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Learning to Unlearn

(This is the script of the speech that I delivered at Bishan TM Club’s International speech & table topics contest)

When I was in primary school, during recess, this man used to come near our school compound to sell icecream.  He rang the bell and shouted icecream – come on boys.  His smile lit up his face and we all enjoyed the different colours and flavours of the icecreams.

Contest chair, judges and fellow toastmasters –

My parents asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up and I said – I want to sell ice cream.

In kindergarten  I  learnt  A for Apple, B for Ball, C for Cat . Then in mathematics I learnt about limits, derivatives and integration. In Physics bernoulis principle and schrodingers equation.  In chemistry enthalpy and entropy.

Codes and equations had become a part and parcel of my life.

When I started working as an Engineer – I realised that very little of these codes, these equations were applied in my daily job.

After marriage you may think  that there would be no more codes to learn.  But I realised that the codes are more cryptic .  Like when your wife says : Do you love me? (she  actually means – I am going to ask you for something expensive)

I realised that the only way to learn anything in life is to decodify my life – to start the process of unlearning unlimited.  To give equal focus to skills like communication, music, leadership, volunteering and leading an active healthy life… to achieve that balance between my work life and my family life.

The face of that ice cream man still remains vivid in my memory.  He had no qualms or worries.  His only aim was to serve the best icecream to us and enjoy doing this.

Why do we have to become someone…why cant we just be…be ourselves.  We are like actors donning costumes and playing roles from morning to night.  Starting from a father or a husband at home .. to a subordinate or a boss at work, an engineer, a doctor, a lawyer.

Today, I think most kids graduate only knowing if they’re good at school or not. Often our students have many talents; they just don’t fit in our current curriculum because their talents are likely not considered “real knowledge.”

According to the Partnership for 21st century skills, an advocacy consortium whose members include Apple, Microsoft and Intel, “There is a profound gap between the knowledge and skills most students learn in school and the knowledge and skills they need in typical 21st century workplace.

Today there are many problems that need immediate attention on a large scale – climate change, renewable energy sources, education for the masses and poverty just to name a few.  The key to solving such  complex problems—will require critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity.

Apart from classroom learning – there are life skills like character, empathy, teamwork and resilience which are only developed through real-life experience.

Just before the Chinese new year I joined SGCares home maintenance to clean the homes of some people who live in 1 room homes with government subsidy.   I feel that the satisfaction and smiles on the faces of the aunties was priceless and it made my day.

In Singapore, there are people who provide food for migrant workers and look after their rights and welfare,  others work as care-givers day and night at hospitals, there are polytechnic students who design  products and aids for the disabled and the aged and there are others contribute to charities like the  bone marrow donation programme or the cancer society.

In conclusion, there is an information overload in todays classrooms and we have to be able to filter the useful knowledge from just facts and figures and rote knowledge.  Knowledge  does not always have to  make economic sense.  True knowledge is one  that makes us human.

Alvin Toffler said and I quote: “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read or write, it will be those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”

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