Thursday, March 21, 2019

Use Us

Since I am still officially on maternity leave, I have somewhat been isolated from the outside world for the last two and a half months. But a few days ago, I started my routine again of listening to news on the radio and I heard—for the thousandth time--a news item, which should no longer be newsworthy by now, about how our local graduates are not equipped with the right skills to face the challenges of working today. Probably yes, probably no; but as a college professor, I can only speak of what I know.

And this is what I know.

Yes, besides the science and technical fields such as medicine and engineering, we college professors do not really teach specific ‘skills’. But like I’ve rambled in front of my students before, do not underestimate the knowledge and other life skills gained in class regardless of a student's major, whether it be political science or Quran and Sunnah.

The most important skill one learns in university, in my opinion, is the ability to write convincingly. Most people I know does not appreciate the importance of a good writing skill. Writing is not about language proficiency. Instead, writing is related to our thought processes. I always tell my students not to write long winding sentences. It only shows that a person's mind lacks focus. But if someone can write coherent sentences that result in a coherent paper, it shows that the mind is trained in such a way to think analytically and in a structured manner. If a paper lacks coherence in terms of argument, points made, and conclusion, it shows that a person has not really thought an issue through. If a student has not even ‘thought’ about something, how can he or she be expected to ‘explain’ it well.

Analytical skill has always been touted as what’s missing among our graduates. I say, instead of sending them to do two years internship for them to get lost in the machinery, that time is better spent sharpening their ability to analytically think through a problem and to provide the necessary solution in writing form. A person does not need much to be able to do that besides the skill of thinking. And trust me, even in Industry 4.0, that skill will never be outdated.

Skill numero dos: speaking. Again, the same complaint we hear every year. Our graduates can’t speak to save their lives. Similar to writing, when we talk about ‘speaking’, we don’t mean language proficiency. Although being proficient in English would be helpful as it boosts one’s clarity in speaking, more importantly, the ability to speak in front of an audience is related to the confidence that one gains to speak one’s mind. Where do we learn this? During class discussion. During class presentation. If students cannot even speak up in class, what makes them think they would be able to speak up in a meeting in the real world? To convince their bosses to give their proposal a chance? Brush up on that skill at university first; no where else will one get the opportunity to focus on learning to stand one's ground, to argue with facts, and to know when to concede defeat.

Which brings me to my next point. Communication skill is also about respecting another’s opinion. In other words, the skill of listening. It is in university that you learn no one has all the right answers, all the time. We college professors argue over the smallest to the biggest points. That is how we evolve as human beings. Where else would you be lumped with people from different walks of life, with nothing to do but to ponder and debate on important issues, if not in university?

Some of my students have also made mention that they would love to have technical-based courses included in their program. In my humble opinion, those courses they mentioned (software-based, mostly) can either be self-taught or requires a weekend or two to learn. But what you get in a traditional class setting is something that cannot be taught in one weekend. I guess there's a reason this method of passing on knowledge has been ongoing for centuries.

What other skills do they always mention as important? Working in a group. Done. In class, there will always be projects that need more than three people involved.

The point I am making is to stop chastising the university system. There is nothing wrong with putting people through four more years of formal tertiary education. It is never about the facts learned in class (which most of us would forget anyway after graduation), but the development of an important set of skills including patience, perseverance, and dedication. All other technical skills can be obtained later in life. But as young adults, they need to learn to speak their mind, to provide solutions to unique problems, and the ability to think as mature adults.

A university is a place to produce thinkers. It is not a factory line producing employees. Good employees are basically good people who can think on their feet. Let’s focus on producing good people first. The rest will fall into place.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Babe In Total Control of Herself

Ten years ago, as a student, when my good friend Zaim asked me if I was a feminist, my answer was a playful "no". I remember the conversation until today. I justified it by saying that men and women are different, period (pun intended). But after getting married and especially after becoming a mom--a working mom--I am now a STAUNCH feminist. I even feel like God trusts me with three daughters because I am the right person to make them strong and independent feminists.

My initial foray into feminism started when I first got interested in equal pay. Like most lay person, I did not believe that there is a pay gap between males and females. It doesn't make sense to a young professional because when we first started, of course, we were all paid the same. But what happened after a certain period? So, I did little research on the subject and found that there is a real pay gap between males and females across the world, across professions, and across positions. Women are paid less in general because most women work in low-paying jobs, and women are also paid less compared to men with the same job title. Why? Apparently because males are more valuable to a company. Why? Because someone has to be home for the children. Even if a couple doesn't have children, someone has to clean and cook, and guess who has to carry that burden?

Don't read this as a scathing write-up against my husband or men in general. I have massive love and respect for my husband, father and brother. But, society... When are we going to move away from patriarchal thinking. Society rewards men who stay at work until midnight, but society expects women to go home at 5 for the kids. While her male colleagues are brushing up on their work, the females are at home brushing the kids' teeth. Some may say that is how it has always been. Men bring in the dough, women are the caregivers. But my God how many times have I heard male speakers try to drill in our heads that we need two incomes to live comfortably. Women have to help their husbands financially as a sign of love. Don't husbands have to show love to their wives? Don't children deserve two parents to grow up well?

So, what's the solution? I don't believe anything will change until society decides to change. Stop punishing men (financially) who choose to go home early to be with his family. Stop expecting women to drop everything to be home when the kids are unwell. I have seen it around me. Female colleagues taking days off because the kids are unwell, the kids have to go to science camp, the kids have to... Almost every time I wanted to scream "Where's the dad?!" Working mothers have ambitions too, but she still has clothes to dry, dishes to wash, etc. Many times I've heard bosses/managers told their female subordinates that they can't do a job because they have to be home early. In my head I am sarcastically asking "And the men don't have to be home, why? Aren't the kids his as well? Isn't the home his too?"

I love it when I read stories of people like Mark Zuckerberg who took months-long paternity leave. This would allow for a more level playing field. I am not blaming 'men'; I am blaming society. How are men expected to take long paternity leave if his employer only allows 3-7 days leave? Some women take as long as 6 months to 1 year off to care for her baby because it is difficult to find trusted help. And when she starts working again, she would be behind her other colleagues. And that's only the beginning of how gender pay gap happens.

I am not just expressing my dissatisfaction here. I am currently involved in a research that is studying inequality at the workplace. It happens. But most of us are too used to it that we don't even see it happening in front of us. We women have been too kind for so long, accepting whatever is offered as if our service is worthless because it worths less. May I remind these women that they make up a majority of students in universities; they make up the majority of honor graduates. Demand your right. Believe me, the world suffers without strong women, not just to be behind strong men, but to be the leaders that we are. Remember the famous quote: "You educate a man; you educate a man. You educate a woman; you educate a generation."

Don't let a man call us a bitch because we like to adhere to a dateline. Don't let a man call us a bitch because we are organized. Don't let a man call us a bitch because we demand a pay rise. They have done all these the entire history of humanity. When women do the same, they are called names to a point that men fail to recognize the bitch they're calling are mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters. I believe most men have one of the above.