Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Beyond the PMR

Getting top marks - and over 26,000 Malaysian students achieved this in the recent PMR exams - is always an occasion to celebrate. Congratulations to all those who worked hard and were rewarded with an unbroken string of As'.

I don't wish to take anything away from their success, but it may be timely to issue a small reminder.

Getting straight As' in a government exam makes one fact indisputable: You've mastered the examination game. But ay there's the rub - it's a game. And games change.

Mass standardized exams were created for an age of mass standardization (duh), for an era where it was very worthwhile obtaining a list of where everybody stood vis-a-vis everyone else, for a time when it helped to compare how everyone performed on some normal task. Why was this important? Because excellence in normal, standardized tasks were the measure of how far one 'moved up' the ladder.

But if the criteria for excellence has shifted, then naturally the criteria for assessing how well one is being prepared to delivered that excellence will also change. And here's old news: They've all shifted.

Today, getting ten As' may not be as important as having ten strong Facebook or LinkedIn useful contacts or having done ten good projects or being able to make ten good sales pitches in a month or having 10 work-in-progress mini-projects going on simultaneously.

Or just having ten crazy things in the past year. Anything that shows you're not interested in 'coloring within the lines' or going along with the system. Anything that proves you're passionate about new things and cool ideas and like-minded people.

This won't always be alpha-numerics you can put on paper; it'll be the wonder that (unmistakably) shows in your eyes when you talk about it at the job interview you'll succeed at where most will/have fail(ed).

Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Hard Life

If you can't pay full seek-first-to-understand attention to at least two people's problems in a day, you are under the illusion of over-importance.

If you can't give 10% of your income to a charitable cause, you are conned by the Mammon spell of insufficiency.

If you can't take half an hour a day off to reflect and think through your life, you are being deceived by the tyranny of the busy.

If you can't absorb a slight or insult without retaliation, then Ego has got too strong a hold on you.

If you must ogle at every attractive member of the opposite sex that walks by or floats on-screen, your life is hanging by a thread at the non-mercy of Eros.

If you have to keep gloating over your past successes and the compliments people pay you, then a hard fall would do you good.

And if you can't seek out hurting needful members of your community to show some unexpected and unanimous mercy/justice to on a regular basis, then you risk losing sight of why you're alive.

Life is tough, love hard.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Normal is Nice

Silent night, holy night...quiet night.

Maybe the greatest gift of Christmas, in our 21st-century rush-rush buy-buy work-work context, is the gift of normalcy. For things to be okay, stable, non-intrusive. "Fear not!" said the angel, "Everything will be normal, all shall be fine."

How we long to hear that.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Love the Little

There has to be positive side to getting bacteria-infected for the past 4 days. Surely I can celebrate something from the experience of four nights stumbling through non-sleep, 39-degrees of body heat and fingers which scorched when they touched.

And last night - the first peaceful sleepnight I had the whole week - I found out what it was.

It was an appreciation, like never before, of God's gift of a baby...without interruption, without demands, without luxury, without nothing but you and your dreams.

It was loving, like never before, the ability to swallow multiple pieces of meat without suspecting you might throw walk without bringing one's hands to one's head on account of the inner crown of thorns tightening its grip.

It was being glad that one can drive without having to find a shade to stop, fast, or else the next stop will be involuntary and expensive; that making a three-point turn with your steering wheel can be done without feeling like you've run three marathons.

In a word, it's cherishing the little things which no longer seem little at all because 'little' was from the start a category miscue on my part.

Note: I contemplated asking God to annihilate all bacteria from the face of the earth completely. Then I recalled these little bacteria are essential decomposers whose 'deconstructing work' every other living thing relies on i.e. if bacteria were to disappear, we'd all die.

Ahh. So much for that request.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Every Person a Potential Guest

The next time you plan to check-in at a 5-star hotel in Malaysia, try this: Dress in your sub-casual worst (preferably a shirt with two unintentional holes glaring out), uncomb your hair, lose the jewelry, hide your baggage, put on the fresh-off-the-boat look and try to walk like Gandhi.

If you're lucky, you'll arrive at the lobby at around the same time as some dude who looks like a guest of the White House.

