Lessons from Australian Education

This morning, I had the opportunity to witness the Australian education system at work. A group of high school students paid our research group a visit, and they were treated to a couple of talks by the academics and postgraduate students here. They were also introduced to the wonderful and mysterious world of astronomy, as well as some of the cutting edge science and engineering that our group is involved in, including a tour of some of the radio telescopes that were being built.

I was astounded by the response of the students. Quite a number of them were actively engaging the speakers, asking loads of thoughtful questions and thinking hard about what was being presented – in stark contrast to the more passive students we’re used to back in Malaysia. I have to admit I used to be one of those students who just sat and listened (if I wasn’t day-dreaming). I was also amazed at how much some of these students knew. I’m quite interested to look into the Asutralian high school syllabus and compare it with its Malaysian counterpart.

I also think the Malaysian education system has got a lot to learn with regards to the interaction between tertiary and secondary education. Here in Australia, university academics are encouraged to be involved in school outreach activities. Professors and researchers are often invited to give talks in schools about their experience and their field of expertise, or even to train the teachers on better ways to teach a certain subject. It’s so important to inspire the younger generation to love the sciences and the arts – rather than just feeding them with head knowledge.

I remember all the career talks in school that we had, but they were mostly from the industry rather than from academia. Its probably a reflection of the state of affairs in Malaysia, where academia is not as popular as the industry when it comes to career choices. I still remember, when I was lecturing back in Malaysia, a student who was surprised to find out that I had graduated with first class honours (which may not necessarily be a good indicator of how good I am in my field, considering the exam oriented system in Malaysia!). But he was under the impression that people who sought a career in academia were ‘rejects’ who couldn’t secure a job in the industry, where all the money was. It’s this common misunderstanding that one became a teacher because he/she failed to become a doctor/engineer/lawyer/accountant etc. Yet I know of so many friends who gave up a comfortable life earning big bucks in the corporate world, just so that they could invest their time and energy in the lives of young people – mainly through teaching (a flexible lifestyle may have something to do with it as well!). So yes, there’s a lot of work to do back home… and I hope to be able to contribute in whatever small way I can when I return… if I return…

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