Dilemma of starving students

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  • Wednesday, 20 Jan 2016

Looking beyond the option of working part-time to survive

THE reaction by Malaysians following reports that university students were starving have been extremely divisive, to say the least.

On one side, many have called on these students to get a job as a solution to not being able to afford food; on the other, students are calling on people who have responded that way to get off their privileged high horses.

Both are not wrong, although, there is something to be said about the value of observing things from a distance, especially when privilege is in check.

Which is why I do not disagree that getting a part-time job is an “easy” solution to the problem.

However, I do believe that there are many other factors to consider as well – difficulty in finding jobs and having the necessary skills to do those jobs.

What irks me is the defensive responses from students citing study schedules and lack of transport as excuses on why they cannot take on jobs.

The fact is that students the world over have been struggling to make ends meet in their pursuit of the paper chase.

It is a known flaw in the education system of many countries around the world, which requires students to pay to gain knowledge on top of having to support themselves on the side.

Some of us – and I do count myself among the lucky ones – have never had to starve. But a majority struggle and they always find ways to make things work.

To counter periods with taxing study schedules, for example, I know of youths who work long hours during their breaks to save up and sustain themselves through the semester.

It is also important to know that taking a semester or a year off to save up money to help sustain their lives while studying in the future is also an option many young Malaysians have been forced to take (let alone those for whom education is not even an option because of financial difficulties).

Others have turned to more flexible working options while studying – online jobs, door-to-door sales and more.

These jobs are not always easy and some are far from where these students live, but they do it and find ways to get to work because they are desperate.

How did things get so desperate, however, is a discussion to have on the other end of the spectrum.

The unfortunate fact is that the system has failed many of these young people.

Just looking at the past few years, the drastic economic problems we have faced have not made the situation any easier.

Besides the GST, the price of basic necessities – including public transport – has been rising ridiculously. The average layperson did not see this coming.

In that sense, we cannot always blame some people for not being able to adjust (hence, needing to go hungry), especially when we have not prepared them for such occasions.

Our primary and secondary school education, for example, teaches us few living skills and financial importance. Instead, we have “moral values” rammed down our throats.

The system aside, we also need to ask how we as a society have led to this point as well.

What kind of environment have we created where a starving student is not able to get help from a friend, teacher or anyone else for the matter?

How is it that our youths are so ashamed that they would rather starve than show weakness?

How far are we willing to go to “save face” and not turn to humanitarian programmes for assistance?

What is more, there have also been comments about students who use their study loans to help support their parents or siblings.

This revelation is excruciating considering how some parties are calling for a larger PTPTN (National Higher Education Fund Corporation) funding to ease these students’ burden.

But with billions of ringgit still being owed by borrowers in the past, this is not a logical move.

So, I can appreciate that students are caught between a rock and a hard place.

Yes, the authorities and the Government need to address the issue – including making the process of getting help much less bureaucratic.

At the same time, each and every one of us also need to think about how our actions, behaviour and values as a society are contributing to this major decline in quality of life for the coming generation.

But while all of this is, hopefully, being considered and fixed, it is really the young people themselves who need to reconsider their actions to make the best of desperate times.

The unfortunate answer is to just grit one’s teeth and put that little bit of extra hours in, sleep that little bit less at night and to conjure that little bit of street-smartness.

Hopefully, the perseverance will pay off; part-time jobs can be great for the CV too, and and for most of them, the situation will get better upon graduation and getting a job.

Niki believes that society as a whole has a role to play in solving social issues. Connect with him via Facebook at www.nikicheong.com/fb

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