A students’ play that drew a politician’s wrath

Schools often stage plays to allow their students much-needed creative space to voice their heartfelt messages that otherwise, would be locked forever in a dark and hidden vault. And this particular play would have gone unnoticed if not for its environmental content having caught a Minister’s eyes that drew a response that was more disturbing than the environmental issue that the students were trying to highlight! Instead of appraising the students’ efforts in highlighting a very pertinent issue, that is, the impact on the wildlife such as the orang utans due to indiscriminate and unsustainable deforestation by the palm oil industry, the minister had chosen to condemn them.

During a press conference on Tuesday, Kok had criticised an unnamed international school for organising the play and accused it of propagating falsehoods about the palm oil industry.

Propagating falsehood about the palm oil industry? Really??? Wow. And the matter got even more serious. The unnamed international school was said to have apologised to the Minister about the unfortunate “incident” and the Minister was now very happy and all is well and settled. Not only was the school named, so were its senior administrators!

KUALA LUMPUR, July 6 — An international school has apologised over its students’ performance that Primary Industries Minister Teresa Kok had criticised as allegedly being “anti-palm oil”, she said today. In a post on her official Facebook account, Kok said The International School @Parkcity’s senior administrators — education director Andrew Dalton and principal Jonathan Turner — as well as Parkcity director Sukhdev Singh had yesterday paid her a visit to explain the incident involving an alleged “anti-palm oil message”.

Kok said the international school’s administrators had shared with her the video clip which was shown at the school’s assembly for its students, with the video clip featuring an excerpt of environmental watchdog Greenpeace’s alleged “anti-palm oil video” titled “Rang-Tan” and with the students merely enacting the roles in the latter video.

“They apologised to me for the unfortunate incident and said that on hindsight, they could have handled the situation better,” she said in a statement today.

The question on my mind is: WHO should have apologised over this matter? And WHO should have handled the situation better? The Orang Utans certainly deserved a mention in the entire discourse in the media, because THEY were the unfortunate victims being highlighted in the play in the first place! But unfortunately, their existence was non-existent in our politician’s eyes, who had only the palm oil industry’s well-being in clear view.

Sad. Not only for the fast-disappearing wildlife due to the fast-disappearing forests, but also for the very confused students who had courageously staged the play. What will the senior administrators of the school going to tell their students? That the play was all a mistake and that they have got to bend down to the politician who, for some strange reason, interpreted the environmental message as a propaganda against palm oil?

But there was a lone voice of reason coming from a deputy minister, Hannah Yeoh, who had defended the school and was convinced that there was no agenda to undermine the government’s effort to promote palm oil.

On July 4, Kok’s DAP colleague and women, family and community development deputy minister Hannah Yeoh defended the international school which was within her constituency, saying the video clip was only a small excerpt of a 24-minute performance on multiple environmental issues by students at their weekly assembly.

Yeoh said she had personally watched the full video and was convinced that there was no agenda to undermine the government’s effort to promote palm oil.

Kudos to Hannah for defending the voice of the students! We need more civil-minded government officials like Hannah Yeoh who serves the community with acumen and humility, and not the other way around!

So here is an excerpt of the controversial school play and see for yourself, what is so controversial about it.

The controversial school play

In the meantime, our forests are still being indiscriminately cut down and our orang utans and other soon-to-be extinct wildlife are still at risk. But who cares about them? The continual survival of our palm oil takes precedent, and our erstwhile Minister, Teresa Kok, will see to that.

For further readings on the topic:





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Our kids have grown up! So what’s the outcome of our learning experiment thus far?

I was introducing my students to Reader’s Digest to inspire them to read, when a student suddenly held up a copy with Obama on its cover and asked, “Teacher, this person in the photo looks like you!” And I looked closer and was pleasantly surprised to see my family’s story in that issue. That was in 2008 when we were interviewed by Reader’s Digest and over the years that followed, the magazine got “lost” in our dusty shelves. Until I decided to pull a few copies out to read to my students.

It was a piece on “How To Raise An A+ Student” and ironically, our family was chosen when our kids were not even in the school system! Our piece was aptly titled “It All Begins With Books” and our photo has our home library as the backdrop.

