Growing up in a typical middle-income Singaporean family, the importance of education was always stressed to me. Growing up with an older sibling made it challenging as my parents would (knowingly or unknowingly) start comparing our grades. "See? Your korkor got into the Express stream. You can also do the same or even better, okay?"
I don't doubt that a formal education is valuable to us. It will land us a job and help us succeed within our workplaces. It will open us up to understanding what's happening around the world and prevent us from being close-minded.
But there is a huge difference between formal learning in subjects like Chemistry and Higher Mother Tongue, and learning. Learning from life and from our life experiences. I first realised this difference when I chanced upon BBC's Planet Earth documentary as a 14-year-old. The filming techniques used for those episodes were considered ground-breaking, and watching them, I finally understood Science the way it has never been taught through a textbook. And it started me down the path towards Biology and a strong interest in the natural world. If you think Science is boring, take a look at this episode from the recent Planet Earth II, and think again.
It's sad that especially in Singapore, we have been taught that a formal education is quite valuable to us while the lessons we learn from our life experiences aren’t held with the same value. It is the lessons you learn in your life (when learned properly) that can lead you to happiness, good health, and continual fulfilment.
I believe learning throughout the entirety of our lives is vital for our growth and evolution. Think about it, did we stop learning when we were 5 years old? Of course not, we’ve gained a considerable amount of knowledge from the time we were 5 until now. So you might say, “Of course I have learned, I went to school.” But what about after poly or JC or uni, did you continue to study in a classroom setting or have you been learning from your life outside of the classroom?
There is immense value in knowledge and in knowledge of one’s self. Someone told me the other day that they were “good at this moment” and felt that they “didn’t need to learn anything else right now.” I gave them a simple bit of advice and said “Now that you are good, you should want to learn even more because life keeps moving. Since you are feeling good right now your mind is relaxed, and therefore open to new knowledge. Learn more now because it might be knowledge that will help you at a later point in your life when you’re not so good.”
This year, I want to encourage all of us to never turn our backs on learning something new. Instead of watching that next episode of 'Game of Thrones' on Netflix, how about switching over to a documentary instead? Instead of a cat video, how about youtubing how to play the ukulele instead? What you learn today could help you or someone else in all of your tomorrows. Never stop learning.