My Response to: “Unschooling Isn’t the Answer to Education Woes – It’s the Problem.”

This is in response to the piece published in Forbes. Read the Forbes piece here:

I have no qualms with the first part of the title: “Unschooling Isn’t the Answer to Education Woes”, because it is true – it isn’t. And unschoolers do not make that claim either. But to claim that “it is the problem?” Now that, is taking the argument a little too far!

When I embarked on the unschooling journey with my kids almost 20 years ago, I thought (and still do!) that it was the best thing ever for children and families. Reason? Because kids get to have a proper childhood and families get to be like how normal families ought to be: being together, and doing things as a family: like playing, working, cooking, cleaning, learning. And I thought (albeit naively) that everyone could unschool their kids like we did, because it felt so easy and natural! With the recent emergency pandemic schooling which had “forced” children to be kept at home and parents having to take on a new role as their kids’ teachers, the world experienced home-based learning or home-schooling en masse – a first in recent history! The outcome? Some loved it so much they don’t want to go back to school! While others can’t wait for schools to reopen for the kids to be handed back to the professional teachers.

Tree-climbing was one of our favourite activities: it is challenging, utilises creative problem-solving and overcomes fear!

This is understandable, because how parents approach teaching and learning will determine how the kids take to it. For those who, over the years, have instilled in their kids the qualities of self-motivation and independent learning, by viewing learning as interesting, contextual and meaningful, they would have no problems learning at home, or anywhere for that matter. In fact, they love it! But parents who have little time or energy to look into learning as a form of personal growth and development, but instead look to it as a means to a better life in getting a good job for the future, will inevitably struggle with the idea of too much freedom in their children’s education. And hence, we see the cyclical suffering going round and round with no solution in sight. Or a solution that will quickly be thrown out the window because it doesn’t fit into what they can see for their children’s future.

The task of educators in educating for the future will be less of equipping students with the needed fundamental skills in order to get a job after they graduate, but more of amplifying innate talents and allowing them to flourish with preparedness for an uncertain and ever-changing future. And learning experts are predicting this change as we see it unfold before our very eyes in our current pandemic emergency.

So, the main reason why unschooling will not be the answer to education woes is not because it cannot work in schools, but because parents, teachers and educational bodies are slow and resistant towards changing the way they do education. This is evident from the way schooling is resumed after the lockdown – Nothing much has changed other than the enforcement of social-distancing and hygiene practices. Instead of looking into growing and expanding creativity through outdoor and nature studies and play activities, music and drama, or project-based collaborative learning, most schools are cutting them out. Which is a big mistake because creativity is the single-most important skill in the world for all business professionals today to master.

And what does it mean to be creative? LinkedIn Learning Instructor Stefan Mumaw, who has authored six books on creativity, has this definition: “Creativity is problem-solving with relevance and novelty.” Relevance means actually solving the problem, and novelty is being original in solving the problem. Creativity is solving problems in original ways. Education woes is not due to unschooling. On the contrary, it has everything to do with the rigidity of the schooling mentality that is adverse to creativity. When we stop settling for old solutions that worked previously and push ourselves to think of newer, better ideas, we will begin to move forward to a new future minus the baggage of the old. And to do that, we will need to unschool our minds to foster creativity that works to solve problems in novel ways.

We cannot begin to solve the education woes if we are not prepared to change our mindset towards what we want from education and how we want to do it. Ultimately, HOW we imagine life and work will determine what and how we want to learn. And be prepared for the rapid disappearance of jobs that we have always known, and the appearance of new ones that are beyond our imagination! The best people to understand this phenomenon will be those who have not been in the system of indoctrination – the young unschooled minds. We have much to learn from them if we desire to change the education landscape. But no one is asking them for their opinions. That needs to change. Speedily!

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Learning from Home

(This was an article published in Oriental Daily a few years ago, on homeschooling, loosely translated into English here).

When 15-year old Samanta was asked by her friends at dance, what would her future be if she didn’t go to school, she answered thus: “But I am living the future now by doing what I love best – dancing!” She is the younger daughter of Chong Wai Leng and Soon Koi Voon, one of the pioneering parents who homeschooled their children in Malaysia. They also wrote a book titled “Learning Beyond Schooling – Bringing Out Children’s True Potentials”. They were the first people to start a parenting website in Malaysia called FamilyPlace.

Go with passion!

