Rhodes, student politics and a small warning for PNG

Papua New Guinea has no place for hollow belligerence

Sean Jacobs, Online Opinion, 3 June 2015

Earlier last month South African students from the University of Cape Town rallied, threw excrement and tore down a statue of the historically prodigious businessman and politician Cecil John Rhodes (1853 – 1902). Rhodes is most clearly remembered for the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship, which has sponsored thousands of students globally – many of them African – to study at one of the finest universities in the world.

At around the same time similar public taunts emerged around South Africa against symbols of white colonialism and imperialism. These acts are clearly distressing in a number of ways but, to audiences in former colonies like PNG, they clearly express warnings of symbolic ignorance.

Among a list of vague grumblings from the students, for example, were empty suggestions for more black academics and thoughts that the university was too Eurocentric. ‘Nothing was suggested about a more African curriculum or more African modes of learning,’ observed Andrew Kenny in The Spectator. ‘Quite the opposite: there was an important silence about making any real changes at all.’

But, even among such ‘modes of learning’ and the worries of faculty complexion, this is hardly the most optimal way to look at tertiary education, especially in a poor nation trying to push forward in a globalising and highly competitive world. PNG, like many other growing economies, is undergoing seismic economic changes that require real skills and a real education. ‘If you want to know how to build bridges,’ says the economist Thomas Sowell, ‘you need to know something about maths.’ Accounting or finance, in turn, requires knowledge of numbers in the same way that medicine requires an obvious intimacy with hard science.

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