Curbs on academic freedom: The shackling of the mind

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To restrict academic freedom and to force students to maintain the status quo is obviously irrational. Conformity leads to stagnation, resulting in mediocrity, says Abdul Rashid Hanafi.

Whenever education issues are discussed, I am reminded of a book by Alan Bloom (1987), The Closing of the American Mind.

This book caused a furore and is regarded as one of the most challenging and controversial books ever written in that era.

It traces the declining standards within the US education system which the writer holds responsible for the anti-intellectualism and the culture of self-interest that dominate American minds.

Whatever afflicts the US education system, part of the malady, if not all, is already manifesting its roots in the foundation of our system. This is a matter of grave concern.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. It calls for nothing less than a complete overhauling of our education system – top down – and the value system, if we are deadly serious about halting the erosion.

Based on world ranking surveys in recent years, we have witnessed the gradual erosion of the quality of our education system vis-a-vis global standards.

What concerns us most is the amount of apathy and disillusionment we see around us which is infecting our public learning institutions. These have fallen into a drift of materialism, resulting in loss of personality development and much that is vital in student training.

Deplorably, our institutions of higher learning have turned into a sort of a mass-production education assembly-line education – a ‘boot camp’ where students are just mechanically following the herd and jumping through all of the required hoops, only high enough so that they can land a job.

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Institutions of higher learning should be enlightened places where students are encouraged to discuss, to participate in discourse, to dissent and to question with civility everything that matters to them.

They need space and more avenues – not restrictions – to develop their own personal, moral and spiritual values and the commitment to live by them, even when it is hard.

Some may say that uncontrolled freedom of the individual will lead to chaos, but will it?

To restrict academic freedom and to force and condition students to accept the present environment and mantain the status quo is obviously irrational. Conformity leads to stagnation, resulting in mediocrity.

Questions like how best to help society, who am I, how shall I live; the cultivation of sincerity and love within; spiritual fulfilment – these are all fundamental values for students to instil and cultivate at this stage of their lives.

University students are young adults and they certainly don’t want to be told what to believe in and how to live.

What they need is more guidance and encouragement to help them figure out life’s most important questions for themselves, not just to be talking about them, but consistenly acting on them as well.

Personal goals and accomplishments are equally important too, but when educational institutions and society do not placing emphasis on proper reflection, conscious living, the development of values, a good hard dynamic life and character building, then we have it all backwards.

To get ahead, we have to equip our students for leadership roles in the decades to come. Unfortunately, we have reason to be concerned about whether our students are learning enough and learning the right things in the right way, to steer our nation forward.

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We need to step back and try to see the forest instead of just the trees.

History teaches us that countries crumble and whole civilisations collapse when their core ideas fail or become obsolete.

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