ALL DE­SERVE CHANCE TO SHINE

Trans­form­ing a stu­dent’s life for the bet­ter is a true measure of a good ed­u­ca­tor

New Straits Times - - Opinion - dewi@uni­razak.edu.my The writer is an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of or­gan­i­sa­tional be­hav­iour in the Grad­u­ate School of Busi­ness, Univer­siti Tun Ab­dul Razak

IT re­cently dawned upon me that our aca­demics may have a mas­sive ad­just­ment to make on how we view our role as ed­u­ca­tors in higher-learn­ing in­sti­tu­tions.

Many a time our ef­forts are fo­cused on high-po­ten­tial stu­dents, read­ily open­ing doors for them to ex­cel and chal­leng­ing our smartest pro­teges to achieve their best.

I reckon that many of us may not re­alise that the pref­er­ence we make for tal­ented and smart stu­dents is grad­u­ally caus­ing our higher ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem to deny equal opportunities to the av­er­age stu­dent ma­jor­ity.

Based on per­sonal ob­ser­va­tion and ex­pe­ri­ence, what we lec­tur­ers seem to fear most is the gen­eral per­cep­tion oth­ers have on us that we are not “smart enough”.

In turn, our pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with “smart­ness” leads us to flex our “per­for­mance” at each other through our high-fly­ing stu­dents, who will, in any case, most def­i­nitely rise up to any chal­lenge.

Shouldn’t our ac­com­plish­ments be judged on how much we en­hance each of our stu­dent’s ca­pa­bil­i­ties, in­stead of show­cas­ing the tal­ents of a se­lected few?

How and when did our obli­ga­tions change to al­low us to dis­crim­i­nate against those be­low the high-po­ten­tial bar?

If we re­gard teach­ing as a noble pro­fes­sion, then we have com­mit­ted a great in­jus­tice to our na­tion.

Work­ing with av­er­age and be­low-av­er­age stu­dents (which is more chal­leng­ing), sadly, does not gar­ner as much merit as coach­ing high-fly­ers to be­come lead­ers, for in­stance, due to the bias we cre­ated in the in­sti­tu­tional struc­ture.

The rat­ing sys­tem of high­er­learn­ing in­sti­tu­tions em­ploys a re­source-based view, where good out­put is a re­sult of good in­put.

As a con­se­quence, many learn­ing in­sti­tu­tions scram­ble for aca­dem­i­cally high per­form­ers in their stu­dent in­takes be­cause get­ting smart stu­dents is ad­van­ta­geous in many as­pects.

Stu­dent re­ten­tion and study com­ple­tion are al­most guar­an­teed if we are not deal­ing with un­der­per­form­ers and the lesspriv­i­leged.

There­fore, it makes per­fect sense that we choose to de­vote much of our re­sources to­wards en­sur­ing high in­takes of school leavers with strong aca­demic cre­den­tials, rather than to in­vest long term in more daunt­ing and less-pro­nounced ef­forts of trans­form­ing weak stu­dents.

What hap­pens then to the ma­jor­ity of medi­ocre grad­u­ates, who make up a large seg­ment of our so­ci­ety?

It is al­ready in­creas­ingly tough, even for those with the com­pet­i­tive ad­van­tage, to ex­cel in the tight job mar­ket. If we only dare to make that dras­tic change in our ad­mis­sion re­quire­ments and teach­ing philoso­phies.

Could broad­en­ing the cri­te­ria of how we eval­u­ate stu­dent ad­mis­sion bring about that new­fan­gled idea that will push us to re-eval­u­ate our meth­ods and ap­proaches in teach­ing and learn­ing?

Imagine in­clud­ing fac­tors, such as ex­pe­ri­ence with ad­ver­sity or spe­cial tal­ents, for con­sid­er­a­tion dur­ing stu­dent in­take.

These are fac­tors that are not un­der teach­ers’ su­per­vi­sion or recorded in school tes­ti­mo­ni­als, and giving them weigh­tage would give un­der-pre­pared or less-priv­i­leged stu­dents the chance to im­prove their lives.

Oth­er­wise, they will al­ways be at a dis­ad­van­tage due to their poor aca­demic per­for­mance.

Let’s as­sume this change in pol­icy would re­ward us with that para­dox­i­cal out­come that would al­low us, as aca­demics, to be more ef­fec­tive in our ef­forts to im­part knowl­edge and be ef­fi­cient in the num­ber of lives we trans­form.

We see how young stu­dents are over­whelmed dur­ing their tran­si­tional pe­riod. How many times have we mut­tered un­der our breath about our wish for stu­dents to be more ma­tured, more fo­cused, or more ap­pre­cia­tive of the ac­tiv­i­ties we have em­bed­ded in our cur­ricu­lum?

Why do we blind our­selves to the ben­e­fits of emo­tional in­tel­li­gence or af­fec­tive skills and traits, when they are all lack­ing in our grad­u­ates?

While we hope for change to hap­pen, as aca­demics, we should do our part to re­visit our pri­or­i­ties and strate­gies to sup­port qual­ity teach­ing, and in cul­ti­vat­ing in­tel­lec­tual and af­fec­tive skills for suc­cess­ful stu­dent trans­for­ma­tion.

No mat­ter how daunt­ing or how un­sure we are with the meth­ods we em­ploy, it is cer­tainly more worth­while to sac­ri­fice time and ef­fort, in­vest­ing in the chal­leng­ing task of nur­tur­ing, fa­cil­i­tat­ing and groom­ing un­der­achiev­ers to be­come high per­form­ers.

Let it be seared in our minds and hearts that the ed­u­ca­tor’s true ac­com­plish­ment is to be able to ac­cept stu­dents of var­i­ous lev­els, just like di­a­monds in the rough.

We will have our hands full and it may not be pos­si­ble to pol­ish ev­ery stone for a per­fect gleam, but we cer­tainly will be able to find ways to make all our di­a­monds shine.

No mat­ter how daunt­ing or how un­sure we are with the meth­ods we em­ploy, it is cer­tainly more worth­while to sac­ri­fice time and ef­fort, in­vest­ing in the chal­leng­ing task of nur­tur­ing, fa­cil­i­tat­ing and groom­ing un­der­achiev­ers to be­come high per­form­ers.

FILE PIC

Many learn­ing in­sti­tu­tions scram­ble for aca­dem­i­cally high per­form­ers in their stu­dent in­takes be­cause get­ting smart stu­dents is ad­van­ta­geous in many as­pects.

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