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 change.org 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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BECAUSE YOU ASKED: “What’s YOUR education philosophy?”

Have you ever asked yourself this question, before embarking on any educational pursuits? In fact, it is a very important question, of which, not enough discussions have been committed to it. Whichever path you embark on, you have got to ask yourself this question.

My philosophy is simple. Education has to allow space for individuals to grow mentally, emotionally and spiritually in order to make sense of the world and to contribute to it in a meaningful and purposeful manner. It has to help a person become more human – compassionate, empathetic, and wise. It should not school a person into a competitive, compulsive and destructive robot.

How to achieve this goal depends on what the individual wants to achieve in his or her lifetime. It should not be left entirely on an education system that is broken and battered to its core. The solution is not to look to the past for past successes – because we cannot turn back time and create those conditions again. We have got to look forward to the future and imagine what our children CAN become and then work backwards towards that goal.

In a future that is going to be overtaken by robots, the value of a country’s citizens lies in its being more human, and more skilful in thinking, creating and healing the world with love and compassion.

(I would like to thank Vani Sri for posing this question to our group. I welcome questions from anyone interested to learn more about self-directed, compassionate learning and living. Please email your questions to beyond.schooling@gmail.com)

Head sculptures created by Samanta Soon – our highly expressive daughter when she was a teenager.

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Dear teenage self……

“Dear teenage self, it was #worldmentalhealthday yesterday so I wrote a little letter because it is such a strange time. Sometimes the world might feel too big and you’ll feel too small. Breathing gets harder and your heart will race. The more you think, the more thoughts plague your mind. It doesn’t stop. Your head will become so full that you can’t speak. It is so tempting to settle with your invisibility, to be okay with not being seen, not being heard, not being noticed, but don’t.

Don’t settle with the invisibility even if it becomes comfortable. I’m learning that now and it is terrifying sometimes, but always worth it. You’ll see that the world is so big, and that is a good thing. That means you will find your place, no matter how out of place you feel now. And you will find peace in all the chaos that goes about your mind and around you. It is not going to be perfect, and that’s the beauty of it.

Accepting that things change rather than holding on to what you can’t control, that’s growing too. You can still be a child at heart, and look at life with the kind of wonder and excitement as you did when you were little. Because you don’t magically figure out life once you turn 21. It’s just a number, and take your time to figure out who you are. It doesn’t matter what you haven’t done or didn’t get to do before, look to what you can do, and what you have already done.

I know saying “it will get better” won’t make a difference, but I can’t find any other words to say it and I know you won’t believe me. It does get better, and you’ll have to stick around to see it. Just like sadness, happiness doesn’t last forever either. But that just means you’ll appreciate happiness more when it comes. And it will.” (By #Amrita Soon – singer songwriter)

Have a listen to her rendition of “Breathe” – mesmerising!!!

And check out her current album Familiar Strangers here: https://open.spotify.com/album/0CQIE73g3bRZ84Q5VxvsyZ?si=JWysCOwjRM-ZF4kGGB8tZw

Photo credit: Ai Sin

Amrita Soon performing at Malaysia’s Rice Bowl Startup Awards

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Nature U program at Taman Tugu

I can’t express my gratitude enough for the dedication and passion of the individuals responsible for the formation of NEST (Nature Education Society) and who have created this wonderful program in collaboration with Taman Tugu, to bring us Nature U as a community education initiative.

“Many years of Nature campaigns to create awareness is gaining significant grounds as it has become somewhat popular, at least as a concept, amongst the population as with the public & private sectors, to do better for Nature. However, it is not always easy to broadly translate good intentions into good actions or culture.

Change for Nature is, on the surface, about making everyday life style changes that are beneficial for Nature such as to reduce the use of disposable plastic water bottles, plastic shopping bags or straws, etc. This naturally is all good and necessary.

As such, Nature Education Society (NEST est. 2017) has started to collaborate with retired & active lecturers/speakers from Universities, National Agencies and Nature Advocates to deliver the opportunities and the platforms for interested individuals to learn a little bit more about some educational & entertaining aspects of our Nature.

..because the more we learn, the more we appreciate.

In so doing, NEST hopes to help foster a changing personal worldview to further hold in higher regard, humanities

dependence and responsibilities towards Nature.

..because changing personal worldviews, changes everything.

Love & Caring for Life & Nature starts at home and in the family. As such, NEST encourages involvement for the young and the forever young at heart or even better, as a family unit.

.because it’s fun to do things together whilst we can…”

The Lecturers & NEST together create or customize existing modules to suit and interest the participants. Examples of modules are:-

(a.) Living Soil – All we need to know about soil (b.) Water for Life – Why clean water is important (c.) Flora/Fauna, The Life’s Factory – Forest Ecology (d.) “Doctor” Nature – Forest Therapy

(e.) Under the Sea – The ocean and marine life

(f.) The Air We Breathe – Why clean air is important (g.) Sustainable Food Production – From farm to table

(h.) PERHILITAN – Who are they and what they do

(i.) Recycle for Better Earth – Dry and wet waste management

(j.) ‘Shoot’ Me If You Can – Bird photography as a hobby

(k.) Our ‘Creepy Crawly’ Friends – All about insects

(l.) Wings Of Life – Study of Birds and Bird Watching as a hobby

So far, my 15-year old son, and my 82-year-old mom, have successfully completed the first semester of this wonderful program (from July to September) culminating with an Education trip to Taiping Zoo to learn about zoo management and animal husbandry. All-in-all, a wonderful and educational experience! Anyone and everyone interested can join this program. Currently, our homeschooling group gather on two Mondays every month for hands-on activities as well as more serious lectures by lecturers from local universities. Imagine a lecture hall filled by students from 8 years old to 82! And the wonderful thing about this unique program is, apart from it being extremely affordable due to its community-centered approach, that it is inclusive, multi-racial and has a good vision – not only to nurture nature-lovers but to also empower them to give back to Nature. A worthwhile cause that each and every citizen of the earth need to be an active pursuer of.

We have just started on our 2nd semester today, and seeing all the excited and happy faces here at Taman Tugu, we are confident that the next 3 months will be filled with just as much fun and nature-focused activities! If you are interested to participate in this program, do contact Puan Liza at +60 12-201 5675.

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Why music education?

Arian and I went for 2 music events yesterday: a talk and recital by Dr David Carrington – a medical doctor cum amateur pianist; and a piano recital by Prof. Congcong Cai of China. The former by the doctor was an interesting talk linking medicine, music and the mind – a topic of immense complexity approached skilfully like precision surgical procedure – followed by his personal interpretation of JS Bach’s music, one of which had to do with sleeping stages – which revealed the amateur side of the good doctor, and the first of its kind that I’ve heard which resulted in my suppressed and unstoppable laughter, which drew unwanted and disapproving attention from the speaker and audience😬😅 I thought it was a fantastic imagination he had and I showed my appreciation accordingly😝 Like come on, who would have linked Bach’s piano trills to Rapid Eye Movement (REM) in sleep mode!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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