Education in the Modern Age
Aristotle For All
Dato’ Lawrence Low (Left), a graduate from Monash University where he earned a BSc in Biotechnology, is the founding president of MyPerintis or the MySOL (My School of Life), an institution entirely focused on the pursuit of knowledge. I had the pleasure of interviewing Dato’ Lawrence Low to understand his views on what constituted the ideal Malaysia, and how digitalisation has afforded newer and more exciting modes of learning.
How it Began: The School of life
Dato’ Lawrence Low singles out one trait of anyone he would want to work with: passion. MyPerintis started out as a knowledge-acquiring platform for students to engage with information in revolutionary ways, above and beyond what can be obtained within the confines of a classroom and the characters of a textbook. It was started because he felt the need for students and youths to understand the knowledge that they receive passively through exposure to the Internet. It is very easy to gain access to information, but deciphering and understanding what you read is an entirely different matter. “MyPerintis started 2 years ago, and it happened because I realised that there is a gap among the youths and whatever that is happening outside the world in terms of government, politics, and the economy.” He notes the present asymmetry in information between youths and their environment. MyPerintis allows youths to be immersed in knowledge at a greater depth by hosting relevant people to speak about important things that are happening in the country. You could get all kinds of news online, but people would read superficially and devoid of depth. MyPerintis provides a greater and more holistic method to acquire knowledge.
One of their recent projects was a motivational talk comprised of singing, dancing, short speeches, and at the end of the event, the participants of MyPerintis were overcome with glee as they welcomed Dr Soo Wincci the former Miss Malaysia—to facilitate the final programme. Not many youths can say that they learned by dancing and singing with Dr Soo Wincci. Dato’ Lawrence emphasises that to revolutionise education, you need to do something new every time—there is always another new and exciting way to illuminate the young minds of today. “I try to not hold the same typical old conferences as youths are used to this convention of learning. They are already immersed in a classroom environment; they have enough of academics. What we need now is new exposure or even new ways of learning.” This is what MyPerintis hopes to achieve: making learning fun for youths with topics that encompass national and political issues.
Another unique feature of their operations is that they do more than just have talks that build leaders; instead, they create influencers—people who can influence change and bring their ideas into effect. “When I hold these events, I do not want to lead you, I want to influence you. We describe of youths as youth influencers and they come at different capacities, each with something new to contribute”.
He jokes that although he has an unwavering passion to create influencers among the youths, he is doing something completely unrelated to his field of study. “My mother often reminds me that I have wasted her money studying biotechnology at Monash, but although I may not apply my knowledge of science into my field of work, I do imbue my work with youthfulness—which is something I really enjoyed in University.” Having just recently graduated university, he would often complement the events that MyPerintis organizes with the characteristics of youth: energy, fun, and passion.
What Youths Want to Know
The motif of MyPerintis is centred around the informational gap between youths and their environment. Government agencies and organisations often fail to inform youths about their policies. In particular, many of the youths were unaware of how exactly the Goods and Services Tax was going to affect them. When it was first introduced, customs focused their talks primarily on SME’s, and barely any talks were given to inform the youth community, on the assumption that SME’s were the only entities concerned. However, students in university are indeed very interested to know how the GST would impact them. Dato’ Lawrence organised a talk on the GST which garnered a crowd of over 600 people, and he soon realised that youths were indeed very much interested to know how their government affects their daily lives. For example, students wanted to know whether the books that they buy in university will be imposed with the tax. When he had his congress, he realised that adults overlook a lot of the topics that youths want and need to know. With that event, he felt compelled to teach youths to acquire knowledge.
Another area of knowledge that adults often overlook when educating youths and the like would be politics. They assume that youths in general are apathetic towards politics. Dato’ Lawrence disagrees with this; He posits that it is not a problem of apathy, but merely priority. Students have the overwhelming challenge of graduating university, finding a job, getting a car, and trying to find affordable housing. Their priorities shift away from politics because overcoming the challenges of adulthood holds a greater precedent. In addition, Dato’ Lawrence states that in our own political climate, political leaders bicker among themselves and do not do enough to engage or listen to their constituents. “Let’s say you have political leaders: A and B. A fights with B and B fights with A. The people are tired with all the fighting and they choose to not care because they think engaging in politics would not have an effect to them. I too admit sometimes that the government would issue a study to get our opinion and I am guilty of not participating because I would disregard it as a political gimmick.” Politicians need to rebrand their communication, and make youths or the public feel that their input has bearing.