They chose to homeschool their three children because they wanted their children to grow up with their curiosity and love for learning intact, to have dreams and the time and courage to pursue their dreams. Their oldest daughter attended school for two years ( from year 4 to year 5) during which she made many friends. She also managed to figure out how school works. But to their astonishment, she announced that she wanted to stop schooling and go back to homeschooling. Her reason: there is no meaning in learning when all extra curricular activities were stopped and were replaced by extra tuition to prepare for an important exam in year 6.

So with her ample time at home, she picked up the guitar and started to sing and write her own songs. Eventually it became clear to her that she wanted to be a singer songwriter. She started doing gigs to raise funds to go to Nashville in June this year to attend the Country Music Festival. She managed to raise enough funds for the airfare there and back! Learning according to one’s interest provide the needed self-motivation and drive to accomplish one’s dream. There are many choices out there for those who want to try out other options other than schooling.

Community learning

But they did not stop there with their children. They started a community learning initiative to have other homeschooling families come in to learn together. The idea is to share resources and to provide help and support to one another. To date, five families have committed to the initiative, coming together four times a week to do science projects, creative play, , drawing and many other fun activities together. The idea is to learn from the regular interactions the children have with one another. This is far better than the occasional “hi” and “bye” situations during an organized field trip with other homeschoolers
perhaps. The interactions and relationship with one another is very beautiful indeed!

Learning at home should not be an isolated activity. Parents need to build community that support one another. They believe they have found the solution to the question of socialization. It is not their purpose to convince everyone to homeschool. But it is their hope that more parents can be empowered in their educational choices by knowing that there ARE options out there. Parents need to reclaim their children. They need to reclaim their families – something that parents lose out when they surrender their children to th institution called “The school”

An involved parent, Hoo Chee Keong, gave his views on the concept of community learning. “Homeschooling is not just learning at home. We meet up regularly to do activities together so that our children learn people skills in the process. This is very important. There are bound to be issues that crop up when children play together. When this happens, they are opportunities for learning communication skill, anger management skills and many other important people skills.” Chee Keong, who runs a kindergarten and daycare center in Klang with his wife, also feels that doing it together with other families lessen the burden of having to plan and do everything yourself. “Some parents offer to teach science, another teaches cooking, another teaches creative writing, etc…this combined effort makes learning more fun and less stress!”

Trusting children to learn

It is important that parents discuss with their children, ant decision that would affect them, like the decision to school or homeschool. Children do have the ability to make decisions. It is a matter of whether parents can accept what they really want. It is a journey that parents and their children take together. “We need to grow together with our children. We need to give them more freedom to choose what they learn and how they learn. This way, they will have more interest in learning. Even in learning how to make friends.” he added.

Trusting children to learn in their own time and in their own ways is an important start. This will encourage them to be self-directed learners and not having to constantly rely on more “knowledgeable” adults for help. Children can teach themselves a lot of things if we let them, like learning the guitar or learning to swim or learning to draw! For this reason, it is not imperative that they go to school or college to learn. The world is their classroom!

A music presentation by the kids – always the highlight of their homeschooling!
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Hari Raya MCO Concert 2020

Here’s the link to last night’s premier of our concert

And here’s the link to our classical music segment happening tonight!

Enjoy! If you would like to participant in our future concerts, please write in to

Music is the expression of love, life and passion! It should be encouraged and supported with all our hearts and resources. They should NEVER be put aside to fit more “important” subjects. In fact, arts education should be the forefront of all education!

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The Time For Change is NOW

The global pandemic has caused drastic changes in the way we live, learn and work. The world was ground to a halt – schools and factories were closed, businesses shut down, and everyone was ordered to stay at home during an extensive lockdown, for months. This was certainly unprecedented and governments around the world have had to learn on the go, what they are dealing with, how to deal with this emergency, and when to open the countries up, and how? In this unsettling environment that is still playing out right now, with countries still fighting tooth-and-nail with the effects of the virus, and its impact on the people – what is to happen to the future of work, livelihood, schooling and socialisation?

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Has our education moved on to the 21st Century or is it still stuck in the 20th Century?

Before we answer that question (yes, I know you already have the answer already but do bear with me, will you please? Thank you!), let’s have a quick look at what the 21st Century learning entails. Here is a good list of them with a video each to further illustrate or animate each point given. Do go through each and every one of them before you continue with this article:

Thank you for spending time reading and viewing that! You have done a pre-reading and previewing of the given materials – the flipped classroom – and that is one of the 8 methodologies that 21st Century teachers are expected to know and to teach. Here is the full list:

1. Flipped classroom – learning is “reversed” with pre-preparations by students to free up time for more meaningful discussions or projects.

