by Angeline Lesslar
After 13 years of education in the controlled and strictly disciplined environments of Malaysian primary and secondary schools, our children enter universities ready to broaden their horizons. Young adults – with minds like sponges – eager to absorb and grow into this next phase of their lives. Tertiary education will prepare them for the challenges of the real world by encouraging out of the box and lateral thinking. We expect our children will evolve into matured adults, full of confidence and with the ability to grow and excel in their chosen professions and to compete with their peers, nationally and internationally. We hope that they will make a difference in the world and blaze new trails through their innovative minds.
Unfortunately, with universities restricting student exposure to the realities of life, is this hope just wishful thinking? How can our children have broad outlooks if their minds continue to be conditioned and encaged? They are neither free to be adventurous, encounter new perspectives nor form any independent perceptions and opinions. What a way to dampen their thirst for knowledge and the unknown! A case in point is the abrupt cancellation by Universiti Teknologi Malaysia of an online dialogue with Sutra Dance Theatre artistic director and renowned classical dancer Ramli Ibrahim. This action has deprived its students of an opportunity to pick the brain of someone who pursued his passion in an art form of another race and religion. Had the students wanted to know what made Ramli, an engineering graduate embark and excel in an artistry alien to his ‘natural’ psyche, they will now never know. Nor will they dare take that leap of faith and transcend borders, as he had done, to pursue their own dreams.
I was fortunate to be an undergraduate in Universiti Sains Malaysia in the 70s. The well rounded exposure I experienced there opened up a whole new world for me. In the first year I was exposed to diverse subjects within the school of Humanities. These included Visual Arts, Critical Thinking, Performing Arts, Communication, Statistics to name a few. We had to take ten subjects, and two had to be from a cross discipline so I did International Relations and Sociology. In the second and third years, I majored in Mass Communication but still had to take subjects across disciplines so I added French, Philosophy, Photography and Dance to my course. All this provided me with a fully rounded education and learning approach that I had not experienced in my primary and secondary education.
The beautiful part of the system was accruing marks from course work throughout the year. While this meant working hard all year, it also meant less pressure for the year end final exams. By then, we would have known most of our grades, and could therefore spend more time and focus on the weaker subjects. It was less mental stress compared to where final exams accounted for 100% of the marks.
On a lighter note, thanks to my understanding of light and composition, I could take better photographs than my travelling companions and even managed to navigate around France with the smattering of French that I could still remember!
Education is key to ensure our generations to come are well equipped to survive this competitive world today. My hope is that our tertiary institutions would strive to ensure a more liberal and open minded exposure to the real world and applicable living skills for their students. Otherwise, our future graduates will remain jobless, not in demand and ultimately resort to being garbage collectors in Singapore as has proven to be the case.
(a version of this article was published in Malaysia Kini)
About the Author – After 26 years in the communication business Angeline is now focussed on pastoral work in the Catholic Church of Saint Thomas More, Subang Jaya. She heads the PMEIA Ministry in the church centred on building relationships with Christian and other religions. She leads an interfaith committee of Buddhist, Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus and other Christian churches within Subang Jaya/USJ. The objective is to build bridges with other faiths and develop relationships that will collectively make a difference among residents within that community. Together more can be achieved for the good of the whole.