‘Humanitarian competition’ a great motivator for students

by Dr. Ujjal Ghosh

A major concern in the context of education is whether, by the time we finish years of schooling up to tertiary level, we will be accustomed or trained to think abstractly using only our intellect.

This requires the detachment of oneself from one’s environment where one might be influenced by negative thinking such as prejudice, selfishness, arrogance, ignorance and lack of appreciation. In other words, our intellect governs and restricts our actions and expressions.

Tsunesaburo Makiguchi (1871-1944), a forward-thinking Japanese geographer, educational theorist and religious reformer, believed that aim of education is not to transfer knowledge but to guide the learning process, to equip the learner with the methods of research. It is not the piecemeal merchandising of information; it is to enable the acquisition of the methods for learning on one’s own and is the provision of keys to unlock the vault of knowledge.

According to Makiguchi, rather than encouraging students to appropriate the intellectual treasures uncovered by others, we should enable them to undertake on their own the process of discovery and invention.

The idea of ‘humanitarian competition’ was proposed by Makiguchi. He described it as “not merely a location or methodological shift in the competitive arena or modes… it represents a profound qualitative transformation in the very nature of competition, towards one that is based on a recognition of the inter-relatedness and interdependence of human communities and that emphasises cooperative aspects of living.”

The general view of competition has to have a winner and a loser. The former will celebrate his victory and the efforts of the latter will be discredited. However, the concept of humanitarian competition makes no distinction between winner and loser. Instead, it focuses on, and appreciates, each individual’s effort and transformation as the collective positive transformation of society.

To cultivate such healthy competition, courageous heart-to-heart dialogue is needed so that individuals can integrate their actions into a larger sense of purpose.

The basis of heart-to-heart dialogue is one of empathy, opening of our lives to another person. As we talk with our friends, there can sometimes be an almost overwhelming desire to ‘fix them’ or to try to solve their problems, but this is not the spirit of sincere dialogue.

When we talk based on empathy and self-reflection, we open the opportunity for engagement in courageous dialogue. We need to make efforts to actively listen with an open mind to another person to have a courageous dialogue. The following paragraph depicts some of the benefits of applying humanitarian competition in a University environment.

The process of courageous dialogue can help students think critically and creatively to generate innovative solutions for any problems they may face. It can motivate students to make true judgements by synthesising information from a wide range of sources. It helps students communicate effectively with fellow students and others in their respective environments.

Humanitarian competition motivates the students to take responsibility for their own lifelong learning and development and help fellow students do the same. It teaches students to respect and treasure others from different cultural and social backgrounds. Through the process of humanitarian competition, the students can manifest leadership qualities and take the initiative to apply ethical practices and courtesy in their professional fields.

Dr. Ujjal Ghosh is a senior lecturer in the Department of Chemical Engineering at Curtin Sarawak’s School of Engineering and Science. Dr. Ujjal graduated with a PhD in Chemical Engineering from Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur, India. Before joining Curtin Sarawak, he had worked with University of Melbourne, Australia, in a collaborative project to reduce greenhouse gas emissions into the environment and thereby reducing global warming. Dr. Ujjal’s research expertise is in the field of waste water treatment, greenhouse gas capture and biomass conversion for production of renewable fuel. He has a keen interest in photography and philosophy. Dr. Ujjal can be contacted via e-mail to ujjal@curtin.edu.my.