Let your children chase their own dreams!

Posted on: December 29, 2014, by :

I mooted the idea of writing a commentary about Malaysian parents, especially Chinese Malaysians wanting to dictate the fields of studies for their offspring way back in January 2014. This was because I regularly get requests from acquaintances, friends, and families to provide “free advising” to their college-going children.

As a freelancer (on and off since 2011), the idea of providing a fee-based advisory service on higher education opportunities and options was a very attractive one. I even managed to get myself appointed as a recruitment adviser by a few overseas institutions. But to base my bread and butter on this kind of work is not exactly child play. It is a pay-on-success-only kind of arrangement. You will get nothing for the time, effort, parking charges, restaurant tabs etc. that you have spent on a student unless the parents concerned sign up their offspring. I had wasted many hours and lots of expenses giving this sort of free advising.

Then I decided to levy a small charge of RM100.00 (about US$28.60 in Dec 2014) for providing unbiased advising. After all, people have no issue paying for professional advisory from their lawyers, accountants, etc. why not education advisers?

Did I earn any income for the advising I have been providing to my “clients”? You may incline to ask. The answer is absolutely NIL!

Either all the people who have engaged my time, knowledge and services are cheapskates or they just did not know that as a freelancer I need to generate some income for my time. So I hope this article will help in a way to sow the seeds for my friends, relatives, and acquaintances to pay my bills! People should be aware that unbiased advice comes with a price tag and mine is a modest RM100.00 only! Doesn’t your kid’s future worth this small sum?

So have I stopped all these pro bono work? Not exactly.  I just become more incline now to refer requests for free education advising to the many education establishments directly and have become very “economical” with my advising unless the request comes from a close friend or relative.

Whatever the message this article below conveys, I would like all parents to do what I have done. Guide your children in their choice of studies which may or may not lead to a career in the same field, but let them chase their own dreams. Whatever their choices, your job as parents is to support them both in spirit and in Ringgit (or US$). Let the kids realize their own dreams. They need not take up the profession of their choice of studies. If they find out that they have to change direction, don’t get mad. It is part and parcel of learning to find a suitable path.

Just look at me. An agriculture graduate who was trained to be a farm manager or farm adviser. The fact is, after graduating with an Honours degree in General Agriculture from the Queen’s University of Belfast in 1985, I have never worked in the field of agriculture. In fact, for 18 years now, I have not worked in the field of expertise I gained from my postgraduate studies, plant tissue culture! Instead, I become an education management specialist.

Luckily for me, the field of plant tissue culture progresses at a snail pace and an armchair “old dog” lab scientist like me can still find my expertise being valued and fortunately, I can still keep pace with developments. But “old dogs” still need to learn new tricks, that is where Massive Open Online Courses come in handy, but that is another story! The broad-based agriculture degree prepared me well to lead the life of an academic when in the heyday of private college growth in the late 1990s and early 2000s this broad knowledge helped me to be a much better educator. The farm management, especially farm marketing and accounting courses that I studied helped to horn in my entrepreneurial skills. The list of applications for knowledge I had picked up during my university days is very long indeed. There again, I spent almost 3 times longer than the average British-educated person in university!

It may be great to know that (and I am very proud to be associated with this man) one of my buddies, Dr. Michael Leong who was trained as a surgeon became a serial entrepreneurs (who retired a very wealthy man before he was 48 years old) is one of those people who did not follow the typical career path of a medical doctor! I don’t get to meet with Micheal who is based in Singapore often enough, but every time we meet he would insist on buying the drinks and food and I usually could not argue well with a self-made multimillionaire on that!


By Dr Chow Yong Neng
12/27/2014 5:00:00 PM
Young students must be given the freedom to realise their own dreams

Being an 18-year veteran of the education and training industry has its perks. Every year, especially after the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) examination (a public examination for all Malaysian high school graduates), I get invitations to lunch or dinner from friends and relatives to provide advice to their offspring on the next step after high school.

I would be expected to give my unbiased and learned views. My round of questions would usually not solicit much of a reply from the young student involved. Dad or mum knows best is the theme. Mostly, the kid realistically has no say in his choice of studies.

Many parents, even those who have had the benefit of university education, do not understand the real reason for their children having a university education. The notion, especially among Malaysian parents, is that students must choose and seek their career in their respective fields of undergraduate studies. That is why parents are so concerned and usually take over the decision-making in the fields of studies that their children should undertake.

A former colleague, Dr. CGB, who was a practicing engineer and lecturer in structural engineering, once commented: “Most fresh graduate engineers are half-baked; we need to put them through at least three years of rigorous industrial exposure before they are ready.”

I think Dr. CGB’s view can be applied to almost all fresh graduates. University education is a means to provide students with the opportunity to learn new knowledge, skills and social networking. A person holding an undergraduate degree demonstrates to the world that he has the ability to think, analyse and assimilate factual knowledge to solve problems better than those without such an advantage.

That’s why I had adopted a liberal view in helping my own children choose what they want to do. I exposed them to what different career choices entail and explained what they need to do to be in various different professions.

My son, having learned these quickly, discarded the idea of being a medical doctor right from the age of 15 and decided by the time he was in Form 4 that he would like to study mathematics, finance or actuarial science. He settled on the finance option when he embarked on his tertiary education.

Exposing your children to different professions at an early age lets them gain the knowledge that they need to make the right decision on a course of study when the time comes.

As parents, it is our duty to guide our children on their choices of study. The key phrase here is “their choices”. We should be flexible and should refrain from deciding on the choice of study for them. Young students must be given the freedom to realise their own dreams. They should not be expected to accomplish and live the dreams of their fathers or mothers. Parents force their children to take a study choice that they do not have an aptitude for, there may be damaging consequences.

While you are explaining and exposing different professions and career choices to them, never attempt to look down on non-traditional choices of study. Not everyone is interested to be an engineer, doctor, accountant, lawyer or banker. Many people who did not choose to be in any of these professions in their university studies ended up doing just as well or better.

In 1982, I had chosen general agriculture as my choice of study. My parents, who were paying for my education, supported my choice without hesitation. I met many fellow Malaysian students at the Queen’s University of Belfast who were reading medicine, engineering or accounting. Some of them thought I chose to read agriculture because (a) I must have had poor grades for my GCE ‘A’ levels, (b) I must have some predilection for the smell of cow dung or (c) both.

They were gobsmacked when they learned that with two A’s and two B’s, I was offered to read medicine, engineering or accounting but I had chosen agriculture instead. I like biology and the most practical form of biology was agriculture.

Interestingly, you would think that an education consultant would be able to earn a living from satisfying regular requests for unbiased advice. In reality, no one seems to be willing to pay my consultancy fees of RM100 per hour. My friends and relatives either do not think that my advice is worth RM100 or they think I am too wealthy and therefore will not need this small fee.

[This article was originally published on November 1st, 2014 edition of Focusweek  & is re-published in The Heat Online on December 27, 2014]

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