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HOLISTIC EDUCATION: OLD WINE, NEW BOTTLE Print E-mail
By Professor Dr Tarcisius Chin
CEO, De La Salle Institute
The brutal abduction, rape and murder of Canny Ong is yet another heinous crime in the growing statistics of social deterioration in Malaysia. We are all struck by the utter disregard for human life and wonder how, in our growing economic prosperity, such a violent act can happen in civil society. We ask ourselves the fundamental question, “Why is this happening?”

I submit that we have lost a generation in the singular pursuit of economic growth. There was a glimmer of hope when Vision 2020 was unveiled in 1991 as it sought to challenge us to create a society that is united, socially just and morally good.  After 12 years we have not walked the talk as all our resources seem to have been allocated to build the economic strength of the nation with scant attention devoted to developing human values.  Formal education has in fact prioritized academic achievements to the virtual exclusion of holistic development.

Once upon a time education was the development of the mental and moral faculties of a person.  A person was developed holistically so that he/she was academically, socially and spiritually enhanced.  Those of us who studied in La Salle schools in the old days will remember how actively we participated in extra-curricular activities to strengthen our competence to interact with others and how we were morally guided through conscious feedback on our behaviour (remember the red-line and blue-line report card?) and the corrective action taken, including caning, should we stray.  More than academic performance, we are better able to recollect, with fond memories, the non-academic experiences we all shared.  Indeed, they have helped us to be responsible persons in a civil society.  An incident like Canny Ong would be unthinkable in those days.
What can we do to make society much better than what it is today? Many blame the government, the educational system, globalisation and economic development for the current social problems. Well, blaming will not do much good; doing something about it, even at the micro-level, is a more positive move. I believe that those of us who had benefited from holistic education should show the way forward. One positive response from La Sallians and the Brothers is the creation and enhancement of De La Salle Institute (DLSI) with the mandate and mission of delivering holistic education at tertiary level to young people and working adults.
OLD WINE
Old wine has character, depth and a touch of class. We know how refined it is by tasting it.  An old graduate may not be technologically savy, but he/she has a good mind, a good grasp of contemporary affairs, good social skills and positive values of hard work, thrift, integrity, dependability and trust. Unfortunately, many new graduates seem to be lacking in many of these human attributes.

A diploma or degree certifies that its holder has attained a level of knowledge of a particular discipline. With increasing specialization, even at undergraduate level, it suggests that the graduate is knowledgeable about a narrow field of study, period.  That is why so many young graduates I have interviewed seem so removed from what is happening in the world and are ignorant of the key concerns of society. Worse, many young graduates, fuelled by the academic race imposed by ambitious parents, competitive universities and demanding society, have obtained their qualification without corresponding development of social and spiritual competencies. Hence, arrogance and the “me-first” syndrome is the product of current education without heart and soul.

NEW BOTTLE
Education has become a commercial commodity. We are no longer talking of producing 100 graduates nowadays. In most graduation ceremonies we are talking of thousands, reminiscent of the mass assembly line manufacturing processes. And the educational process is one long series of lectures followed by assignments and examinations, until you accumulate enough passes in sufficient number of modules to qualify for the degree. This is not the way to produce people of substance!
If the intention is to produce old wine and to develop the rounded individual a new bottle to house the educational process is needed. The experience at DLSI is illuminating.  First, the assumptions. Number one is that self-learning, through personal research, discovery and reflection is the best route to learning.  Number two is that the things I want to learn should come from me and not imposed on me. Number three is that hands-on personal experience which touches me emotionally is the best teacher.  Number four is that I need someone I can trust to talk to about my problems so that I can be guided and helped. Collectively, these requisites will unleash my passion to want to learn as much as I can.

Based on the above assumptions, the DLSI route to holistic education is structured to offer weekly non-academic activities to all students. Fridays are set aside for this extra-curricular work as students, grouped in teams of four, think through and prepare project papers on issues and concerns that they consider important to them, present them to the class for discussion and challenge to test validity and to receive fresh viewpoints. In the process other students also learn new things so that, collectively, knowledge-gaps, not normally obtained in the diploma programmes, are filled, ranging from social issues to technology to biodiversity to terrorism and war to ethics and human values.

In addition, periodic field studies are organized for to understand real life issues such as the plight of the handicapped, environmental degradation, substance abuse, corporate operations and so on. These are not just fun visits, but a serious attempt at identifying, understanding and appreciating different aspects of Malaysian social, environmental and economic life. Also occasionally are organized guest lectures by distinguished La Salle alumni on contemporary issues, dialogues with mentors (quite a number of La Sallian Brothers constitute the Faculty of Mentors) and private meetings between students and mentors. Working in teams fosters interpersonal relationships, researching and discussing contemporary issues produces the knowledgeable person, site visits and nurturing relationships with mentors strengthen positive values.

We recognize that it is much easier as an educational institution for DLSI to follow the path of other private colleges and aim to produce the economic man.  But the reason why DLSI has been created in the first place is not to compete, but to take the path less traveled.  This is a difficult but most challenging journey as we move from mass assembly to handcrafting in order to produce the old wine.  We are, however, comforted by the Brothers who have not only encouraged us but also contributed direct support as mentors for students, and by the alumni who have also encouraged us by funding our work.

Taking the road less traveled particularly needs the active support of the alumni. If you know of any youngster leaving school who will benefit from holistic education, in addition to pursuing studies in business administration or in computer science, do recommend him/her to DLSI. If your organization needs human renewal as part of its executive development we have the resources to help enhance the intrinsic motivation of your staff to contribute more effectively to the purpose of the organization. You can also help us place our graduates, provide vacation jobs and internships, and offer your organization for field visits by students. The little that you and other alumni do for DLSI will make it possible for us to light the way forward so that other educational institutions can learn from our experience and eventually also take the road less traveled.  As more and more people return to the true purpose of education, the new generation will learn to also be the social man, steadfast to good values and be a contributing member of society. Dare we hope that violence in the community a la Canny Ong will be a reduced and that Malaysia will be a much better place to call home?

If you can help contribute, in any way, to the cause of holistic education, please contact us at:

De La Salle Institute
Jalan Bukit Nanas
50250 Kuala Lumpur

Tel: 03-20312599/03-20312754
Fax: 03-20312758
E-mail:
Website: www.delasalle.edu.my 

Help us resurrect the power of the human spirit for social good.  We must endeavour to do something to stem the tide of social disorder and aberrant behaviour.  We owe it to our children and the new and future generations to at least try.  The vehicle that has already been created is DLSI.  Can we count on you for support?

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