SILIENCING OUTSPOKEN STUDENTS IS WRONG

2014-03-17 21:42

Among the various characteristics of a Democratic Constitution is the freedom one has to express oneself and what better way to express the ideas, opinions, comments and suggestion than through the ink of the pen. This becomes more poignant especially when it comes to education, scholarship, fees, etc. (Dear Vice-Chancellor of UKZN, Prof. Makgoba by Lukhona Mnguni. Voices.News24.com).

The disciplinary charges against the four Masters students after they wrote an open letter to vice-chancellor Professor Malegapuru Makgoba, about extending the registration deadline among others, is a matter of great concern. It is also disappointing and reflects truly disturbing values.

It is disappointing because institutions of higher learning always claim of creating a diverse learning environment that encourages the free exchange of ideas and academic freedom.

By adopting a defensive and hard-line approach to the four students, the management of the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) is stifling critical and independent thinking.

It is impossible to reconcile academic freedom with the university’s decision to charge the students.

Independent and critical thinking is essential for students. They need to acquire the skills of effective communication, exchanging of ideas and opinions, the studying of facts and evidence, seeing the realities on the ground and accepting and respecting the viewpoints of others. These important life skills will help them to avoid rigid views and opinions and make informed and wise decisions.

Moreover, it will help them to probe, identify and confront the many forms of corruption, discrimination, injustice, and violence, amongst others, that has consumed our communities and Country.

I believe this open letter by the students to the University is a reasonable and civil way of dialogue and engagement as the grievances of students usually finds expression in protest marches, violence, tyre-burning, property-destruction and boycotts, luring the masses, at times, to appease the discontent of just a handful of students.

I need not elaborate as to the results thereafter since history would suffice to attest to the vandalism and disruption that ensues after student protest and boycotts.

In these challenging and uncertain times, effective dialogue is important and should be encouraged. Engaging in respectful and healthy negotiations and debate, which can be vigorous at times, is important to the learning process, problem solving and growing up.

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