Monday, April 09, 2018

Ching Ming (清明) and education

It was Ching Ming Festival last Thursday.  As usual, I went grave sweeping with my relatives, all 15 of us, even though many could not come for various reasons.  As usual, I took the opportunity to also pay my respects at Tsai Yuan Pei’s (蔡元培) grave.  He was of course, the president of Peking University (北京大學校長) during the May 4 Movement (五四運動) and was well known for protecting the protesting students.  He was a true educator and well remembered even a century later.  

While I was there, I recalled something that Mohammad Yunus said in his talk a week earlier. He relayed what he heard from a French professor: that students who went through business school become more selfish than before.  Subsequently I looked up some related research.  There has indeed been quite a bit of research on this.  It appears that students who take only business and economics subjects and associate only with business and economics students are the worse.  If they take a broader set of subjects and associate more with other students the effect is not as bad.  

I suspect it may have something to do with the fundamental assumption of mainstream economics theory: that human beings are rational, in the sense that they look out for their own interest - that people are selfish.  People cannot help to be affected when they immerse themselves in such ideas all the time - it applies to both the professors and students.   There might also be some self-selection: students with similar inclinations are attracted to such disciplines.  

Come to think of it, the assumption that people look out for their interests prevails not only in business and economics departments.  There are numerous professors who are more interested in advancing themselves than in actually teaching the students.  What kind of examples are we setting for our students?  If this is the education that we are providing to our students, we deserve to be condemned.  

From this point of view, service-learning is one way to turn it around.  We wish to show the students and the professors that we can learn, work, live and realise our aspirations, while caring for others.  It can be more fulfilling when we look out for the interests of others as well as our own.  We want our students to be less selfish than before when they graduate, and continue to be so.  It may be a dream but we have to believe in such dreams.  I don’t want to be part of a world where there is nothing but selfishness.  

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