World wise before world class

AuDR AZLY RAHMAN, born in Singapore and grew up in Johor Baru, holds a Columbia University (New York City) doctorate in International Education Development and Masters degrees in four areas: Education, International Affairs, Peace Studies and Communication.


Each Malaysian university need not aspire to become “world class”, but to start becoming ‘world wise’ instead. These are my thoughts on the issue of the culture of our universities.

Tradition of intellectualism, freedom of inquiry, adaptability, quality of teaching, production of intellectual and ground-breaking artifacts, the undying pursuit of truth for the betterment of society, the championing of diverse philosophical thinking along with a diverse and global student population rigorously selected and admitted…

These are amongst the elements that make a university not only world class, but ‘world wise’.

Malaysia’s road to world class-ism is a long and winding one due to the following hurdles we have created:
A political governance that imposes a style of anti-intellectualism on campuses;

A culture of fear of thinking, retarding critical sensibility permeating;

A lack of encouragement of radical thinking amongst the faculty;

A culture of high-stakes testing and post-high school teaching;

A society as a force fast moving towards mono-cultural mono-religious thinking;

A nation helpless in determining the freedom of inquiry that ought to be championed by universities;

A government that insists on the appointment of politically-connected and aspiring educational leaders to lead universities;

A mission and vision of the university that do not have a statement which guarantees academic freedom and the protection of free speech as the key foundations of its existence;

A grand curriculum that is weak in the philosophical, sociological, humanistic, and cultural traditions of the East and the West;

A population of students and faculty weak in the mastery of the English Language;

The entire misconception of the aim and purpose of education in an increasingly globalising and predatory world;

The lack of skills of faculty as Socratic thinkers and the mastery of the art and science of teaching and inspiring;

The model of Industrial Age of education still in use in a Post-Industrial Cybernetic world…
And these are amongst the few.

Where do we go from here to make things better – even of it takes a hundred years?

Seems that the farther away society is from nature, the closer it is to materialism; the more people love money more than humility, the deeper truth may be buried.

So, we ought to at least read ‘The Epic of Gilgamesh’ and learn from the tension between the illusions of civilisation and civility.

Fights over money and materialism

This is what Malaysia is now facing. The fights in Malaysian politics – to the point of murder, mayhem and madness – are over money and materialism.

Dr Martin Luther King Jr often talked about three things that destroy humanity: racism, militarism, and materialism.

And Malcolm X had his famous saying: “Show me a capitalist and I will show you a bloodsucker.”

What’s nauseating is the growing critical mass of support for this dying regime over-killing the little hope we have for the flowering of critical and moral sensibility.

Why? Because the process of educating for hegemonic and totalitarian ends have been very successful with better ideological state apparatuses built to sustain the political-dynastic progress.

And in all these, we have created a one-dimensional two-sided society arguing over issues versus non-issues, parroting theories and clichés’.

We are in a theatre of the absurd and will be staying in it for a long, long time (Time to read Moliere again and relive my college freshman years in those Literature classes).

In the life of one’s mind, the greatest challenge is to think as freely as one can allow oneself to live in a culture that is increasingly shackling, disabling, controlling, and oppressing.

From this, too, the question of how can we design a suitable education system comes into being… of the perfect process of schooling – one that will respect the dignity and freedom of the human mind. But how? It must begin with the universities.

What is so complex about the definition of a university for it to be misunderstood? A university is a secularly-sacred institution of scholarly pursuit of ideas that must not be used to create further divisions in society – be they divisions and sub-divisions based on race, colour, creed and national origin.

It is a place wherein the universality of ideas must reign, guided by philosophies that will bring humanity closer to a more meaningful democracy.

A university is not merely a diploma mill and a production-house of academic Taylorism.

It is not an institution to put a ‘quality control’ stamp on the minds of students so that they may become merely good workers in a Total Quality Management-inspired company.

It is not a game of production and reproduction and schooling the mind into total submission.

A university is not a place wherein the discoveries of new bodies of knowledge must point to the dictates of party politics and that ‘truth’ must be acquired through ‘methods’ designed by and derived from the structural-functionalism of politics.

It must not be a place to canonise the ideology of this or that dubious leader whose interest is in self-emulation and deluding oneself to grandeur. A university has more respect than that.

The university is above politics. It must educate politicians. The professor must guide politicians – a professor who is a philosopher-ruler and one who is incorruptible and preserves the culture of free inquiry and human liberation is the best professor a nation can ever have.

Professing knowledge and helping others grow intellectually is not the same as packaging propaganda and helping others become retarded by it.

And so, we must engineer a revolution to make our institutions wiser and to move society to become ‘world wise’ instead of prematurely appraising our institutions as “world class”.

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