By Kumudu Kusum Kumara –
New comers to the university need orientation for several reasons. Most of our students come from rural areas and the university life is a new environment for them geographically, socially and academically. As common to humans they need to be oriented to the new environments to make the transition to new life.
Originally Sri Lankan universities had orientation courses in the universities. The leadership programs could have been held in army camps to avoid ragging of newcomers by the seniors. Unlike the university an army camp has residential facilities to conduct a program of this nature for a large number. Students, the majority of whom come from rural areas, may see leadership training as an additional qualification to compete in the job market in addition to the adventure it offers. They may also appreciate the opportunity for being able to make friends out of a peer group.
However, the orientation would be best if it takes place in the new environment one is relocated to. In that sense an external location is not the best place to have this program. It all depends on what is the key interest in organizing the orientation.
The idea of an orientation program is to get the new comers to make the transition from being an outsider to become part of the University community to the extent that they will be able to continue their educational activities successfully in an environment conducive. Internationally it is the practice to have such orientation programs in the university itself and in the city in which it is located.
While in the Sri Lankan universities there could be the problem of seniors interfering in such activities we have to find a solution that. It is said that this is what gave rise to the idea of a leadership program outside the university.
However, even though students have undergone the leadership training program once they come to the University they are still being subjected to ragging. It has come to a point where now first year students rag first year students.
Ragging has not been prevented or stopped because the leadership program was given outside the university. Even though students who come to the University come with the leadership training they are subjected to ragging by the seniors. Secondly it is reported that first year students who are in the University hostels are used by senior students to rag the first year students who are in the hostels and who are day scholars.
The domination of the first years by the seniors is so severe, any student who would try and stand up to them will be subjected to severe forms of harassment.
We must have orientation programs. I think an orientation program should be developed by the teachers of the faculties. University lecturers should prepare an orientation program collectively taking into consideration the academic and practical needs of the new students who come to Universities.
That could include some of the aspects which are already there in the leadership programs. Any physical training given to first year students should be voluntary based on their willingness to participate and not compulsory. But the academic aspects should be made compulsory because they have come to do academic work. That could include practical aspects like time management. The idea is that what we would want to teach university students is how to develop self- discipline and not regimentation or military type discipline. It is a time for young people to grow up to be mature and responsible adults who will academically excel in their work and be able to be innovative in thinking.
Now there is an idea that education should prepare undergraduates for employment and therefore their learning should be practically oriented.
This notion has also been now added to the earlier idea of academic training. There is no harm in adding but we must have a clear idea of what we mean by practical training which remains to be developed. Here, we should not forget that even teaching subjects in humanities and social sciences involve learning analytical reasoning skills, better critical thinking, the ability to innovate and be creative, effective oral communication, and writing etc. all of which have practical value in the world of work as well.
The orientation program, as I said earlier, should facilitate the students’ transition to university life.
It should be an occasion for them to meet other first year students, build a sense of community and friends, connect with and begin to feel at home in the university environment and meet with the academic departments to choose their first year courses and organise their new life in the university.
Here the senior students could be involved under the guidance of academic counselors to run a program borne by university lecturers who are the real academic leaders in the university. Seniors should be encouraged to develop a welcome ceremony for the newcomers where the latter are accepted into the community.
That has to be done in a kind of reconciliatory way of mutual acceptance rather than seniors imposing their authority on the juniors.
The overall orientation program should be developed by the academics in the Faculty where they take leadership into their hands guiding the seniors to welcome the juniors under their strict supervision eliminating any form of ragging and violence in the process.