Dato’ Lawrence ran the “What Malaysian Youths Need to Know” Series and he found himself surprised by the questions posed by the youths. Not that they were deep, but because they were surprisingly thoughtful which indicated a trait of being well-read. He then states that youths would gladly participate and engage in politics as long as they have a platform that empowers their voice.
The Challenges MyPerintis Faces: Politicizing the Agenda
When he started MyPerintis, one of the major challenges he faced in running his organisation was the fact that many of the public presumed that he had a political agenda because Tun Dr Mahathir became MyPerintis’ patron. People assumed that studying a politician and his policy positions makes you an uprising politician or a political crony. Dato’ Lawrence needed to emphasize the fact that he was interested in learning how Tun Dr Mahathir was creating change with his policies rather than in being involved in the politician’s machinations. “I am not here to help the government or to promote what they have done. I am more interested in the business aspect of their policies. For example, I have an interest in 1MDB because I want to know its business decision process and the problems that arise from such a scheme.” He further states that youths need a space where they can absorb relevant information to analyse and identify the mistakes that politicians have made without the influence of political ambition.
Creating the Ideal Malaysian
Dato’ Lawrence opines that to birth the ‘Ideal Malaysia’, we first have to revamp our education system. He discovered that English literacy among local university students was disconcertingly low. In an age of globalisation and international cooperation, having a language barrier would pose a threat to any hope of collaboration or understanding between nations. If our youths can’t speak proper English, how can we begin to grasp the concept of globalisation? The rhetoric above resonates deeply with what Dato’ Lawrence is trying to achieve with MyPerintis. The core motive of his mission is to create a platform that enables youths to compete on a global standard. Before talking about sustainability or nation building, you need to have a strong foundation in the form of a knowledgeable youth community—something which can only be achieved via investments into said community. Things will start falling into place when you have a solid foundation in education. The ideal Malaysia will come into effect when we are more than just a collection of universities that have partnerships with reputable universities abroad, but instead an educational hub through which we attract talent solely with our own credibility.
Furthermore, we have to create a population that can adapt to the changes brought on by the fourth industrial revolution—the digitalisation of our economy. Dato’ Lawrence notes that presently, we have been able to push out our ideas through social media by creating content such as articles or videos, but the challenge begins when we try to evolve the interaction we have with our technology. “There is limitation in outreach, as we cannot be everywhere all the time. So the most effective way to outreach is through a digital medium, and to connect with your audience you have to do more than just create content—you need a personalized digitalization pathway.” What it means is that people would be able to experience learning with the advantage of a more personal dimension, where the content we seek is catered to exactly what we need to know.
Dato’ Lawrence sees himself primarily as an advocate for knowledge acquisition because for someone to make proper decisions, they would need all the necessary information relating to the decision. “People have been telling me that they want to be an entrepreneur, but many of them don’t know the kind of work that entails that line of vocation. The job is not just to find seed money for you venture, but you need to realise that it would require resilience and that the average entrepreneur would have to sacrifice inordinate hours to manage his enterprise.” Dato’ Lawrence affirms that what the Malaysian Community lacks today is information—things that they can use to make sound decisions.
Even after graduating from Monash University, he remembers the phrase ‘Ancora Imparo’, which is Latin for “I am still learning”. He wants youths of today to realise that learning can be tough and difficult, but it is also fun. As a final word to end his interview he states:
“The reality of the world today is that there are many malicious people who constantly try to pull you down but there are also many good people. When the odds are against you—take a step back, recover, and move on. Most importantly, I trust my team a lot. I prioritise keeping the family and team in tact especially in times of crisis. The progress I made today is not made by me alone, but it is through the collective efforts of everyone in my family.”