active. But the question arises, why shouldn’t students be politically active?

Have we forgotten that, even since we were kids, we were told that the young ones are the future leaders and the backbone of a country? Putting that as a cental argument – would passive, silent, inarticulate, indecisive and subservient students go on to become leaders or the backbone of the nation?

The student movement is one of the strongest components of a civil society that has the charisma and credibility to be a reliable watchdog of a government. Let’s not forget the participation of the student movement in resisting the dictatorship of General Suharto in Indonesia, for instance.

In Malaysia, plenty of ethical requirements are placed and practised in universities to restrict students from being politically active, which is the safest way to retain hegemony. In Gramsci’s words, this is known as intellectual and moral leadership through an ideological apparatus.

There are some exceptions where students are allowed to join any of the political parties and activities beyond campus walls – but the room for political discussions on political issues is beyond our dreams. The university bureaucracies would simply diminish our hope of having such discussions.

Nonetheless, there are many forums and talks held within universities – though with lighter content that doesn’t stimulate critical, analytical and creative thinking among students. Then, we tend to look for solutions by creating many more committees to discuss how to overcome this lacklustre phenomenon.

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Never mind politics; society even dictates what sort of education and career teenagers should pursue. It is despicable that our society still looks down on students who follow their passion and choose the arts stream.

We must let teenagers and students explore new ideas that challenge their own upbringing. The rebellious age they are at, fused with extensive knowledge, would sharpen their thinking and shape their character and turn them into individuals rich in humanity and love.

University and college students are not babies who can be simply brainwashed by anyone who comes with a few candies. They have the ability to think for themselves even though most of the time they are ignored and regarded as immature, unable to make their own decisions and too young and inexperienced.

Do not crumple their wings even before they start to flap. Do not enclose them in a cage in the name of being protective. It is in the nature of young university students to rise to the sky and look around the world.

Barathi Selvam, an undergraduate student majoring in journalism at a local university, is enraged with the social injustices he sees around him. He hopes to use writing as a medium to advocate for anyone who is discriminated and oppressed and to empower the marginalised.

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Yok Foo Looi Looi
28 Sep 2016 8.03pm