Balancing the act
Balancing between two extremes is always a difficult task especially when we cannot divorce our preferences. This is true in all aspects of life, be it professional or personal, fair judgement is difficult to establish. Well, in the first place, the word fairness itself is difficult to define. It isn’t equality nor uniformity or impartiality. It has a lot to do with the purpose – the very reasons that we are involve in whatever we are doing – and the surrounding or reality that we are in. However, as always, human being prefers to be biased because it is the easiest thing to do. Worst still, some are simply biased to the extreme, adhering to certain opinion or belief without even trying to put things in perspectives.
Lesson from Kyushu
What was said by Professor Kinoshita while we were driving on the streets of Fukuoka was right. We were talking about graduate education, research and its relationships. The amount of funding for research infrastructure and expenditures received by the host institutes that we visited was something that cannot be imagined by Malaysian researchers. As I told him, after visiting the facilities, I was no longer human, for I have turned a dwarf.
However, when research with enormous funding is involved, the expected results are also sky high. In thriving through these endeavours, either intentionally or not, graduate studies may become “research centred” and not “student centred”. Students are asked to work very hard to produce meaningful research findings to satisfy the financers. The focus may always be the research objectives, with little regards to the learning process that the students are experiencing. In the end, they may end up being cheap intelligent workers.
Over the last many years, I have also come across with incidents where students were lured into working with some active researchers with so many sweet promises. As always, the beginning is often as sweet as the promise, but as time progresses, sweetness turned sour and the students were basically “dumped” by the researcher, in the name of searching for excellence. The good realationships once established were severed after three or four years of working together. If only the original intention was capacity building or providing education to the student, things would have been a lot different. This is something that we academicians need to ponder as actions are to be judged by intention. That’s why Covey emphasised the habit “begins with end in mind”.
Lots of Smiles
This was my first visit to Japan, apart from a night stay in transit on our way back to America in the 80’s. I was fascinated by some of the cultures adhered to by the people that I met. Numerous greetings and bowing in some animated ways prompted lots of smiles. Similar to other parts of the world, Japanese society appreciates the contribution of the elders by giving discounts to travelling costs. But the Japanese extend that a bit further by giving discounts to restaurant bills and others (this may also be true in some other country). But what I am amazed is the facilities for the handicapped. It is common to have facilities in restrooms, public transport, or buildings, but the pavement in Japan provide guides for the blind, and it appears almost everywhere. They also took safety more seriously, a lot more than we Malaysian do.