Not so long ago, I took part in an event put forth by the Ministry of Higher Education. It was an event in which a large number of the public universities in Malaysia set up shop at their respective booths and basically make available to the masses information about what the future could possibly hold for them at their college and university.
I went there to represent my faculty, which is the Faculty of Film, Theatre and Animation (FiTA) of Universiti Teknologi MARA (UiTM). It’s a fine trip laid out for me, held in the heart of Kuala Terengganu, and I ended up going with a colleague who is also a native of the region. Though I was initially somewhat resistant to the idea (I’m a lecturer, dammit, not a marketing officer) I was in no real position to say no, and this proved to be one of the occasions when I had to put on my government servant cap and get with the programme.
It was a packed hall at the event, and so it should be; the results for the high school exams for last year was just released the day before, and parents are keen for their son or daughter to be placed in the most appropriate courses possible. I realise soon enough that while I was there as a staff of FiTA, I was expected to be the promoter for UiTM. It made things a little bit more difficult (“Kalau nak ambik engineering untuk degree nanti, saya boleh guna diploma ni tak?”) but eventually things settled into a nice enough rhythm, where I was able to deal with people (and the local dialect! Not my strongest suit, it has to be said) effectively enough for most of them to get what they want.
I realise, though, that it was a somewhat perilous situation to be in. In truth, I should really know every single thing about every single programme available at my university at the drop of a hat, because the slightest misinformation may lead certain people down a path they may not necessarily be suited for. As the throngs and hordes of potential students came to the booth, I had only a few minutes with each, at the most, before they move on to the next one.
These few minutes, these very important moments, could easily shape someone’s life in a way they did not know of before.
Picking a course and a university for yourself can be a very tricky thing. In that regard, and within the very specific context of Malaysian education and education in Malaysia, we are very, very blessed. Across a number of different levels, you could easily take your pick of almost any kind of course and education you want. Many would pick one based on the fees, but even then, the public universities themselves are numerous and plentiful.
For example, I personally believe that while we are not perfect (not by a longshot), FiTA is probably the best place in Malaysia if you’re interested in performing arts and its related creative fields, not just from the breadth and depth of its programmes, but also in the background of the people teaching there. But moving beyond that, you have Akademi Seni, Warisan dan Budaya (ASWARA), who also have a strong background in the area. Fancy something a little more not just in terms of ‘quality’ (because they’re more expensive, and hence people associate the cost with the perceived level of quality) but also with the class and group of people you want to associate with, then Limkokwing University might be the place for you. Sunway University also has a good programme with good educators, though for now it is limited only to the diploma level.
So what is the right choice? Where do you go? What do you do? The right choice, then, is the choice you make.
The brochures for the programmes run out fairly quickly, and I keep having to replenish them on a regular basis. Based on that and the actual verbal enquiries, people appear to be most interested in fields related to Computer Sciences, Medical and the Law. Some enquire about engineering, and almost predictably, very few asked specfic questions about what FiTA has to offer.
Far more interesting, however, is the amount parents and people who asked on behalf of the students themselves. Now, this is not exactly a new thing, and the fact remains that I myself have had some very important decisions influenced by my parents in a number of different ways. Nevertheless, I wonder what that says about students who were completely willing to let their parents dictate everything for them on this front. The choices made by parents are directed in many respects by what they believe to be important professions that could net their kids, in short, shed loads of wonga. Cash, money, ringgit, whatever you want to call it.
But do they want it for themselves? Some had very disinterested faces, but then again, perhaps that is just my perception of their very normal and neutral faces. All the same, I get the impression that very few had a very strong idea about the programmes they want; more to the point, they themselves don’t actually know what they want.
Perhaps that, in the fact of the onslaught of getting higher and higher marks or straighter and straigher As, is the one thing that is getting left behind: dreams. I believe strongly in programmes related to fields such as the sciences and law. These are very important fields, one that entire countries and lives are built on. I also believe that fields such as the arts and literature deserve more credit than they are receiving at this very moment. More to the point, I believe that people should be able to dream and to have strong ambitions to gain what they want for themselves.
Time upon a once, I nearly did a law programme. Those were the moons that saw me, with hindsight, not really having much of a clue as to the route to take to get to where I want to be. I know that film is my calling, one way or another, but there’s a million ways to succeed in a field that does not actually require paper qualifications. My father, with his wisdom and experience, instead pushed me into a ‘safer’ programme, communications. I followed his advice, but at the same time, I also followed my heart, and did not lose touch with film and filming. It was a decision that would vindicate both he and I in the long run.
It is about knowing what you want for yourself; I am not at all advocating that everyone should be making films for a living. If anything, that specific example is of course different for different people. Ultimately, I was more than a little disheartened, for large numbers of those I had encountered on Friday and Saturday, the death of dreams appeared to be very much alive, and whatever dreams they may have are nothing more than dictated illusions.
If I were able to have had more than a few minutes to spend with those students, this is what I would have said, that the path to your dreams is going to be long and hard. Some may seem easier than others, but all programmes in all universities will have its own challenges. Even picking one that will see you sticking to your own kind, that will present itself challenges that you will not know now. It may seem obvious, of course, but think not of the road. Far more important is the dream you have, the dream of what you may become as a person in this world. Far more important is not the job you will have, but the fulfillment that comes with being someone you want to be.
The world is a big and wonderful place, and the sky is your limit, but in order to reach it, you’ve got to have that dream, whatever you do, and you’ve got to protect it. Don’t let it die, because quite frankly, this country, this world, this wonderful existence we live in called life could never have too many dreamers.
Whether they come true or not, you have a large say in that…but first you’ve got to dream.