Essentially, they wanted to put me on the spot for 60 minutes in front of a lecture hall full of students and dig out juicy secrets.
Why? Well, they just wanted to have fun. To do something different. And it would be a saturday morning. Usually, I say no to invitations for weekend activities with student groups. Especially if it's for some opening or closing ceremony.
He promised me FUN. So, why not?
15 Jan 2011 Saturday, DK Y, at the Pharmacy School, USM. In the centre is Rhuyann, former President of Green Lung and on the right is ahhhh (?sorry, not good with names), the so-called hosts. Photo stolen from Saphira Queen's fb.
Always good to get the crowd on your side first! About 80 of them, mostly pharmacy students, all members of Green Lung.
Yes, they asked some intrusive questions : did you ever had head lice? I also gave some life lessons on romance and love too - nothing X-rated.
As usual, Malaysian audience are very shy but two questions from the floor jolted me a little.
It started innocently.
host : how long have you been teaching in USM?
me : about 20 over years. I started in June 1985.
host : oh, we weren't born yet. (there were a lot of smiles in the audience ... and I momentarily felt old)
Then from the audience, "based on your more than 20 years of teaching experience, what changes do you see in the students?". I was a little stumped. Didn't expect the question. Yes, I didn't ask for the questions before hand. It was totally impromptu.
My immediate reaction was that I didn't think students have changed much in the last 20 or 30 years. We are still doing the same things to the students. I get the same "type" of students every year. We are training them in pretty much the same way in the primary and secondary schools. So, when they come into the university, they have the same qualities in terms of study habits and learning styles. I even mentioned the dirty word : "spoon feeding". Certainly they are "afraid" to challenge the lecturers.
I could sense the students were a little "unsettled". I sensed that they expected something positive or uplifting. A compliment perhaps. I said, "give half a minute" to think. I raked my brain. What has changed? What has changed? I certainty couldn't talk about all the other things I wrote in my other blog (Don't blame the old man; Is the doctor giving you the right medicine; or the more light-hearted "Just One more day").
And then I had an aha moment. I said "students have become more brilliant". My children are more brilliant then me - "so, it's not genetic". "You are all more brilliant then students of the past". I watched the body language. There was some shifting in their seats. I saw some little shy smiles.
I asked them what they are good at. Which part of the brain they have been trained to use? They know. The left brain. Logical thinking. Reasoning. Analytical ability. Memorisation. So, I broached the subject of multiple intelligences. So, yes, we, as an education community, have become excellent in developing the left-brain. We have trained our children to get better results in exams. What we need is to develop the whole brain, I said. (good recovery, don't your think?)
Coincidentally, they invited a masters student in pure mathematics who is like No. 6 in the World as a master of memorisation. He taught them a method to remember a long list of items. After the training, three students demonstrated they ability to remember in sequence 20 items suggested by the audience. They only had about 5 minutes to memorise the list and all three did it perfectly (and got a Tupperware tumbler courtesy of yours truly). I wonder if it is really the method or they are already experts in memory work from more than 13 years in the schools. Perhaps both. But I also pointed out that an even more important message from the previous speaker was to learn how to think differently (another day perhaps).
The other question which impressed me was what I thought of destiny. This followed my telling them how I ended up in academia. I was "destined" to go into the private sector and earn big bucks but a phone call from the then Dean of HBP changed my life. This gave me the opportunity to talk about scenario planning. Well, yes I believe there is a destiny. But you can change your destiny. Kinda of an oxymoron, isn't it?
I enjoyed myself. I think activities like these are valuable lessons outside the classroom. I am sure there are many such activities. I hope to bump into them more often in the future. I also see that are students who are beyond brilliant - thinking up programmes to provide fellow students with somethings the traditional classrooms cannot or refuse to provide. Taking charge of their lives, there is hope yet for the future generations.
A day long programme. It started with about 80 students. From facebook photos, it seems by VVIP, there was less than half. Abit too taxing?
It was totally my fault. I used to tell people not to give me any souvenirs. I don't need an extra mug. I can't eat the lollipop. And I certainly can do without the plastic flowers. But thanks anyway, Khang Siean, current president of Green Lung.