By Professor Dr. Mohd Tajuddin Mohd Rasdi
The case of a Sabahan girl climbing a tree to get internet WiFi in order to take her online exams and the blundering statements of two politicians is now common knowledge. That none of the politicians in the government visited the poor student in her village to take a look at the deplorable conditions of communication connectivity is also common knowledge. Khairy was good enough to visit her…at the university. Not her village. Okay-lah…at least Khairy shows 'compassion' and initiative, much better than the other two politicians still finding flimsy excuses. However, in this article, I do not wish to rebuke the two ministers as they have had plenty of that from the people of Malaysia and the opposition parties who have had a field day with this issue. I want to instead focus on why the university had not had options for Veveonah and why we as citizens had not stepped in to help Veveonah take her online exams. Finally, I wish to say a harsh word about netizens slamming her for her purported 'stunt' as accused by our 'outstanding' ministers.
Firstly, my question is to the administration of the University of Sabah. As a veteran academic, I am used to chairing exams, setting exams, making make up exams and providing alternative solutions of evaluations to replace exams. As a 33-year veteran of teaching architecture, I can evaluate an architecture student from a ten-minute conversation and a five-minute look at his or her portfolio in order to judge whether this is a good or average student. My question to the university is why was the availability of internet connection at each student's house location not ascertained before the order to go online for the assessment was given? Is it too difficult to ask each student that question? And if Veveonah had explained her predicament before going home, how should the university react? The university should not say…that's your problem-lah..so solve it yourself. They should arrange that Veveonah should be placed in a town where the internet connectivity was not an issue and she should be housed in some modest hotel throughout the duration of the exam period. Her expenses should be borne by the university.
Our children are our legacy. If we must play with technology such as online assessment, then we must ensure equality and accessibility. If not, the online assessment solution should not be entertained at all. As an academic, I know of many ways to impart examinations that are alternative to the traditional paper exams. As a student of an expensive and prestigious campus, Veveonah should have never been allowed to struggle with such a silly thing as 'internet connectivity'. I, therefore, as a citizen of this country place responsibility first and foremost to the administration of the university for neglecting the need of the student. The university was built, paid for by the people, FOR OUR CHILDREN. The university should be convenient FOR OUR CHILDREN. The university is not for the 'convenience' of the VC or DVCs and deans.
Secondly, I wish to ask my brethren citizens, why we had not shown any indication to help the poor girl, once we knew of her predicament? If Veveonah were in Semenanjung, I would have instructed my son to pick her up and be a guest at my house for as long as the duration of her exam. Spirituality is about helping others for the benefit of our own soul. We are 'not actually helping' but we are cleansing our soul from its own selfish interest or extreme self preservation. This is the time that we should practice what our politicians have failed miserably to show us, that we are all 'saudara se-negara' and not just warganegara in order for us to take this nation to the next level of maturity. We must help our own people whenever and wherever the needs arise. I hope, after this incident, we must help all the 'Veveonah' of the future regardless of race, religion and culture.
Thirdly, I wish to say some harsh words to those netizens that seem to thrive on cyberbullying and making nasty comments under the cover of anonymity. The internet it seems now to be the instrument of the devil as it brings out the worst in us as human beings. When are we, as a people, supposed to instill in our young that saying nasty things and making 'kurang ajar' statements whether on Instagram, Facebook, media news comment portals or YouTube comments are all destructive and is a GREAT SIN!
As a Muslim, I watch my words very carefully to those I direct them towards. We must watch our words directed to our children and spouses especially. Watching our words directed at strangers and work colleagues or our bosses are no problem because we are governed by social norms. The most difficult is to watch our words directed at our spouses or best friends. We tend to be a bit free on those relationship because we are closely linked socially. In Islam and ill-intentioned word that is not constructive can cause the person uttering those words to suffer the heat of Hell fire. Your tongue, says Prophet Muhammad, can lead you to Hell. In Islam, justice is very simple. If you steal from someone, you must return that which you have stolen or pay an equivalent amount. Even though you may go to jail for the crime, but in Islam you still owe your victims in this world and the next. If you do not obtain a pardon from the victim, then that victim will be the hindrance for you into paradise. That is why I never say any bad thing about Rosmah's hair, weight or face. I do not want to owe her anything in the Hereafter. I only speak of her questionable luxury lifestyle at the expense of our money for to me that is already evident.
If I could outlaw social media, I would. It is more destructive to social relationship then it is beneficial. However, I can't do that as the technology is here and 'freedom' of expression is the hallmark of a civilized and democratic nation. Therefore, we as a society must educate our young through lessons of religion, civic consciousness and professionalism that it is wrong, wrong and wrong to say nasty things at someone within the guise of anonymity.
The Veveonah case is not just a case of two blundering politicians but speaks volume of our education responsibility and our responsibility as a citizen. Our country is our responsibility. We are all 'parents' to all our children in Malaysia. The public university is for our children, not university administrators. Understand those two nation building principles and there will be no more Veveonah's situation ever again.
(Professor Dr. Mohd Tajuddin Mohd Rasdi is Professor at a local university.)