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Drawing inspiration from a 9-year-old

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A girl who inspired her mother to start a community learning centre for the underprivileged in their community prompts Yasmin Bathamanathan to reflect on education and learning.

“My ambition is teacher. When I see my teacher in my Tamil school teaching us, I want to do the same for other children when I grow up. Because education is important – to get somewhere in life you need education, go to university and become lawyer, doctor, engineer… so I want to teach.”

Those words were spoken by a nine-year-old girl from Sungai Petani at Kelip-Kelip, a community networking and crowdfunding platform organised by an amazing Penang-based group of social change enthusiasts.

That particular session was themed “Dreams”, and I too was invited as a speaker to share my dreams as a writer and a feminist.

The girl was asked by her mother to share what her dreams were. The mother, a single parent with four young children, one of them a child with special needs, was one of the speakers at the session.

Why did the mother call her daughter up to the front to share her dream?

Because the daughter, with her passion for studies, inspired her mother to start a community learning centre for the underprivileged in their community.

“I cannot afford to send my daughter for extra classes, so I want to start a learning centre that not only can help her, but also others who want to learn but do not have the opportunity,” said the mother.

Education for this mother and daughter is a ticket to a better life, and it was truly moving to hear them share their dreams that are, quite frankly, selfless.

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In as much as I was moved to hear them, inspired even, I did feel slightly conflicted.

Here I was, a college dropout who is having a second go at tertiary education in her early 30s not because she has to, but because she wants to.

Having gone through my life and reaching where I am today without the much desired college diploma, I find the perception that education (or should I say academia) is a sure-fire ticket to success and a better life troubling.

To me, it is not education that makes the person but the learning that the person does.

There is a clear distinction between education and learning. What happens in a classroom, what is delivered to students – that is education.

Learning? Learning is what the student takes from the education that is given to them. Education is passive, learning is active. Learning can be done anywhere, sometimes much better outside the classroom.

As I was listening to the two of them, I was processing all of this in my head. How do I, as the next speaker, go up there after them, talk about my dreams and about pursuing them despite not having a degree?

Should I remove that part from my talk and change my opening statement, “I am a college dropout”?

How do I look at the mother and daughter and tell them that education is important but it is not everything? That they should not revere or put education on that high a pedestal.

But then again, I was quite wrong in thinking that way. It is easy for me to say that education is not everything.

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I am an English-literate Indian Malaysian woman from a middle-class family. I look and act the part of an ‘educated’ person, and with these privileges and some others, I was able to get to where I am without proof of formal education.

Can what worked for me work for that mother and daughter?

As Tamil-literate Indian Malaysian females from a working class background, the odds are stacked against them. To get ahead in life, the daughter would need formal education and the exposure that comes along with education.

But you know something? The daughter, with her 9As and 2Bs in her final exams and being the top student in her school, is not only receiving the education she dreams of, she is also learning.

And what valuable learning she is experiencing at this young age, that with her education she can one day impart knowledge and skills to other children who come from similar backgrounds to hers.

If at the age of nine she has such noble dreams, I am certain this girl, should she be given the opportunity to pursue the education she so dreams, will be an instrumental agent of change in the society. Isn’t that inspiring?

Source: The Malaysian Insider

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