Now comes the fun part: Observe their treatment of you, the way they look (or don't), their enthusiasm, etc. Chances are, they'll speak to you as if you were an applicant for the janitor's position and/or they'll be smooching up the other guy whislt making it clear they'll need some time before they get to you - up to the point where you tell them you have a room reservation AND THAT you'd appreciate some service please.

Merely human psychology? To judge based on appearances? Well, in Singapore - at least at the Meritus Mandarin - I'm told everyone gets the same high-quality package of eye-contact, smiles and can-I-help-you?s'.

That hotel, at least, has allowed the perception issues to be dealt with by the security folks, not the people serving the guests.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Graceful Guests

My piece, Guests of Grace, has been uploaded at the Micah Mandate. Take a look?

Friday, December 12, 2008

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Nothing Like a Stress-Free Christmas

This is the first Christmas season in about one and a half decades when I'm not leading or singing in a carolling team, when I'm not co-organising some Christmas evangelism meet, when I'm not leading a group to bring gifts for an orphanage or welfare home, when I'm not speaking/preaching, when I'm not (even) playing in a Christmas service band.

And you know what? It feels great

O, to have to do nothing but "show up"...'tis a consummation devoutly to be wished (grin).

No this isn't an ode to non-activity, non-involvement and non-service at Christmas time. God forbid. 

It's really an auto-biographical reminder that God is perfectly okay if you sit back and relax every now and then.

Does 'Sabbath Christmas' ring true? Should churches declare 'off-seasons' occasionally?

No 3-hour services. No mega-lunches. No mall-to-mall or house-to-house visitations or presentations. No special prayers (except maybe one short one). No big events.

Would it help to ensure that there's no chance of Christmas being associated with stress and office-like deadlines? To let the pastors and leaders...simply...chill?

Polling e-learning and Christian education

Want to participate in a poll on e-learning and Christian education at my church's edu-blog?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Top 125 in Training

Here's Training Mag's ranking of the top 125 companies which've excelled in employee training and development. I didn't see any educational institutions there, did you?

Monday, December 8, 2008

Spiritual Assumptions

Alex wrote an interesting story about making controversial spiritual assumptions (probably the dozenth in his cute Abba Ah Beng series).

I thought I might list down certain generally unquestioned assumptions (about discipleship, theology, etc.) which plague Malaysian Christians. The following is based on personal experience (sigh) and conversations with others.

In no particular order of importance (and without suggesting that any of the below are categorically false):

1. True/Good Christians should be involved in as many 'Christian' activities as possible (at the office, in college, etc. and certainly in church)

2. God has a pre-planned specific will for everything that happens to me, from why my car hit a van the other day to which university I should attend, hence the habit of asking God why He would let something unpleasant into my life

3. Christians who don't behave or believe the way my church community does "have a problem"

4. Going to pubs, clubs or discoes is an 'un-Christian' activity (same goes with smoking and drinking)

5. After a great sin, performing pious acts of service appeases God and stays His wrath; and if a serious calamity occurs - especially after a sin I committed (or a good deed I omitted) - this is God punishing me

6. Everyone who has stopped going to church has 'back-slided'; their sinning and spiritual sloth has come between them and God

7. I've tried so hard to stop this particular sin; surely God will understand if I commit it now

8. It is the Christian's duty to speak up each time the Christian faith is denigrated in public

9. Anything other than a spoken sermon isn't a real sermon

10. Not giving a tithe is always a bad thing.

11. Unless you close your eyes, you haven't really prayed.

12. The job of the pastor is to give theological answers cum definitive statements. Ambiguity is near-absolutely bad.

Which other axioms do you think we shouldn't be taking for granted?

Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Kean Fatt Product

Does product matter anymore? In an age of advertising and Nikes' and iPods', it's tough to find examples where product quality hasn't become a function of promotion wizardry i.e. where people pay good money for an item independently of the buzz/hype that surrounds it.

So I'm glad to report that I paid RM5.50 for a normal (not big) bowl of pork noodles this morning. That's something like RM1.50 more than the standard price.

