Speakers’ corners have always been the place to hold debates and practise free speech. Originating in the United Kingdom in the mid-19th century, public spaces like Hyde Park have witnessed historic figures coming together to hear and speak their minds on various issues without fear or reservation.
In Malaysia, speakers’ corners were once popular in universities in the 1960s, but the implementation of the Universities and University Colleges Act (AUKU) in 1971 saw the demise of such practice.
The act curtailed the involvement of tertiary education students in politics and other activities, hence denying them the chance to freely express themselves.
However, in December last year, AUKU 1971 had been amended to provide more freedom for students to speak and join various organisations.
To empower them, speakers’ corners have once again been established in universities to allow the freedom of expression and instill students’ confidence in public speaking.
During the announcement, Education Minister Dr Maszlee Malik said the initiative was also meant to uphold liberty in higher-learning institutions.
In support of the Education Ministry’s Read@Uni programme, Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) recently hosted a speakers’ corner at its campus in Shah Alam.
Organised by the student representative council, in collaboration with the university’s Tun Abdul Razak Library (PTAR) and student secretariat of every faculty, the event was a second installment after the first series on April 4.
Six students impressed listeners with their oratory skills when they elucidated their views and ideas on the subject “What do you want to change?”
“Our platform allows students to share new insights that could shed light on some important issues and concerns,” said programme director Muhamad Rithaudin Rosman, who is a member of the council’s academic and career executive committee.
“An open session like this enables students to exchange knowledge and learn about a variety of topics from different people,” said the chemical engineering student.
Law student Khairina Abdul Malik, the first speaker, believed that the Malaysian education system needed to undergo a reformation.
She applauded the Education Ministry’s decision to do away with examinations for Year One to Year Three in primary school.
“The system should be more balanced. We need to open up a lot of possibilities for our students and let them shape their own potential. Instead of being exam-oriented, we can increase focus on skills like farming, arts and music.
“Students should not just excel academically, but also have good soft skills.”
Khairina highlighted a homeless man in Australia, who went back to school at age 48 and has now become a sociology lecturer.
“Have you ever heard of this kind of scenario in Malaysia? Hardly so,” she said.
“We need to look beyond traditional academic pathways. Recently, I read a story about a finance graduate from Perak who quit his job at an auditing firm to become a farmer. This shows that our education system must be more holistic.”
Siti Norsyafiqah Jalaluddin gave a speech titled “Overcome your stage fright to change your future”, which she said was something close to her heart.
But her composure did not betray her confidence when she spoke eloquently.
“I have a fear of public speaking since I was eight years old,” admitted the third-year law student from Ampang.
“Now, in my studies, I have to do a lot of presentations, so I always prepare well and practise my lines beforehand.”
Due to her stage fright, Siti Norsyafiqah found mooting ― an oral presentation before a judge ― which was part of her study syllabus quite a challenge.
“I remember failing to answer the first two questions during a session. My mind just went blank.
“Then, I thought of how this would affect my grades and make all my efforts go to waste. I calmed myself and, thankfully, I was able to answer the rest of the questions without any trouble,” she said.
Second-year oil and gas engineering student Sofea Jasmeen Johari, feels that university students should be the force that propels the country forward.
“The age of youth should be utilised wisely not only for individual benefits. University students should strive to become the nation’s human capital for the development of society and the world. We should engage in higher-order intellectual thinking in solving problems,” she said.
“In the current world without borders, students should not confine their learning to the classroom. We should look for knowledge and skills from outside the university or even from other countries.”
A staunch believer in youth leadership, Sofea Jasmeen spoke about the attributes of young leaders past and present.
She cited Fatih Sultan Mehmet, the ruler of Constantinople, which is now Istanbul in Turkey, and local icons Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman and Mohd Syafik Rahmat.
The former is the youngest youth and sport minister in Malaysia’s history while the latter was last year’s Tokoh Siswa award winner.
“These young icons proved that we can be great leaders at a young age. I hope students would not shy away from taking on leadership roles or at least participate in the various clubs and societies in university,” she said.
Nor Fadlina Mohd Lutfi, a third-year law student, used her speech titled “Turning failures into success” to motivate her audience.
“Do not feel discouraged if you experience failures. Instead, use that as a motivation to work harder. Success is there for those who keep on trying and striving. Remember, if you fall down seven times, stand up eight.”
Besides trying to encourage students to speak their mind and share their knowledge, the speakers’ corner was also organised to attract more visitors to UiTM’s Tun Abdul Razak Library.
By: Rayyan Rafidi