‘A slim, even-tempered 12-year-old, Amrita Soon of Kuala Lumpur, has accomplished things that would make any parent proud. She won a computer when she finished second in the Pavilion KL Young Inspirations Award last year and received a distinction for science at the international educational assessment conducted by the University of New South Wales in Australia. But there’s one thing that truly sets Amrita apart. She and her 11-year-old sister, Samanta, are being educated at home….’ A home that is filled to the brim with books!

‘This book-centric approach is on the mark, say education experts. “It is of crucial importance that parents – both father and mother – take time to share books with their children, preferably at times when they are not stressed,” says Assistant Professor Linda Gan of Singapore’s National Institute of Education.

And the piece ended with a quote from me: “We let them learn using their natural talents and potential.”

‘From the way Amrita and Samanta are performing, it’s also about helping them discover all they can be.’

Fast forward 11 years from then, here is an update on our kids’ progress:

Arian Soon (15 years old), finally started reading at 10 years old, bypassing all the early readers and jumping right into fantasy books, young adult novels as well as the classics. He has been quietly working on his novel(s) and novellas, and short stories. He plans to be a published author before his teenhood expires!

Arian also practises intensively on the piano. He first started playing-by-ear at about 10 years old, with music from his favourite anime series, and even attended masterclasses with his anime pianist idol, Animenz! This phase lasted for about a year or so, until he discovered the music of Frederic Chopin (also from an anime series based on the life of a boy pianist). And from then on, there was no looking back – it’s full on classical piano now!

Samanta Soon (22 years old) had to choose between her two loves of her life: swimming or dancing. After much struggle and consideration, she decided to hang up her swimming gear and put on her dancing shoes instead. And she subsequently danced her way to the top spot in Malaysia’s biggest dance competition – the Astro Battleground! Her team won the championship in 2016!!! From there, Sam proceeded to go into teaching and performing and now, she is also doing choreography and has just become a certified Pound fitness instructor! She wants to spread the love of doing fitness together as a community and to have fun staying healthy!

Like her older sister, she also sings and writes her own songs. Her main love has always been music, and she is working towards self-producing her own songs one day – it would be her dream come true!

Amrita Soon (23 years old) has had a very interesting path so far – having professionally released 2 albums and travelled 3 times to the music city, Nashville, where songwriters are made and discovered! What is there to do now? Well, according to this tireless singer songwriter, there are lots more to do still – like going on a music tour to promote her new album (Familiar Strangers https://open.spotify.com/album/0CQIE73g3bRZ84Q5VxvsyZ?si=lEfIo3eQS8OYV3Xje7nO5g and going back to Nashville again, to get more inspirations for her new songs! Her song, Familiar Strangers, was Number 1 on a country radio chart in Nashville!!! What a feat that was! And oh, she also recently released her very first Mandarin song 安东尼 – https://open.spotify.com/album/27rar2bIHMIssK31cRYAUT?si=NKOpZh6SSlePWX253nPOvw which was premiered in Nanning, China early this year!

Oh why don’t you hear it from the horse’s mouth! Here’s her story told at a TedX event last year: https://youtu.be/FhDFiJxwbuY

And our story is still unfolding …… ☺️☺️❤️

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The pain behind the joy

“Joy” and “learning” do not often go together when they are done for an external purpose (extrinsically), like to cover a syllabus or to prepare for exams. Because the boundaries are fixed and there is little room for innovation. But when learning becomes intrinsic, where learning for self-satisfaction is allowed and encouraged, then JOY will take place in the learning process, and the learner will be more likely to endure long hours of practice on the subject that they are learning.

Adopting a growth mindset is the key to success in the area of joyful learning – where the potential for growth is greatly maximised by applying effort and persistent practicing. Those who limit their learning by having a fixed mindset – that learning is limited to one’s “smartness” or “intelligence” or youth, will find themselves unable to grow exponentially as compared to their growing counterpart.

“Children who associate success with hard work tend to have a ‘mastery-oriented response’ to challenging situations, while children who see themselves as just plain ‘smart’ or ‘dumb,’ or ‘good’ or ‘bad’ at something, have a ‘learned helplessness or orientation.” (Dr. Carol Dweck)

Associating effort with success will bring out the best in a student, and rewarding effort rather than results can make a great difference between getting motivated students who learn and manufacturing fixed-mindsets who aren’t motivated.

