The value of an education

Parveen Kaur Harnam


LETTER | Universiti Malaysia has climbed up the QS Rankings – this has yet again made the news. It appears that we have no regard for accuracy (this might just be a psychologically defined problem – humans generally have motivated reasoning, even when facts are presented, we choose what we want to believe). 

So long as there are a chart and rankings, we are more than willing to use it as an advertisement for our educational institutions not knowing that we have fallen prey to a form of syllogistic fallacy. Who can blame us though - we are after all a nation that guards closely our "straight As" and “top students” or the far more repelling “cream of the crop”.

I do, however, question the value of an education with all these convocations, a very recent (highly ill-informed and historically ignorant) onstage protest and university rankings. 

A fine bit of news that popped up recently is that UPM has “manufactured” 632 PhD graduates and this was boasted as a success – subsequently published in almost all major newspapers. What exactly does this tell us? That there are 632 additional people who will be putting the title “Dr” in front of their names and taking a stand on issues that they know little about? 

What’s likely is that there will be more institutional scamming going around. There are a number of lecturers who hold PhDs in areas that have nothing to do with what they lecture but the title “Dr” makes them credible (right?) so why not just allow it to go on? 

It is always presumed that the title matches the subject matter but no one is meticulous enough to look closely, to study the reality.

Most PhDs are these days quite deliberately niche – to make it easier to get one and just plaster on the title. Why do we need to be concerned about the value of an education in an ecosystem that breeds obsessions over titles and rankings?

Just produce more PhD holders or wait until UM is number 1 on the QS Rankings – that equates to “quality” – that is what most people appear to be thinking. Postgraduate degrees have become emblems on a shelf – to make a person valid in the job they hold, for promotions in the civil service or even in private companies for that matter. 

There is rarely a true motivation to procure a postgraduate degree for self-development, for growth, to enhance skill-sets. Those who genuinely received postgraduate degrees for the sake of refining their skill-sets, however, are mostly overlooked – because of a systemic failure (this is particularly apparent in the civil service). 

It is usually more about “just finishing it”, “for the sake of getting the degree” and of course, the ubiquitous picture above the TV (or a vase of fake flowers) - with a plastic smile and (let’s face it) a plastic degree.

In other news, this year, Unicef celebrates 30 years of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) of which one of the core principles is the right to development and for which Article 28 stipulates a right to education. The priority here is “development” and “education", including "free education". 

That should be our goal too, for as much as we endeavour or wish it, we are still not a First World nation. Although the year 2020 is supposed to an apotheosis for Malaysians, that is far from the reality. 

We should be focusing on giving children the right to develop, creating strong schools and a solid education system but unfortunately for us – we are still hopped up on the “high” of “Student X gets straight As in UPSR/PMR/SPM/ STPM”. 

We are still set on mass-producing graduates, PhDs, doctors, dentists, pharmacists, lawyers and engineers. There is an almost steady trajectory of wrong principles – from primary education all the way up to postgraduate studies. 

This is clear from what makes the headlines. At the rate that we are going, how will we ever study and analyse the CRC (which we ratified in 1995 but have yet to really absorb into our educational system) instead of putting all our eggs in the wrong basket?

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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