For a while I thought that my reasons for being a KaosPilot were obvious. Some parts I had made public – my like for the education style, the fact that I’d bring much needed diversity. However, I had been concentrating on why I’d make a good KaosPilot…without saying much about why I chose the KaosPilots in the first place.
I want to be a KaosPilot because I want to learn the skills and get the experiences that allow me to support other young people in my community.
Ever since I was a teenager, I was always a busy bee. Volunteering for everything, taking part in whatever looked interesting. I liked being active – I lived in the middle of nowhere, and taking part and being active was my way of breaking out of that boring place. It gave me a sense of purpose, something to look forward to. It also became (or, I suppose, always was) the best way I learn – by doing, giving it a go, seeing it for myself. Long classes and homework became pointless if I didn’t have any input into it. I have to experience it to know it.
In school I was getting rather disgusted at how the system prizes grades above all else. If you were sick, you were told to still show up in school unless you were bedridden. The counselors were more interested in keeping files in order than in actually listening to your concerns (sessions were frequently interrupted by random teachers butting in asking for some file or other). If you wanted to try an extracurricular activity, especially sport, you couldn’t do it just for the fun of it – you had to be good at it. Good enough to compete professionally. Of course, all your extracurriculars had to be let go of during exam season – studies all the way.
I went through my first bout of panic attacks in my final year of secondary school, and was formally diagnosed with panic disorder and depression. That was when I saw the ugliest side of school (well, besides the racism I experienced in my first few years of school). It didn’t matter that you were getting panic attacks or getting depressed because you were stressed from all the pressure (and it was HIGH). Your main – and only – priority was to your grades. As or nothing. If you are a Science student, you were awesome; if not, you were stupid. Teachers and students alike were getting bouts of hysteria, and all the teachers could care about was “I hope they don’t do their exam here, it’d ruin our 100% pass rate”. There was absolutely NO support system for those whose health or emotional problems were overwhelming them. You’d get dirty looks and told “it’s all in your head” if you wanted to go home after a panic attack. My headmistress was awesome, but it didn’t pass on to the rest of the administration, who gave me hell for my condition. It was terrible.
So you go through this year (or more) of sheer torture on your brain, trying to keep yourself healthy while dealing with the stress of getting 10 As or more…you sit through this massive exam that everyone makes a big deal of…then a few months later you get your results – and no one cares. If you’re not in Science, your results are insignificant. Most universities or work places will take you as long as you’ve done the paper. After the press hype and the school hype, it’s nothing. The paper is worthless.
And then what? Never in school are you taught about life beyond school. There are no special talks on finding your own home, managing your finances, choosing a life path that you enjoy, following your passions. Nothing about all the options you have once you’re done with school – or even if you’re fed up with the traditional system halfway and want a change. Nothing. You have a whole pile of young people who are confused and lost – and most of them take the well-trodded path of Medicine, whether they’re actually interested in it or not, because they were told it was the path to take. The Golden Road.
I knew there were deep flaws with the system, and I wanted to make a change. I wanted to let my fellow young Malaysians know about all the options that lie ahead for them. About how they can choose their own path in life.
In 2005, in my first university, I drafted up plans for a project called Brick in the Wall (named after the Pink Floyd song). It was meant to be a multi-faceted approach to encouraging alternative education. We had plans for a resource center, roadshows, a mentor-protege matchup, publications, all sorts of things. A few people got involved and interested, and we tried to get support. We nearly did, from ASTRO – but our lack of a budget stymied us and stopped that. We were a big bunch of idealists…but none of us had any sort of practical knowledge. We didn’t know how to put our ideas into action.
Around that time I also went back to my hometown and decided to do a short talk to the juniors at my old school about life after school. I was still in touch with my juniors, and I knew that they were all searching for meaning, for what they could do after school was over. They too were getting sick and frustrated with the “As or nothing” rhetoric, and needed a breath of fresh air. I asked my headmistress for permission, she granted it to me, and soon one Saturday I found myself in a hall full of eager juniors…and no prepared speech.
I just talked casually about my experiences, about how I found out the stuff I was interested in, about the challenges I went through after school. I told them that it wasn’t the number of As that mattered; it was their character, their personality, what they did with themselves. I gave them ideas, practical and idealistic. It was all off-the-cuff, no fancy Powerpoints or tools.