“The key to pursuing excellence is to embrace an organic, long-term process, and not line in the shell of static, safe mediocrity…….successful people shoot for the stars, put their hearts on the line in every battle, and ultimately discover that the lessons learned from the pursuit of excellence mean much more than the immediate trophies and glory.” (Josh Waitzkin, The Art of Learning).

So, the pursuit of joy actually involves a great deal of pain. It is a myth to think that learning is all fun and joy, although these elements are imbedded in the learning process, waiting to be uncovered by the diligent learner. The next level of learning, after the joy of discovery, is the painful process of mastery. And this can take years of diligent and persistent practice that involve tens of thousands of hours of immersion work.

The saying: “No pain No gain” rings true for learners in all fields, and to shield a child from the pain is to set him or her up for failure and disappointment, and that is a very tragic thing for the child indeed.

The key to grooming motivated students who are willing to practise and perfect their skills in playing an instrument, or pursuing a sport, is to teach them HOW to practise to get the outcomes that they require. Knowing WHAT to achieve and HOW to achieve them, makes the process more DOABLE and the satisfaction of “getting it” is more than enough to make the student want to continually pursue it. This is the key reason why sportspersons train relentlessly in pursuit of excellence and coaches and teachers play a crucial role in shaping champions!

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How to spark joy in learning

To spark joy in learning, make learning FUN and let children learn through PLAY!

Every child is a natural self-directed learner. Children are naturally curious about the world around them. Young animals are no different. If you were to observe a puppy or a kitten at play with its siblings, you will notice just how curious they are about everything! Sometimes to the state of utter destruction!

They are also endowed with such innocent looks that one would not have the heart to punish them for their “crime” even if they were to be caught red-handed at the crime scene!

Lesson number 1: Let them PLAY to their hearts’ content because through playing and trying things out, children learn about the way the ways of the world, and how they can co-exist happily and peacefully. (Don’t worry about the mess – they are a necessary by-product of creativity!)

Be inspired!

In the process of their playing years – and this should not be restricted to only pre-school years but extended throughout one’s entire lifetime – they will come across others who have similar interests or passions and these individuals will INSPIRE them to further their skills and expertise of their game.

And the “games” could be music, dancing, writing, drawing, science and mathematics. When learning becomes like a game to be played, it is much more enjoyable and much less stressful for the student.

Our son’s sudden interest in classical music slightly more than a year ago – a drastic change from his anime music days – was a great surprise to me. As a piano teacher mom, I did my duty of teaching all my children basic skills in piano-playing. After that, it was entirely up to them to choose to pursue piano or any other instruments. My first-born chose the acoustic guitar, and my second child chose the electric guitar. So when my youngest child chose the drums, I was ready to close my chapter on the piano for good. Until he started tinkling on it one day to the tune of a Japanese song from an anime show that he had watched on his iPad. And when he started watching the super heroes movies, it was Batman and Superman theme songs. Then Star Wars came along, and you can guess what he was playing then! All these were self-directed, playing by ear and experimenting with music notes at the piano. Without his mommy’s help.

Then one day, he started watching this anime series about a boy pianist whose ENTIRE life was the piano. His (the main character) passion/possession for classical piano music was intense. The dramatisation of the climatic parts of the music was emotionally provoking. That was the time my son came up to me and excitedly declared, “Mom, I want to learn to play classical music!” and I was thinking, “ah, good. Maybe we can start with some easy pieces……” and without hesitation he continued, “I want to learn to play Chopin!” And I was thinking, “…….preludes? waltzes?….” “Chopin Ballade no.1 in G minor!!! I LOVE THAT PIECE!!!”

And that, my friend, is the power of INSPIRATION. Nothing is more powerful than that first thought before all the other voices come into the picture: are you sure? Are you out of your mind? You’re NEVER going to do it! YOU CAN’T EVEN READ NOTES!!!!

The amazing thing about the mind of a child, is that it is so pure and innocent and yet to be tainted by the world. And adults who are able to maintain this state of child-mind has the unique ability to create unique works for the world. And this is what we, as parents, need to guard with all our hearts and not allow it to be tainted by negativity and self-doubts.

And so, with a big smile on my face, I tell my son, “Of course my dear, you shall learn to play Chopin’s ballade!” And I think to myself, “Now how the hell are we going to do that?!?” 😳

(To be continued…….)