2. Project-based learning – instead of memoization, pbl opens up opportunities for critical thinking, communication and collaboration.

3. Co-operative learning – switching from self-centered learning to others-centered learning resulting in greater dynamism, co-ordination and co-operation.

4. Gamification – it makes sense to learn from game-designers who have succeeded where schools have failed, in motivating players to keep playing and upping their skills to reach their targets. Because it is FUN.

5. Problem-based learning – getting students to think about real-life problems confronting the world and coming up with real solutions to them. The world needs more Boyan Slats to solve real world problems with problem-based learning!

6. Design-Thinking – A look at more specific problems to solve for specific clients offering innovative solutions for think about.

7. Thinking-based Learning – thinking that is done to convert information into knowledge. Memorisation of facts s not the primary method of learning.

8. Competency-based Learning – gives students a choice and freedom to master a skill and to present it in various ways that they choose.

So looking at these, we can come to a calculated conclusion that we have hardly made the crossover from the ancient method of teaching, to the present 21st Century world. And what does it take for us to get there? With the current pandemic exerting massive disruptions to schooling around the world, we have to relook at how we can REVAMP and REDESIGN schooling that meets the needs for new knowledge workers, innovative problem-solvers and creative and compassionate leaders of tomorrow. What are some of the problems we are currently facing?

1. Over-crowded schools and classrooms – There are just too many students and the numbers will continue to grow in urban schools. Do we keep building bigger buildings to accommodate the growing number of students? Or do we look deeper into schooling at home, distance-learning, and online classrooms?

2. School as a big day-care center- Countries affected by the pandemic have had to reopen schools for the sole purpose of enabling parents to go back to work. But if working from home becomes a norm everywhere in the world, then having children learn at home becomes a norm too. And schools can become a center for community, collaboration and socialisation instead.

3. Schools as testing centers – If the purpose of schooling changes from a place to acquire uniformed knowledge and to obtain a uniformed assessment of the acquisition of knowledge via standardised testing, to a higher purpose of moulding educated citizens with good character and compassionate leadership qualities, this whole testing method can be considered obsolete and redundant in the 21st Century scenario. The only tests to be carried out will be the products and problem-solving solutions that the students have come up with collaboratively.

4. Schools as competitive beds to fill a capitalistic market – When we stop using schools as a factory to produce products to feed the capitalistic market, and instead truly investing in human capital (or potentials) to contribute positively to the general goodness and happiness of the world, everything changes – from what we teach and how we teach and from where we teach. We got to start from the WHY we teach and the what, how and when will follow.

5. Higher education as an expensive and exclusive learning institution – this has to go because it is not sustainable and reachable for everyone. Education has to inclusive and for that to happen, we have to break down its walls of privilege and exclusivity. It should not be a for- profit enterprise. It has got to be a for-the-people life-long open learning community.

6. Schools as political and religious indoctrination centres- This has to stop. Period.

Some may say that this is wishful thinking but I beg to differ. I believe that when people are confronted by a common global problem, and the only way to solve it is to change everything we knew about how we school our kids, the time for change will come sooner than we think. The window for change has just opened up for the world right now. The question is, are we going back to the old normal or are we going to create a new normal for our children?

HAPPY TEACHERS’ DAY to all educators!

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Moving education onto a higher plane

By April 13, 2020, a total of 192 countries had ordered their schools to close as part of the global effort to control the spread of COVID-19. This is the disease caused by SARS-CoV-2.

According to figures from UNESCO, these school closures have affected more than 1.5 billionchildren and young people. (

Around the world, schools are using existing platforms from the likes of Microsoft and Google as well as conferencing apps like Zoom to deliver lessons for their pupils. In Malaysia, those who were prepared for the switch did it quite seamlessly (namely the private and international schools) as compared to those who were caught totally unprepared (the public and independent schools).

“As systems massively move to e-learning, the digital divide in connectivity, access to devices and skill levels takes on more weight.”

What the pandemic has revealed about the way we school our young, is that most of our schools are still using the traditional chalkboard approach in teaching, which is not very different from the way it has been done for the past 100 years or so, despite the availability of new technologies! These are the schools that are most impacted by the disruption. Learning has come to a standstill for these students. This just reveals the great digital divide between those who can afford it and those who can’t. This shouldn’t be the case, especially when our country has been allocating large sums of money into education. But sadly it seems to be.

