I feel honoured to be among you today for this orientation session. I must thank the Dean of the Faculty of Agriculture for giving me the opportunity to participate in this important ceremony. First of all, let me congratulate all of you who have gained admission to the University of Mauritius and have chosen to join the Faculty of Agriculture.
This is a faculty that has deep roots in our Mauritian soil and that has seeded the University itself. You are about to embark on a journey of discovery that will transform both you and your world. I am sure you fully realize how rich you are right now. You have at your disposal a wealth of resources, human and material, your dedicated lecturers and professors who will guide and support you over the next three years , highly qualified technical staff, who will help you to carry out your research and experiments, well–equipped laboratories, documentation facilities of the library and the latest technology of multi-media rooms. Indeed this is better than winning a lottery.
You may be wondering ‘Why do we need an orientation session?’ Of course, it is the faculty’s formal welcome to you, its fresh undergraduates, just to give you that sense of belonging without which no community survives. More significantly, beyond the ritual, it is a time for each and everyone of us to look back on the way travelled so far, to take stock of where we are at present and to choose our bearings. Secondary school ,with its uniforms, its rules and rituals, rewards and punishments , its spoon-feeding even, is now far behind: you have already acquired the basic knowledge, skills and attitudes for higher learning, that is for independent , self-motivated study, for cooperative peer- learning and for applying knowledge to real- life situations.
Your lecturers will assume that you are discriminating readers, critical listeners and unbiased observers, that you have a proven capacity for steady hard work and attention, that above all you have the curiosity, rigour and discipline for intellectual inquiry and the pursuit of truth. This they will assume, but only you can know your strengths and weaknesses and only you can take remedial action where required. In this connection, allow me to remind you of three basic study skills, which you will have the opportunity to fine tune through the communication skills and IT modules that your course provides: reading, using the internet and writing. They are inter-related. We shall take them one by one. In the first place, reading. You enroll at university to read for a degree. There is no substitute for reading. You will perhaps find that the amount you have to read is overwhelming. However, the good news is that the more you read, the better you will be at it, and at writing, and at organizing data and information. We read not just to identify and understand words and phrases but also to make sense of our world and our lives.
I want to share with you three very simple tips for effective reading. The first is to organize your reading time and material: say you have 300 pages to read in ten days, just read 30 pages a day at your best daily reading time and you will manage easily. The second tip is :monitor how you read .Are you reading at the appropriate speed, are you getting the essential points ,are you flagging and highlighting the passages you wish to quote, are you noting down your doubts , disagreements and questions ?In other words are you reading intelligently and critically? The last tip is to resort to paired or group reading. A university teacher once told me: “When I ask my students to read a chapter, I do not question them to find out if they have actually read it; I tell them to ask me questions on that chapter. Then I know by the quality of the questions asked who has read it and at what level!’ You can have paired reading with your lecturers and group reading with your classmates. Of course you will not just read textbooks, you will also read about your areas of study and centres of interest, you will read books, journals, magazines, newspapers, for information, for entertainment and for pleasure. One educator has rightly said that” reading should be an elevating experience – one that that permits the spirit to soar.” You are at university because you believe that the life of the mind is as vital as physical survival and comfort. Remember therefore that there is no life of the mind without reading. That is why you read for a degree.
The second skill you will refine at university is your use of the internet. Do you remember how your teachers at school kept reminding you to process and assess the information that you download? This still holds good. Copy and paste will carry no credit with your lecturers. If you read Marshall McLuhan and Thomas Friedman on the computer as a learning resource, you will realize how the new electronic environment has completely changed the nature of knowledge and the way we learn and apply knowledge. Thomas Friedman says that the computer has globalized knowledge and has made learning a multi –sensorial experience. In an interview as early as 1967, McLuhan pointed out that “the computer has speeded up access to information ,to the libraries of the world, to information in any part of the world , almost immediately”. So do not limit your use of this wonderful resource to copy and paste. Use it as an instrument to probe your environment and extract the knowledge you need .Ask pertinent questions, use the right key words ask yourself: Is this relevant, plausible, understandable? Can I assimilate it? Be your own data processor, reorganize the material you download, and establish links and cross-references. Integration and internalization are indispensable processes in acquiring knowledge.