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They came, they played, we celebrated! – Youth Jam 2019 was a smashing hit!

I did not realise at that time – when the idea of having a gathering of young people to play music, sing, write and draw – that trying to organise an event of this size single-handedly, would be considered dangerous (one could self-combust from all the anxiety!) and executing it would be even more lethal (one could actually be totally incinerated!). Thankfully, none of the fiery nightmares occurred. The only fire that was lit yesterday was the passion emanated from the performers who played and who sang with all their hearts. The audience was visibly impressed and their show of appreciation was warmly felt throughout the entire lobby of the KL Performing Arts Center from their thunderous applause!

Turns out, getting the venue and permission to use the facilities was the easiest part. That I could do remotely on my smart phone. But when it came to the actual day when hardware needed to be connected together, that posed a bit of a problem for this mechanophobic (fearful of machines) auntie! Especially those that involve lots of wires. Long ones especially.

To my great relief, there were plenty of heroes to save the day for me! First, Izzy came to the rescue by agreeing to be our emcee (plus he had signed up to sing an Elvis Presley number with Rebecca too)! Here’s proud mama Aznani taking a shot at stardom 🙂

Then papa Cliff came to the rescue by helping me connect the wire from the microphone to the speaker.

Photo credit: Chong See Ming

Then, papa Khek Loong came with 3 heavy speakers to add volume to the whole event! Not to mention his 3 beautiful daughters who added their voices too!

And our bubbly auntie See Ming helped take beautiful photos for us to be preserved for posterity.

Photo credit: Chong See Ming

And a shout out to Nur for conducting the Art Jam, to Arian and Alimi for conducting the Writing Jam. We are indeed very blessed and grateful to all these wonderful heroes!

Artistic Nur with proud mama Surya. Nur also presented a song titled “Waltz” by Fiona Apple.

Photo credit: Chong See Ming

Art Jam photo credit: Chong See Ming

Arian & Alimi were at hand to conduct the writing jam.

Writing Jam Photo credit: Chong See Ming

And a BIG THANK YOU to all the performers who had signed up and turned up to perform for us! And all the wonderful people who had come to support us!

(WE FORGOT TO TAKE A GROUP PHOTO !!!) We’ll do better next time😅

Ryan kicked the Youth jam off with Harpsichord player and Minuet in G!

Young and handsome Mithraan played 1. Squirrels Lullaby 2.Honey Bee March 3.Sweet Dance (Photo credit: Jackie Yap)

Ci-en gave us JS Bach’s Minuet in G and Musette in D (Photo credit: Chong See Ming)

Tan Gien Lung gave us “All Falls Down” by Alan Walker and Beethoven’s Fur Elise. (Photo credit: Jackie Yap)

Can you see the two octogenarians in the audience? They are my mom and mom-in-law!

Kye Mun & mama Jackie just before his playing of 1. 我们不一样 (wo men bu yi yang) 2. 海阔天空 (hai kuo tian kong)

Maestro Alimi playing a personal favourite: Rachmaninov Prelude in C Sharp minor Op3 no.2

The Piano Boys (From left to right: Alimi, Yun Zhe – played Chopin Nocturne Op.9 no.2 in E flat, Xuanyu played The Entertainer by S. Joplin, and Arian played Waltz in A minor B150 posthumous) photo credit: Chong See Ming

Yu Xi, Ci-en & Yu Xin are The Piano Girls! Yu Xi played Turkish March by Mozart and Yu Xin gave us Joe Hisashi’s “Ponyo” (Photo credit: Chong See Ming)

Lyana gave us ABBA’s MAMA MIA – an acoustic version! (Photo credit: Jackie Yap)

Lachu (Lashvini V.G.) gave us

Beautiful Thing by Grace Vanderwaal (Photo credit Chong See Ming)

And the finale was presented by Edna & Esther Lim and sister. They sang Twinkle litle Star (Chinese song)composed by Edna (Photo credit: Chong See Ming)

Oh and I gave a talk (as promised) on Self-directed Learning: How to Spark Joy in Learning, using my “PowerPoint” 😉 (More on this in my next post!)

Photo credit: Chong See Ming

I would also like to record my thanks and gratitude to the management and staff of the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Center for lending us full support towards holding this event at theoir beautiful venue!