The reaction was immense. The juniors celebrated my words. They had never had anyone come to them and talk honestly about how it’s like outside the walls of school. They had dreams, but no encouragement. Here I was, a trusted senior, who’s sharing this much-desired information openly and honestly. They were smiling, laughing, cheering me on. What made it funny was the row of teachers sitting at the back, arms crossed, glaring at me – because I dared to say that grades didn’t matter.
After my talk, I had hordes of juniors come up to me asking for pictures, phone numbers, email addresses. Soon I had questions asking for advice, for help, a listening ear. I knew there was a demand for what I too was passionate about – the question was how to get it out there.
In mid 2005, I travelled with Up with People, a global education program that combines performance, community service, leadership, travel, and intercultural communication. It was the best time of my life. The program was pretty much me in a nutshell – it had all my interests and passions, taught me so much about the world, and connected me to a group of fantastic young people dedicated to making change. It gave me a name for my learning style – experiential education. It was perfect.
My experiences with Up with People inspired me to start EducateDeviate, a blog detailing all sorts of alternative education experiences, as well as my thoughts on the Malaysian education system. I had already given up control of Brick in the Wall at this point, but still wanted to get involved with the cause, and writing a blog was the best thing I could do. Over the 2+ years I’ve had it, it’s expanded to be a source for young Malaysians looking for a way to pursue their passions while serving their community and learning more about the world.
The response to EducateDeviate has been fantastic. I have had a few young people (including one of my school juniors) tell me that my blog has helped them find their way, get ideas, or just let them know that there is “light at the end of the tunnel”. I’ve met up with young people who found amazing opportunities through EducateDeviate. It’s serving a purpose. It’s doing what I wanted to do.
And now it’s time to grow.
As I’ve mentioned earlier with Brick in the Wall, I have a lot of ideas for things I want to do. Not just with alternative education or young people, but all sorts of different things – from the serious to the frivolous. I have a journal with pages for potential business ideas, silly and feasible alike.
What I’m lacking, however, is skill. I’m not sure how to make my ideas real. I have vague concepts of what is necessary – a budget, an action plan, timing, etc – but I do not know of the best, most effective ways of doing so.
One class I took in my current university was CI Management, which was basically a guide into how arts organizations work. The lecturer, Zane Trow, is the head of Youth Arts Queensland and has tons of experience with youth, arts, and community. His first words on the first day of class:
I got some feedback from last year’s class saying that my class wasn’t theoretical enough. That’s not the point of the class.
I fell in love, both with him (in a strictly platonic sense) and the class. It was everything I was after in a university class. Real-world knowledge, not swimming in too much academic theory, practical assessment. Pretty amazing for a 3-hour lecture-only class first thing on a Monday morning! My enthusiasm for that class showed; I earned a 7, High Distinction.
Unfortunately for me, the rest of my Creative Industries degree wasn’t quite like that. It was very heavily academic and didn’t have enough practicality. It wasn’t enough to satiate my hunger. I didn’t realize management and entrepreneurship would be this fascinating – I wanted to know more.
It’s hard to find a management/business-based course that isn’t all about making money. I’m taking a university class called Entrepreneurship and Innovation, but it seems to be stuck in the 90s – people with slicked-back hair and suits talking about creating wealth and generating profits through automatic technology. Sure, the semester’s just started, but there didn’t seem to be enough about using entrepreneurship for social good – making a differences using business processes. There’s already a big schism between activism and business – where are the people that connect the two?
This is why the KaosPilots appealed to me: their education was an effort to bridge that schism. They were cutting-edge in their business methods, but made social good and community their main focus. Their business education wasn’t just about making money; it was doing so in the most ethical way possible. It’s not just about personal wealth – it is wealth for all.
They exemplify experiential education. All the “assignments” are hands-on real-world projects with real-world companies. The exams are projects of your own devising. The students get a hand at running part of the school too – if there’s a lecturer they need, or a program they feel is missing, they have the power to implement it. There is ownership in the KaosPilots education. The assessments all have real-world effects; it’s not just going to languish in a corner unread after marking.
Everything the KaosPilots teaches is everything I need to learn. How do businesses work? What processes do you take to set up your enterprise? How do you get other people involved? I’d get to learn all this with the company of a small group of equally motivated and dedicated people, all working together to create change in their own communities.
I could revive Brick in the Wall. I could expand EducateDeviate. I could put my ideas in my journal to practice. And I’ll finally know how to do so.