The third skill that you must hone down is writing. It is the most creative of the three, one in which you totally involve and expose yourself. A risky enterprise! A writer is never satisfied with what he has written but that is part of the challenge. You will have learnt the basics at school how to plan your essay or dissertation, how to use key words, how to construct your paragraphs around key sentences, how to ensure the logical sequence and flow, checking your verbs and making use of the right word and the appropriate style. You can now consolidate and extend these competencies. Use brainstorming and mind- mapping to organize your material, to analyse problems and come up with creative and innovative solutions. Pay attention to structure, sequence and order of priorities, Check the readability of what you write, Stick to short, concise sentences and well-knit paragraphs in which you can easily identify the key sentence. Your key sentences should give you your executive summary. As the French say “C’est le métier”. Take pride in your craftsmanship.
Many of you will say “All this is too serious. We need to enjoy our student days! ”By all means, do so. But to do so, you must enjoy your studies as well. However, do not remain confined to your discipline. Now is the time for you to establish links with students in other faculties, to bring down the walls between areas of knowledge and get into the mind- set needed for multi-disciplinary research and development. Which clubs and societies will you join or found? What activity will you take up which may turn out to be a life-long hobby or perhaps an investment for your future. Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple, recounts how the seemingly useless calligraphy skills learnt at university enabled him to programme the font of the first Macintosh computer! So, by all means be an active member of any society you fancy, whether it be for flute playing, line dancing, bird watching, sky gazing, archaeology, martial arts, sports, environment protection, Mauritian history, Mauritian literature, photography. The options are unlimited. It is all up to you.
Some of you are perhaps thinking. How will University be different from school? For one thing, it will be more demanding in terms of volume and quality of work. You will have to organize your time and work space. You will have to apply the new study and communication skills and the resources of information technology which the programme of studies provides. You will learn to ask more questions, to organize, analyse and assess data and information on your own, to engage in multi-disciplinary studies and projects, to question your assumptions and findings and to insist on empirical evidence and intellectual integrity. You learnt science subjects at school and now university will turn you into full-fledged scientists, provided you make the necessary effort. As one student summed it up: “Here, whatever we do is practical!”
Now, this is very much in the spirit and traditions of the UOM. Your university, you will remember, was created as a developmental university. At the official opening ceremony on 16 June 1967, ir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam stated:
“I hope that the university will learn the need for turning its attention not only to the world of ideas but also, to the world of men as they live in the circumstances of the present day. I am confident that it will never become an ivory tower”.
A year later he recalled that “It will be the supreme responsibility of the university to provide the best possible training in agriculture, business and commerce and at the same time impart such industrial skills as to enable our young people to make use of the most up-to-date technological advances.”. These words, spoken more than four decades ago, still hold true At the same time, it can be justly claimed that the university has so far lived up to the vision, hopes and expectations of its founders. Another prophetic statement echoes down memory lane, this time from the founder of the College of Agriculture, Sir Harold Tempany, in 1925: “Am I too visionary to suggest that the means may yet be found for the evolution in Mauritius of an institution of University standard, not only in Agriculture, but also in Arts, in Science, in Engineering and perhaps in Medicine?”
You are now joining this institution. It was founded with courage and conviction and nurtured by perseverance against all odds, notably, shortage of funds and the pressures of demand and expansion. It has proved to be remarkably resilient, innovative and responsive to the challenges of the times .Have a look at the coat of arms of your university and reflect on its motto. As from today, you belong to this tradition. You have acquired a new identity as an undergraduate of the University of Mauritius. In three years’ time, you will be a graduate and for the rest of your life, an alumnus of UOM. This is a lifelong commitment. As Nelson Mandela says in his autobiography, The Long Walk to Freedom ”A degree is neither a talisman nor a passport to easy success”.
Nearer home, Sir Maurice Rault, in an address as Chancellor of UOM in 1992, reminded graduates: “ vous avez eu la chance d’avoir poussé vos études plus loin que la plupart de vos compatriotes. Ce surplus de savoir exige de vous un surplus d’honneur. Puisse ce mot d’honneur, que si peu ont le droit de prononcer sans rougir, être le mot de passe auquel vous vous reconnaîtrez dans vos entreprises futures. Lancez –vous à l’abordage de la vie, non pas comme des bêtes à diplômes, mais comme des hommes et des femmes capables de tout. »
He adds that, perhaps among you, there will be some who, from the knowledge gained here, will be able to bring food to the hungry and peace to a war-torn world. This is a dream we all share – a world saved not by arms or money but by knowledge Can you make it come true?
Thank you for your kind attention.