Sunday July 22, 2012
Making it happen
TEACHER TALK By NITHYA SIDDHU
By applying diligence to knowledge and the right attitude, anything can happen.
ON July 14, the RHB-The Star Mighty Minds Challenge held its final round in Ipoh. The wrap up in Perak meant that we had covered all 14 states in Malaysia. What a ride it was!
Truth be told, the experience has been an exhilarating one.
Some student teams came for the competition totally unprepared while others were armed to the hilt.
At the end of the day, the teams which emerged state champions were those who made good use of their minds, experience and knowledge.
I respect all the students who came, participated and learned. In my eyes, there were no losers. There were only learners.
As for the teachers and parents who stood by in firm support, I applaud the time, trouble and patience it took for them to be there. Their presence, interest and encouragement were priceless. Can anyone ask more of them?
As for the competition itself, the Mighty Minds Challenge prides itself on being a powerful learning platform and I, for one, am honoured to have been associated with an event that offers such a distinctive learning opportunity.
The RHB corporate responsibility tagline, Let’s Learn with RHB, really resonates with me. I firmly believe in the power of education and the art of the possible.
When we were young and full of excuses, my dear departed father would roar at us, his demurring daughters, and exclaim, “Who says it can’t be done?”
In essence, what he meant was this: “If you don’t put yourself out there, how will you know whether you measure up?”
How wise he was! It was only by taking part in competitions that we knew whether we had what it took to tackle challenges and win.
He never put down any of our efforts. His motto was not, “Go, participate and win.” It was, “Go, participate and learn!”
You had to respect and admire the man for his tenacious beliefs.
When I found myself in a teaching rut in 1995 after 10 dedicated years of teaching, I remembered his words and realised this: I was simply not putting myself out there.
The result? I shook myself out of my comfort zone, dropped all my flimsy excuses, and began to submit ideas, apply for courses, register for competitions, step out of the safe confines of the schools I had taught in and looked afresh at all the God-given and education-honed talents I had acquired. What a difference it made to my life.
From being a common teacher with no award to my name, I became an education columnist, author of a set of children’s books, a Masters in Technology Management degree holder, winner of several awards for creative teaching and a respected member of two Education Ministry textbook panels.
Please don’t think I’m being self-promotional; I’m too much of my father’s daughter to allow arrogance and ignorance to walk the same lane as me.
I’ve taught my students the same precept, encouraging them to work diligently and take honest pride in the ethics of success.
My message is this: You can achieve only if you set yourself up conscientiously for achievement.
At school, I was very clear about my professional goals and kept pushing the bar higher whenever my energies permitted me to do so.
I did this because I kept hearing my father’s voice in my head.
“Go, achieve,” he would exhort me. “Stop fretting. Give it a shot. Work hard. Make it happen. Create waves!”
He was a powerful teacher and I am glad I listened to him.
That is why when I became the content provider and head judge for Mighty Minds 2012, I told every student team: “Open up your mind. Let its power guide you to excellence. Don’t allow yourself to think that it can’t be done. It can be done and you are going to do it!”
Yes, some of them had difficulty understanding the good English I used to word the questions. And some of them suffered from pangs of anxiety and self-doubt. But, what’s a little language handicap? And isn’t some nervousness natural and to be expected?
I would advise: “Face your fears and perform! Do your best and God will do the rest!”
I urged them sincerely because I believed each and every one of them was capable of success. At the very least, they would learn and improve.
When many of them who didn’t make the cut approached me and said, “We will try again next year”, my heart was filled with gratitude that they saw the challenge for what it really was – a learning opportunity, a chance to experiment, and a holistic ground to test the mettle of their minds.
If I came across dejected students, I would tell them: “Don’t beat yourself up about it. Take your learning to a higher level and come back stronger and more determined next year.”
This simple truth was taught to me by my father who told me that dealing with loss is learning how to use mental strength to acquire emotional fortitude.
Throughout this challenge, I found myself repeating these words to many students. After all, what better time is there than when you are young to learn the language of success?
And isn’t education the act of bringing out the best from within after intelligent introspection and quiet reflection?
Doesn’t the Latin word educar mean exactly that – an act of bringing forth inner intelligence? Paving the way to lead out the might of the individual mind?
The truth is this. As teachers, as the so-called “guides by the side”, we are only as good as the good we create in others. And, it is the good we should focus on; the positive, the affirmative and the learning minds are capable of.
Little wonder then, that in the hands-on, model-building segment of the Mighty Minds Challenge, the top 15 student teams were able to work within guidelines and come up with innovative designs that surprised us with their creativity.
Life is full of surprises and none more pleasant than when students are able to come up with models based on designs backed by original thought.
Of course, their models were imperfect. Whose wouldn’t be when you have only youth and limited life experience on your side, a directive to perform under pressure, no one to turn to but your teammates and your minds, and no online or extensive research to back you up?
Personally speaking, I saw greatness in their humble endeavours.
I was encouraged by their painstaking effort and on-the-spot learning – turning thought to challenge, adroitly seeking creative solutions, managing resources, establishing teamwork patterns, developing quickness of thought, going for it, trusting their instincts, transforming ideas into reality, and at the end of it, growing in mental and emotional stature.
With no input from teachers and parents, students put their heads together to create simple models that married scientific concepts with artistic flair.
Let no man dispute the power of the young minds that brought about the honest-to-goodness models I judged!
If you were there and you feel that you didn’t see what I saw, then I can only say this: It was because you were not in the test arena, you weren’t who I was – a trusted insider given a glimpse of the magic minds can weave when they are made to work in tandem.
You weren’t the teacher I had to be as I walked from table to table, offering clarification and understanding.
I came, I saw and I realised this: Creativity is well and alive in Malaysian students! It only needs to be nurtured, honed and given an opportunity to blossom.
Necessity, they say, is the mother of invention.
The RHB-The Star Mighty Minds Challenge did exactly that – provided the much-needed canopy under which chosen student teams were given no choice but to use their minds wisely to design, create and impress.
All I can say is this. I came away, not only impressed but blessed to have personally witnessed the capabilities of the Malaysian student mind.
Given the circumstances and the various challenging questions, including some pretty tricky ones I threw their way, I think they did a remarkable job in letting their minds rise to the occasion. A very remarkable job indeed!
Onwards now for the national challenge!