Saturday, April 25, 2009
...and the Future is Now
The end of every academic term is invariably a bittersweet moment for me. It's a reprieve from a lot of hard work. But it's also the waning moments in a large number of intense relationships. In the previous three months, I've been privileged to have met and worked in depth with as many as 45 to 60 young individuals. Each one is special in his or her own way, each one a character with a whole lifetime worth of experiences shared (in varying degrees, of course), each has a certain knowledge base and fount of wisdom that has been tapped in various classroom sessions, each a face with a unique personality that's been unveiled.
It may be a cliche for me to say that what I learn from these university students is far more than I can ever "teach" because we hear this from teachers all the time; but it's not an exaggeration. (And I'm not just talking about the techy stuff I learn from them every term!) This past term, for example, I supervised 17 teams (of 48 students) in their survey-based research projects on "green topics." The range of topics developed, studied and then presented in terms of detailed written reports and presentations was amazing. The works presented of high quality. The ecological intelligence demonstrated was admirable.
Themes included everything from the attitude of student consumers toward the use of plastic bags to student views on the viability of electric cars. One group argued the case that recycling is wrongly overemphasized and then surveyed fellow students on the topic and expounded on the variety of perspectives, while another group investigated the littering of beaches in Singapore after collecting data from scores of respondent/beach users and critiquing views on the issue. A number of research groups even evaluated various areas of the the national university's "green" policy and procedures, producing highly informed reports that would be of value to real-world policy makers.
From following all these projects, and from reading eight postings of reflective, expository and creative writing in 48 individual blogs (and the subsequent commentary), I can honestly say that I have been in the company of many dynamic and seemingly tireless thinkers, proactive in their curiosity and initiative, highly critical in their observations, novel in their insights. I've seen them weather the combined storm fronts of too many courses and too much homework--- how they have persevered! I've seen them receive and accept direct open criticism. from me and peers --- how they've persevered! Many of these guys, whether from China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mauritius, Sri Lanka, here in Singapore or elsewhere, have shown that they are intelligent in their abilities, competent in their methods, honest in their assessments of themselves and others, inspiring in their words and dreams, and forward-looking in their perspectives --- demonstrating the characteristics of future leaders for their respective fields.
These students have also reinforced my belief in the "good of humanity" as I have watched them meet and communicate with one another, bond and build teams amongst themselves, and support each other intellectually and emotionally while facing challenges under duress that might have brought even the most experienced professionals to their knees. And they seemed to achieve it all while still having time to complete Facebook quizzes and communicate with long list of friends!
In short, I've been extremely lucky. While observing things in some areas of the world leaves me begging for answers and feeling a bit listless, interacting with these students has given me a feeling of great satisfaction and renewed hope. If only they ARE the future....
...because the future is now!
The only questions that remains is this: What heights will these guys be allowed to achieve?