But after a few spoonfuls, it's clear why my bowl cost more than 30% above the market rate. It's the same reason why, at 10.00am, there was already a dozen or so customers at any given minute parking all over the crammed road, ordering.
  • the soup was tastier
  • the meat slices were juicier
  • the liver pieces were chunkier
  • the gizzard was nastier (smile)
  • the noodle portion didn't feel like a sushi-serving
The Place sucked (smack in the middle of cross-junction, see map). There was no Promotion (except for blog-posts like this and good'ol Malaysian word-of-mouth). The Price doesn't encourage demand. Even the People didn't seem very interested in 'customer relationship management'.

That's it. A great Product.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Learning 2.0

Was glad to know that Bob's also into online-learning. This is quite an encouragement, especially since I was informed (only a fortnight ago) by the rep of a major local institution that Malaysians still need lots of convincing before they associate 'online education' with 'real' learning.

(That institution, however, has taken a bold step in obtaining exclusive rights to market the U21 Global MBA, the only 100% online MBA program represented at the World MBA Tour at Westin recently).

My own take is that, whilst 'offline' forms of learning should still be provided, for schools to NOT have an online element (or to not begin preparing their students for Web-education) is to act and operate as if the Internet hasn't been invented yet.

Some thoughts on how an e-education should look like (and I'm not excluding theology and Christian education here!):
  • All lessons must be available online (like those of MIT, USQ, Open University, etc.)

  • Lessons must take various forms (text, multi-media, etc.), soaking in all the glory of Web 2.0,  with the implication that Library 2.0 has to appear sooner or later

  • Lecturer and student contribution to the learning should become near indistinguishable and learning takes a cyber-constructive (or connectivist) form i.e. my education 'emerges' from the conversations, the input, the debates, the projects, etc. No connections, no learning.

  • E-discussions and e-collaborations are a central part of assessment - none of that 3-hour do-or-die-in-an-exam-hall crapola! The idea of 'closed-book' assessments must be banished from educational vocabulary once and for all! (except for low-impact formative self-assessments...)

  • The 'system' should allow students to work and learn independently of time and space - one loner on the sandy beaches of Jamaica should be able to team-up with three executives in the concrete jungle of Raffles City. 
What else can/should we add? 

(Note: U21 Global presently offers all the above elements but something tells me we're only scratching the surface here...once the magic of cloud-computing, parallel computing and Web 3.0 really take off, heck, we'll be like fish in outer space).

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Is Online Education 'Real' Education?

On Tuesday, I asked at least 80 students what they thought about getting an online degree. No classes to attend - everything via the Web (exams, discussions, the works).

Everybody's head started shaking and all said, " way...I won't accept it blahblahblah". Main reason? Physical classes are still necessary for 'real' education to happen.

Fine. That's cool. I understand - or do I?

Because my next questions were:

  • Would you like extra classes? (Response: Nooooo!!)

  • Why do lecturers have to spend time 'pulling' most people back from in-class slumber? (i.e. why come to class and sleep if you feel you NEED it for education?)

  • Why do you rejoice when it's a public holiday and classes are cancelled?

  • Why do most of you seem to NOT enjoy being in the classroom?

It's easy to say, well, it's all the lecturers' fault that lessons are boring. That may be true (and usually is, sigh), but it doesn't resolve the paradox: If students 'demand' face-to-face classes failing which we don't consider ourselves to have been 'educated', why is it so often that every iota of their attitudes and behaviour suggest that they DON'T WANT to be in class?

Isn't this like an abused girlfriend who at one moment curses the boyfriend for beating her up yet can't "live" without him? What's up?

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

When 'Okay' is Not Okay

I recall many years back one of my directors was watching a few us from the back of the stage. We were giving our respective presentations. He was holding a counter - clicking away.

At the end of our sessions, we found out what he was up to : He was counting the number of times we said, "Okay" as we spoke.

I did it half a dozen times within the ten minutes allotted. One of my colleagues said it fourteen times.

It's not only "Okay". There's also, "Alright", "Yah", "Uh-huh" and whatever verbal soft-farts we unknowingly make as a way of pacing/steadying ourselves.

Why a fart? i. Because it's not palatable (and is sometimes downright irritating), ii. we're often barely aware of it (but our listeners would be) and iii. like a bad odor, such words 'cloud' our speeches and turn people off.