The reality and challenges of schooling at home:

1. The home is not normally set up for schooling – most students do not have proper desks to work on, or the proper environment. Most families do not give priority to learning at home because it is something that is entirely outsourced to schools and other learning institutions. So with the lockdown, students are forced to attend online classes in the dining area, or the living area, or even in their bedrooms. So, getting students to focus on what the teacher is teaching can be extremely challenging for some, with all the household distractions. And for those who do not have access to computers or even smartphones, this option is completely out for them. Talk about bridging the digital divide. 😬

2. Learning in a classroom setting – looking and listening to a teacher who is physically there is not the same as looking at a computer screen for hours on end, with unstable internet speed and pixelated or frozen images. These can be a tremendous strain on the eyes and the brain!

3. Learning has gone online but the teaching approach has not changed. Teachers who continue to use monotonous monologues to teach will not be able to hold the students’ attention as compared to those who utilise more audio visuals to carry the points across. collaborative learning by breaking them into groups works better to engage the students with one another. Teachers who are skilful in utilising technology for this purpose has the upper hand in making their lessons interesting and engaging for the students.

4. The duration of the online classes should be cut down by half with the teacher giving precise and condensed instructions for individual as well as group work and submissions. This way, more time can be spent on more fruitful discussions amongst the students and for completion of the assignments. Unfortunately, many traditional schools still treat online classes exactly the same as brick-and-mortar classes.

5. Emphasis should be on research, reflection and realisation – NOT regurgitation. Students should not be expected to give the same uniformed answers but to present their own interpretative understanding of a given topic.

Check these tips out:

Tips for Successful Online Learning

Parents need to learn to relax and go with the flow, rather than get all uptight and upset with their kids at home. As this is an unprecedented occurrence where schools and offices are closed for such a long period of time, family dynamics can get very stressful with working and schooling under the same roof!

In The Star today, there is an article published to help parents cope with the stress of helping their kids with schooling at home.

Parents are in an especially tough situation as schools stay closed due to the coronavirus. One expert suggests that parents implement a daily schedule – as well as considerably lower their expectations.

“Children with learning difficulties or disabilities, on the other hand, are often unable to focus on their work and study effectively alone. They require support and motivation from their parents, who can quickly feel overwhelmed by the task. Kaye’s advice to them is to stay calm and composed. The greatest help, she says, is to “provide emotional support, love and security, and to display confidence.”

Education revolution?

The world has been waiting for a revolution in education ever since the industrial mode of educating our future generation has been getting more and more obsolete and irrelevant. It hadn’t happen in the last decade of the 20th century. It hadn’t happened in the first decade of the 21st century. And now at the start of the second decade in 2020, we are witnessing a sudden massive thrust onto the web of learning, hopefully and finally seeing the much-awaited take-off of our rocket ship – the rocket of 21st century learning!

The OECD is tracking how technology is replacing face-to-face teaching. “It is particularly inspiring to see entirely new ways of working emerging, ones that go beyond simply replacing physical schools with digital analogues,” says Tracey Burns, of the OECD Directorate for Education and Skills.

She says it’s too early to say that bricks-and-mortar schools will be replaced by e-learning anytime soon. But Andreas Schleicher, Director of Education and Skills at the OECD, sees the crisis as an opportunity to rethink how we organize education.

“We can rapidly enhance digital learning opportunities for teachers and encourage teacher collaboration beyond borders. And we can use the momentum to reshape curricula and learning environments to the needs of the 21st century. Much of this is already happening. “

China was hit first by COVID-19, but reacted fast. Schools were given the highest priority even when financial resources nationwide were tightening, with a “green channel” ensuring quality and efficiency in rapid procurement during the emergency. On 17 February, a national cloud platform was launched, offering digital learning resources to students in schools free of charge across the country. With 7,000 servers and a 90 terabyte bandwidth, the platform already accommodates 50 million learners simultaneously. And it was not just the government which mobilised resources: a wide range of contributors were stepping forward to provide everything from free Wi-Fi and devices for students through innovative instructional systems to social support for teachers and schools. Importantly, teachers were ready and able to connect with their students remotely, both synchronously for lectures and individual support, as well as asynchronously, with teachers offering online resources for self-directed learning. And those without access to digital resources were not forgotten. In many places, parents could collect free textbooks from schools or ask schools to deliver them to their home.

