Recently, I was invited to attend a closed meeting to discuss an upcoming project at the National University of Singapore. Present were some of the world's top professors from the UK, the US, China, and elsewhere.
One professor asked why I, who loves to write, concentrated so much on writing about the mainstream media, rather than publishing scholarly journals or even books. I thought for a moment, and remembered the words of my teacher a few years ago after finishing my masters' degree.
Like it or not, university lecturers are teachers. As with any other teachers, their primary function is to teach. Teaching those who do not know. The only distinguishing feature between university lecturers and other teachers is that the former teach at a higher-education level. Their principal function is the same, sharing their knowledge with those who are less informed.
Nowadays, however, many university lecturers have forgotten this essence of 'teacher' in their function. They concentrate more on increasing the number of their publications, conferences, and on obtaining professor status, and the likes. So, what does this mean? Let us look, for instance, at journals. Most journals are peer-reviewed, meaning that to be published, they must be subjected to the "scrutiny of others who are experts in the same field". In more simple terms, they are written and read by scholars.
Who can access these journals? Although some are free and easily accessible, most can only be accessed by subscribers or those registered with an institution. More so, these scholarly publications contain some complex terms and theories, which are difficult to be read by laypersons. Likewise with conferences. Who attends them? Academics, scholars, and the likes.
Undeniably, these circumstances have led to the dismissal of the real meaning of being teachers among university lecturers. Their knowledge is no longer accessible to ordinary people. They only talk to their peers and share their knowledge with their students, or at least those who have access to them. They have forgotten that a teacher's principal purpose is to share knowledge universally.
This situation could bring negative implications, especially in the developing countries, where education, especially the university level, can only be accessed by particular groups of people. As 'smart people' only mix with 'smart people', those who do not know and have no access to these 'smart people' will remain uninformed.
However, this is not to suggest that scholarly publications or conferences should be avoided. Undoubtedly, there are many policies and societal changes that have been created from academic publications and discussions.
Nevertheless, there is a need among university lecturers to bring back the real meaning of their pedagogic vocation. In other words, their knowledge should be able universally accessible; not only by their students and fellow scholars, but by ordinary individuals.
There are many ways that this can be achieved. For example, university scholars could write op-eds or articles on newspapers, blogs, or any other publications that are more easily accessed by ordinary people. There is also an increasing number of scholars who manage social media accounts to share their thoughts and knowledge, and upload videos of their classes online.
Setting up free public classes could also be another way. Some have done this, where they open up free courses for public in their neighbourhood, villages, or even overseas in less developed countries.
To answer the question posed by the professor, I also said that besides writing for newspapers, my other hobby is to write for Wikipedia. I set up an account sometime ago, and whenever I read or hear something that everyday folks need to know, I open Wikipedia and amend the existing pages or create new Wikis.
Of course, there are more ways to share our knowledge with everyone, but we need to ask ourselves whether or not we are willing to take this step. The professors at the meeting I attended nodded their heads and agreed that they need to exert more efforts to make their knowledge accessible to everyone.
Those who have privilege more should give to those who have less. Those who are more knowledgeable should teach those who are less knowledgeable. If not, who else will teach those who do not know?