This has certainly given us the motivation to hold more Youth Jams in the near future! So, stay tuned for our next one!

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Self-directed learning – sparking joy in learning

When I first came across the term self-directed learning, when the professor who had researched it and taught it for over 30 years in his career, Prof. Confessor, had come to Malaysia more than 10 years ago, I remember feeling extremely excited about it, because everything that self-directed learning was about, we were PRACTISING them in our homeschooling! And the professor did acknowledge it that homeschoolers are fundamentally self-directed learners because they have been taught to self-direct their learning without anyone having to cajole or threaten them to! And that was an incredible boost to our conviction that the way we have been unschooling our kids fit snugly into the concept of self-directed learning.

And so, on this day, March 24th, We will be sharing about what self-directed learning is, and why it is a driving factor in the successful learning outcomes of homeschoolers in general, and how it can spark joy in learning, for any kid at any age, in any learning situations. And the even better thing is, you will get to see these self-directed learners in action too!

Music performances

There will be music performances from 11am to 12noon, and you will be able to tell that these are not the usual performers you see in music school concerts – there is an added factor: they are self-motivated students! Anyone of any age who would like to perform anything, can do so by writing in with your intention to beyond.schooling@gmail.com

Writing Jam!

And we are excited to be holding our first teen-led writing jam for kids 10 years old and above. Time: 12noon to 1pm at the lobby area. This is run concurrently with the talk for parents, so book your spot early to avoid disappointment! Write in to beyond.schooling@gmail.com

and if your kids are not interested in writing, they could go for the ………….

Art Jam!

Kids will be given pencil and paper (or they could bring their own) and draw away to their hearts content! This will also be led by a very young teenager who is passionate about drawing 🙂 so book your spot at beyond.schooling@gmail.com

More things will be spontaneously planned as the day draws nearer, so make sure you MARK YOUR CALENDAR and be there on the 24th March.


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Let’s just talk!

“Conversation, like life, has silences and boring bits. This bears repeating: It is often in the moments when we stumble and hesitate and fall silent that we reveal ourselves to each other. Digital communications can lead to an edited life. We should not forget that an unedited life is also worth living.”

The “app generation” is what the psychologists Howard Gardner and Katie Davies called the generation that grew up with phones in hand and apps at the ready. It’s a way to describe people who bring an engineering sensibility to everyday life and certainly to their educational experience.

The app way of thinking starts with the idea that actions in the world will work like algorithms: Certain actions will lead to predictable results. By this logic, you go to certain schools, you get certain grades, you take certain summer enrichment courses and join certain extracurricular activities, and the app works: You get into an Ivy.

The results? Students have no time (or no motivation) to dream. No occasion to structure their own time. Or learn about situations that have no certain outcomes. In school, when the app generation has to deal with unpredictability, they become impatient, anxious, and disoriented. At work, the problems continue.

It all boils down to one thing: eye contact. Imagine a baby suckling on a mother’s breast. But the mother’s eyes are on her smartphone. The baby does not latch on to her mother’s eyes and the most important connection between mother and child fails to take place. The consequence of which will be revealed soon, with the child’s lack of empathy and communication skills.

What do we forget when we talk to machines, instead of to each other? The author asks. “We forget what is special about being human. We forget what it means to have authentic conversation. Machines are programmed to have conversations “as if” they understood what the conversation is about. So when we talk to them, we, too, are reduced and confined to the “as if.”

As more and more of our lives are being overtaken by machines and technology, it is prudent to think about what remains of the roles of humans.

Let me relate a story I had experienced recently. It was 3.30am and I was driving my daughter to the airport to catch a flight to India. As we were engrossed in conversation, I had overshoot the turning to the airport road. My daughter immediately pulled out her phone and turned on Waze, which told us to turn off at the next turning and take the small road to KLIA. As I approached the toll gate, I was hoping that there would be a human manning the toll, so that I could ask for directions. And low and behold, a human was seated inside one of the toll cubicles and I told her about my predicament. She told me I could take the old road but the road is dark and there are a lot of traffic lights. I said I would prefer to turn back into the highway and she pointed to the U-turn just ahead! Phew! Was I glad for a human connection! So yes, humans still have significant roles to play, and being physically present for others is important. And engaging in deep conversations with our child, our spouse and our family and friends, is the most natural and significant step to understanding others and ourselves better.

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