Saturday, April 25, 2015

Methods of student protest betray stagnation and lack of ingenuity in local higher education system

The recent tear-gassing of a student protest has been the topic of much conversation, especially since the newly appointed government was seen as being much more student-friendly than the previous one.

Protests by students enrolled at state universities and higher education institutes are nothing new. Every year, these students cumulatively spend thousands of hours sitting/standing/walking/running from charging riot police in congested areas of Colombo. Ward Place, where the ministry of Higher Education is located, is the scene of near permanent sit-ins by students.

Primary, secondary and tertiary education is heavily subsidized in Sri Lanka. This has not prevented undergraduate students, selected for universities from impoverished backgrounds, from going through immense hardships to complete their education. The lack of funding has made research grants almost non-existent. The system is groaning from the stress it is under.

Yet when students react to their situation, it's often in a very confrontational and chaotic manner. Student protests gain the eyes and ears of the public, but not in a positive manner. The social standing of university students has diminished greatly among the general public. The view that they're a nuisance and lacking in discipline has become somewhat entrenched in the public consciousness.

New thinking and true creativeness is required from undergrads to get their message across. Instead of old, boring, disruptive, and potentially violent picketing and banner holding, novel methods of protest should be explored. Students should fight to win back the esteem that society generally holds such qualified and talented individuals in. They should show us why they're the exceptional one percenters who made it because they were at the right end of the bell curve.

Hong Kong students clean up after 2014 protests