Feature: Innovate Or Perish

By Teo Chuen Tick (chuentick@oum.edu.my)

Of late, the purpose of acquiring university education has been the subject of much debate. As new universities continue to crop up and the chase for qualifications intensifies, there have been concerns as to what roles universities and degrees actually have to play. "Academic inflation" - when the inflation of minimum job requirements leads to an excess of people with lower degrees who are unable to gain employment - is a common issue these days. Not all graduates produced by universities have been met by a welcoming job market. This begs the question of what a university's responsibilities really are.

Modern society runs on the functional and practical applications of theoretical knowledge. If learners are unable to apply what they know in real-life situations, then any subject-matter knowledge acquired can have no greater value than the piece of paper that acknowledges their graduation from an academic programme.

The real problem with universities in the context of this issue surfaces when graduates fail to gain employment because of a mismatch between the skills that are in demand and the skills that graduates actually have. This is not a new revelation, and we know that many universities have taken corrective steps by trying to realign their courses with the actual requirements of the job market.

The crux of the larger issue at hand is how do we ensure that learners really are able to put their knowledge to work. For a start, I believe there must be a revamp of the education system and the practices in teaching and learning. As a nation, we must encourage creativity and an inquisitive culture through education. It is high time that we stop drawing on spoon-feeding and rote learning alone. We should also stop promoting the regurgitating of facts during examinations.

School-based assessment that encourages initiative and exploration should be extended to the projects and research that take place in institutions of higher learning. Learners must learn to actually think out of the box and troubleshoot for solutions so as to acquire enough problem-solving skills that can provide some leverage in today's demanding job market. Innovation is the keyword in this process, and universities must help to inculcate innovation as an inherent quality. This is how learners can really put their knowledge to work.

* Teo Chuen Tick is an OUM tutor at the Penang Learning Centre.

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