LETTER | Holistic education trumps paper qualification

YS Chan


LETTER | Anyone who wishes to work in licensed professions or secure senior positions in the civil service or academia must have the right paper qualifications. Impressive degrees and fellowships of top academics are displayed by universities to augment their image and attract the best students.

However, paper qualifications can be inconsequential in the world of business and industry. The private sector may invite graduates to apply for vacancies, but academic degrees of successful applicants become irrelevant at work as recruits are appraised by job performance.

For licensed professions, a bachelor’s degree from a recognised university plus meeting the entrance requirements of respective professional bodies would allow qualifiers to practise legitimately as doctors, lawyers, accountants, architects and so on.

For these specialists, it is their professional proficiency that matters as acquiring a master’s degree or doctorate do not necessarily boost careers if work remains mediocre. But in the civil service and academia, the glass ceilings of high performers are limited by paper qualifications.

Some people hand out business cards with MBA or PhD degrees printed after their names, including those that have not studied a licensed profession and without a successful career. But they lacked credibility, or their qualifications dubious when they speak or write poorly.

Over the past decades, our universities have churned out a large number of graduates and postgraduates, but success was more on quantity, not quality. For example, many graduates that did not study a licensed profession had little idea about their career even after graduation.

This is most evident when unemployed and underemployed graduates apply for jobs at random, sending their applications to any organisation with vacancies, with scant regard for the type of industry as long as the workplace is convenient and the job is not dangerous, dirty or difficult.

This begs the question as to why school leavers pursue tertiary education. If it is for a better future, then they should plan for it by identifying the industry and work they like and focus on learning to perform well in a specific job to kickstart their careers immediately after graduation.

While still studying in university, they could engage with several companies offering to assist in certain work without pay to show their eagerness to learn and potential. But many would baulk at working for free, forgetting that such industrial learning is free unlike in universities.

Some people would argue that students pursuing academic degrees could broaden their minds, acquire knowledge independently, and develop the confidence to challenge authority or dogma. And armed with paper qualifications, they have the option to work in many jobs or industries.

On the other hand, tens of thousands of weaker and clueless students are enrolled in tourism programmes every year. But over the past decades, over 90 percent of these graduates could not find work related to their studies as the courses were too wide and not for any specific job.

Tourism students have been lured by the glamour of travel and were told that they can work in many jobs but were not trained for any. If they wish to work in a hotel or restaurant, they could have fared better by gaining real work experience in these establishments after finishing school.

Or they could have chosen a specific Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) course and acquire work-related skills and knowledge that are needed to secure jobs of their choice and continue developing their careers to the highest level through lifelong learning.

Regardless of studying a licensed profession, pursuing an academic degree or a TVET diploma, tertiary education must be holistic to develop the mind, body and spirit so that the graduate is truly educated. Without showing courtesy, the person may be learned but certainly not educated.

While setting up seven new companies and turning them into successful businesses, I have interviewed thousands of job applicants and recruited hundreds of staff in their twenties. All were without relevant industry experience, but I was able to train them to be the best in the business.

Staff found competent were able to take over the reins of the company within a couple of years, setting me free to leave and accept new offers and challenges. Although without any academic degree, I did not have to apply for jobs as I received endless offers for over half a century.

The five main criteria I used to hire staff are character and attitude, communication and people skills, general knowledge, working experience and academic qualifications. Sadly, most of our graduates failed miserably as they did not receive holistic education and personal development.

The attitude of job applicants could easily be gauged by their body language and replies to open-ended questions. For those lacking in social and spiritual values, it was unnecessary to look at their paper qualifications, which were least important among the five criteria.

Miscommunication and misunderstanding are common as most Malaysians are weak in communication skills. Many may be able to speak in several languages or dialects but master of none, worsened by habitual copy and paste, outright plagiarising and texting abbreviations.

General knowledge is important especially on what is happening in our country and around the world. For working experience, variety and excellence are key, not length of time. Someone with 20 years’ experience in the same job could be one month’s experience repeated 240 times.

Ultimately, discipline is crucial in life. The fact that Malaysians are the fattest in Asia with 64 percent of male and 65 percent of female population being either obese or overweight showed that discipline is grossly lacking in our society, with many too mentally lazy to think for themselves.

Instead of physical exercise, eating is the favourite past time of Malaysians. Without holistic education to develop the mind, body and spirit, even people who seemed to have achieved great success have fallen from grace at the height of their careers by succumbing to corruption.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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