Tuesday

Varsities must teach the skill to acquire knowledge

IKIM VIEWS
By Ir Ahmad Jais Alias Fellow, Centre for Consultancy and Training, IKIM (Tuesday June 3, 2008)

Students should learn about the purpose of knowledge, and how to acquire knowledge correctly. This will necessitate lifelong learning.

IN ONE of my articles written last November, I emphasised the importance of continuing professional development for graduates beyond their formal university education.

One of the reasons is to bridge the gap between what they have acquired during their studies and the demands and expectations of employers in the job market.


If we take the opportunity to gauge feedback from employers (or potential employers), most of them are of the opinion that today's graduates are not ready for a job requiring a certain command of knowledge that graduates are supposed to have acquired from their learning process in universities.

Another common concern is an apparent lack of skills among the graduates that would enable them to adapt and adopt new knowledge and skills at their workplace. Hence, employers have to spend a handsome sum of money to send their graduate employees for training and enhancement programmes.

These are two aspects for us to ponder. On the one hand, graduates are expected to acquire knowledge, at least to a minimum level in their field of study; while on the other hand, they are expected to be sufficiently trained in certain skills which will enable them to be self-sufficient in their jobs.

So, where do we begin to address these concerns?

Perhaps we should begin by trying to understand the difference between the process of learning vis a vis the training process. Which should universities focus more on?

In acquiring knowledge, one is necessarily referring to the process of learning, in other words, the cognitive process of acquiring knowledge or skill. The result of learning correctly conducted is profound scholarly knowledge.

Prof S.M.N. al-Attas defines knowledge as “both the arrival of meaning in the soul as well as the soul’s arrival at meaning”. It is this meaning which allows the seeker to understand the relation between the subject matter of knowledge, and knowledge itself.

Therefore, the process of learning in universities should produce graduates with the ability to understand the meanings of what they have learned. They should be able to explain it, elaborate on it, and create a new relationship between what they have learned and the current and real challenges in the employment sector.

The process of acquiring knowledge may be established by means of external and internal senses and faculties, reason and intuition, and true reports of a scientific or religious nature and transmitted by their authentic authorities.

Students should therefore learn about the purpose of knowledge, and how to acquire knowledge correctly. This will necessitate life-long learning, and will continue with individual professional development, even at their workplace.

The question is, does our higher education system today help to prepare students with regard to how to acquire knowledge? Or is ‘spoon-feeding’ information still the norm?

As real knowledge is acquired through training, skills are also developed by training. There are other meanings to the term skill: “an ability that has been acquired through training” or “an ability to produce solutions in some problem domain”.

Normally, skilled workers are trained in the same activities or sequence of processes, until they command a certain level of craftsmanship that enables them to produce successive controlled or similar results.

There are trade-offs here. If the education system focuses more on producing skilled graduates in terms of ‘technique’, they may neglect the ability to acquire knowledge.

In my opinion we should train students with the skill of acquiring knowledge. Acquiring knowledge is actually paramount, to be repeated constantly throughout our life. With the skills to acquire knowledge, a person actually fulfils the requirements for continuous lifelong professional development.

All other knowledge, skill and ability, will henceforth be automatic. The institution of higher education should perhaps ponder and reflect, and subsequently act.

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