by Jennie S. Bev
Indonesian public universities, such as University of Indonesia (UI), Gadjah Mada University (UGM) and Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB), are perceived as reputable and conscientious, from which many bright civil rights activists known as the country's strongest moral force are born and cultivated.
Those universities, on the other hand, are also known as the most productive manufacturers of the country's leaders, politicians and decision makers, of which many of them are commonly known as corrupt, both morally and materialistically. In one definition, corruption is known as an abuse of trust and, in most cases, public power is involved.
Such paradoxical phenomenon –one being "angelic" and the other being "devilish"– is more than interesting. It is puzzling and mind-bending because apparently, in many instances though not all, the same person can change his or her orientation in different environments. What are the causes and how can such occurrences be minimized or even eradicated? Thus, why is the correct mind-set necessary to be entrenched early with constructivist learning theory?
The late Prof. Syed Hussein Alatas, the pioneer of sociological studies on corruption in Asia, said in his book Corruption and the Destiny of Asia, the absence or weakness of leadership, colonialism, poverty, illiteracy were among 10 causes of corruption.
In a nutshell, there are internal and external elements that come into play in one's decision to act corruptly. The internal elements come from lack of religious and ethical teachings, which can be summed up simplistically as the lack of spiritual maturity.
The same source also quoted a notable Islamic scholar, Abdul Rahman Ibn Khaldun (AD 1332-1406), who found the root cause of corruption appeared to be the passion for luxurious living within the ruling group, which later would cause a vicious circle of poverty-corruption-poverty-corruption within the larger society.
Both spiritual maturity and the ability to restrain one's passion can be achieved by tapping into the so-called "correct mind-set.”
One of the effective ways to embed a mind-set is by using constructivist learning theory. This theory describes how learning should happen naturally, regardless of the sources of information. It revolves around the notion that learning occurs within a pre-existing framework derived from previous experiences.
New experiences resulting in new information is stored in one's existing learning framework in layers. There are layers upon layers of information, which are interwoven and intricately create stronger weaves of mind-set. Such process of re-framing takes place throughout one's lifetime.
Thus, it is imperative to set the correct mind-set within an influential period in one's lifetime. Being in college is one of those significant moments. And setting the minds of future leaders, politicians and decision maker collectively within a specific timeframe would have a titanic impact on the future. Assuming a successful re-establishment of the correct mind-set among classmates in a particular class, the result can be spectacular, as the circle of corruption will be broken and new circles of fresh anti-corrupt influences would emerge.
While it may sound a generalization, many students who are accepted into Indonesian public universities possess the so-called "blue eyes syndrome.” An experiment conducted by Jane Elliot, a psychologist in the 1960s, showed the dramatic impact of believing in the power of suggestion. In her suggestive experiment, having blue eyes was perceived as being more intelligent intellectually.
Being accepted into a public university in Indonesia is as if entering a new "caste" of privileged people in society. Bearing the UI, ITB, UGM and other public universities' emblems is known to open many doors more effortlessly, as compared with those who graduate from private universities. That many alumni hold strategic places in society itself is another door opener.
Such psychological credence is a blade with two sides. The awareness of being privileged would propel one's motivation to excel in academic endeavors. However, it may foster the so-called detachment from being an integral part of society, in which a person doesn't act according to their own conscience but according to "blue eyes" expectations.
In a country that requires every citizen to hold religion, returning to one's religious teachings and seeking spiritual maturity is one of the ways in re-establishing the correct mind-set, which I call "success mind-set.”
Using constructivist learning theory, such detachment can be minimized, if not eradicated. However, it should be noted that it is an uphill battle. The image of public universities as the place of the brightest people in Indonesia should be re-established systematically.
Ideally, public universities should bear an image of the place of the brightest and the most compassionate people in Indonesia.
By setting the correct mind-set during college years, the notion of "blue eyes" are smarter can be replaced with "blue eyes" are smarter and kinder than the rest of the population.
This way, being a member of a few privileged people in society comes with an unspoken expectation, which is to set an example as exemplary human beings. And an exemplary human being is more than a momentary candle; it is an eternal flame.
The Jakarta Post, September 3, 2007