Learning beyond the classroom — Hazidi Abdul Hamid
APRIL 23 — I read my friend’s blog and it compelled me to write this piece. Like His Royal Monkeyness, I too worked when I was a student but not at A & W. I after my SPM, I worked as a door-to-door salesman and later opened a small hawker stall with a few friends. Then as a university student in Lancaster, UK, I worked as a construction worker (very briefly), a crew member at McDonald’s (about six months part time), as a kitchen helper/waiter/assistant cook at a restaurant (about six months in total both part time and fulltime during the holidays), and I also did an assortment of other part-time jobs. I think most former overseas students would agree that the scholarship that we got enabled us to live but that was about it. If we wanted to travel, buy a vehicle or other “stuff” we would need to work during our free time.
HRM is completely right when he writes that the work experience taught him so many things that he would not have learnt in class. This statement if left unqualified can be misleading.
Allow me to illustrate. While it is true that I would not have learnt what it felt like to walk on the other side of life had I not taken up these jobs, I would not have learnt phonetics and phonology had I not gone to university. Working at McDonald’s taught me how to cook 54 quarterpounders simultaneously but going to the classes and lectures taught me morphology, syntax and semantics. The point I am trying to make is that both experiences taught me a lot and both had their respective merits. I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to have had both experiences while others had to settle for one or the other.
Returning to HR Monkeyness’s article. Yes, I agree that those who are complaining about the PTPTN really should “get a life”. Some say that our students today have it too easy. In some ways this is true but we need to also see the world from their point of view. If you have not seen hardship in its full glory, you will imagine any inconvenience that you experience is pure unadulterated hardship.Thus their “manja-ness” is really our fault. We, as a nation, have worked hard to get where we are. We have striven to give our children much more childhood than the one we had, but in our eagerness and perseverance, we failed to see that in some ways, it was the “inconveniences” that made us who we are, and depriving our children of them has impoverished their childhood just that little bit… but it is often the little things that give the whole its character. For example, I sometimes hear my daughters complain after washing the dishes after dinner. Can I blame them for not having had the experience of washing up after 500 dinner guests of a corporate dinner at the restaurant?
The students protesting on the street a few days ago were able to do that because they did not have to go to work after classes. Moreover, their not having to go to work after their classes is a testimony to the foresight of our predecessors and perseverance of our present adult generation. Our fear is that this manja-ness of our present generation of students will eliminate any advantages our next generation may have had. It has happened before. In the ’80s UK, the government gave grants to students who were going to university. It worked well for the students, and to some extent it helped the universities too. However, things were not all hunky-dory. There were students who took advantage of the system and did not do what they were supposed to do. One such case was my next door neighbour in my dormitory. He only spent one term at university but in that one term he conducted a research into drunkenness that was of greater depth than any other explorations that I have seen. As testimony to his studies into intoxication, at one point he tried to immortalise his findings on the walls using the obscure art of projectile vomiting. Such was his determination that he often experimented with sleeping in rarely used spaces such as the toilet cubicle and the corridor. He was only one example of the cases that finally led, or so it was claimed, to the government resorting to changing the grants to student loans not so much different from our present PTPTN system.
Yes, it is possible to have free tertiary education, this we cannot deny because there are a number of countries that have the system in place. One prominent example is Finland. Logically speaking, if we can make secondary education free, or relatively so, we can make tertiary education free also, but just because we can do something, it does not mean that we must do it or even should do it. This is the crux of the issue. The decision is not a monolithically educational one but one that has implications on numerous, if not all, aspects of government and governance. The politicians speak of rights to education but fail to evoke that rights is inevitably twinned with responsibilities. Going deeper, we hear some try to talk of our rights “to” something but fail to flip to the page that discusses our rights “from” something, in particular the things resulting from their evoking our rights “to”.
So what say you? You may ask. I believe that this is a matter that needs to be explored much further and deeper, with more information offered to the public. I say, clear the table of the mindless political drivel offered by our politicians and put on it the unadulterated facts and figures, then call those who still have some working synaptic connections and let them explore the possibility further. That done, inform the politicians of what to do. It would certainly be a refreshing change from having far-reaching political and economic decisions driven by what inspiration entered the minds of our political leaders, on both sides, as they sat on their respective thrones that particular morning.
How does this relate to my experience working when I was a student? If you are a student and you come from a comfortable background, get a job, work side by side with those who do not have the choice but to work. Then when you have seen the despair in their eyes and listened to their troubles, we can talk about rights and responsibilities. — hazidi.blogspot.com
* This is the personal opinion of the writer. The Malaysian Insider does not endorse the view unless specified.