How can teachers and school systems respond to the COVID-19 pandemic? Some lessons from TALIS

But we would be wrong to think that 21st Century learning is all about learning on the digital platform, because it entails more than just that. For 21st Century Learning requires 21st Century Mindset, and we need to explore what kind of mind is needed to face this century that is the turning point for humanity’s continual co-existence with Mother Nature and her myriads of creatures on Earth.

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Learning Beyond Schooling (Director’s Cut)

LBS Cover - Original

LearningBeyondSchool—Final Draft190307 (click here to download)

Ever wondered how this site came to be Learning Beyond Schooling? This was the book that inspired the transformation from to The book has since gone out of print, this is the original “director’s cut”

As we move into phase 3 of our lockdown due to COVID19, let us share our concept of home education.




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Crisis in Education Malaysia

On the 3rd March 2020, I attended a forum titled ”Crisis in Education Malaysia” which consisted of 4 interesting speakers who spoke on the various issue plaguing our education system.

The session began with Mr Francis De Luke, a retired school teacher who poured out his frustrations on the death of passion in the teaching community. This is further compounded by the fact that teachers are overworked mainly due to excessive paperwork. He lamented the fact that gadgets has taken over the lives of students (and teachers) making the whole teaching experience dull and uninspiring.

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Happy New Year! Happy new education minister?

We were on our way back to KL yesterday, from our 5-day family holiday in Penang, when our daughter had alerted us to the breaking news on her phone: Malaysia’s education minister had resigned. And this morning, Dr Maszlee Malik’s picture was on the front page of every major newspaper in the country.

Just as the announcement of his appointment as education minister came as a surprise 20 months ago, so was his sudden announcement of his resignation yesterday – the first day of school for thousands of Malaysian students. And the reaction from the general public? From extreme shock and sadness by some, to complete rejuvenation by others. For everyone had an opinion about Dr Maszlee – you either love and adore him as a caring education minister, or you are the biggest critique of his many controversial actions (and inactions), which he had openly admitted and defended:

“I have been seen to be the cause of many crises, including the Jawi calligraphy issue, Internet at schools and the free breakfast programme…….However, I believe I have placed a foundation and a clear framework for the ministry to follow.” (Quotes from The Star, Friday 3 January 2020).

Despite the controversies in Maszlee Malik’s tenure, a large number of Malaysians have banded together to urge Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad to reinstate him as education minister.

Maszlee publicly resigned from his post on Thursday (Jan 2), after consultation with the PM.

Just hours after the announcement, an online petition on titled “Keep YB Maszlee Malik as Minister of Education Malaysia”  was started by a netizen identified only as Tuah Kencana.

In less than 24 hours, it had already garnered 297,977 signatures. (Currently the number has exceeded 300k)

“The decision to resign is a huge loss to the nation,” the petitioner wrote. “Representing community groups, we request that YB Prime Minister, as the foremost statesman, to reinstate Maszlee Malik to shoulder responsibilities as Malaysia’s education minister.” (translated by the Malay Mail and reported in the Business Insider).

And those who had wanted him out had started a petition to the prime minister to have the education minister replaced. This one had garnered 160k to date started by one Stephen Ng:

“For the past 11 months, many Malaysians have raised complaints regarding Dr Maszlee Malik over his nonsensical policies such as black shoes and socks, his idea of introducing cashless payment in schools, setting up petrol stations on university ground, and so on.

“One particular policy to introduce swimming as a co-curricular activity in schools is worrying to parents. Recently, a schoolboy died in Sabah during his swimming lessons. Maszlee has failed to understand that schools do not have enough teachers to supervise the children when they are in a swimming pool.

Whether or not these petitions will have any impact on the prime minister’s decision is yet to be seen, but the petition for the removal of the Dr Maszlee appears to be effective (or perhaps it was just a matter of timing). At the time of writing, no decisions have been announced yet by the Prime Minister on who will be replacing Dr Maszlee.

And the nation awaits the announcement with bated breath!

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Depression – it’s real

Peer pressure and society’s expectations can be just too immense for the young souls to withstand. We need to rethink the whole approach to educating our young. We should help bring out their talents rather than try to put in lots of unhelpful data. There should be a better purpose to life than getting all the A’s that means nothing in the end…..

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