Explore your talents such as at an entrepreneurial sales carnival in UNITAR International University.

THE results of the 14th General Election are so historic we will be telling future generations about them.

As we enter the uncharted terrains of this new frontier, I feel not only joy but also trepidation. As a house officer under contract, I am wondering if there will be policy changes with regards to my employment, and whether there will finally be concrete and effective measures put in place to reduce the long delay to start work as one.

As a doctor, I wonder if the persistent cuts to the Health Ministry budget will end, and our health resources will be increased and managed efficiently. We have a great workforce with intelligent and dedicated health care workers but patients suffer in the end if there are limited resources and heavy workload.

As a citizen passionate about education, I wonder how education policies will change, and the qualities the education system aims to foster in youth.

I came across this question in a questionnaire for a project: “What is, in your opinion, the purpose of education?” The first thought that came to me was a quote by Martin Luther King, Jr. He said that “the function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character — that is the goal of true education”. The purpose of education should be to not only spread knowledge but also mould character to propagate that knowledge and apply it for the betterment of mankind. Education should allow you to discover who you are, explore what you want in life, what values you want to live by, and equip you with the tools to achieve what you want to do. It should not be limited to schools and classes, but encompasses your upbringing at home, your life experiences, and informal learning you get outside of a classroom.

I learnt this early on, thanks to enthusiastic parents who were both educators. As a shy child, I was encouraged to build my confidence by joining beauty pageants, storytelling and piano competitions. These events were not within the criteria of a formal education, but they taught me valuable lessons such as being a gracious loser (learnt that one the hard way), empathy, self-discipline, creativity and social skills.

A vibrant education system that values extracurricular activities will help nurture a generation of students with more than just book smarts. We need first-rate citizens, with open and questioning minds, who are talented, brave and compassionate. These qualities are best developed by interaction with the community, by stepping outside of our little bubbles and exploring new activities and interests.

It is important for us, as learners, to explore and actively engage in these opportunities, especially at university. Joining a society, running for leadership positions, participating in charity drives, organising events, networking at conferences and workshops are valuable experiences that will enrich your personal life and equip you with the soft skills that no classroom will be able to provide, and may even open doors you never expected!

For example, competing in Spell-It-Right 2008 led to this amazing chance to write for the NST. I discovered the fun of writing and seeing my byline for the first time made me tear up!

I am a firm believer in the power of education to level the playing field for all, regardless of background. It should give people the tools to find information, learn skills and develop the right attitude to learning. This is all the more apparent at university when you have many course options, hundreds of societies and clubs, and the freedom to explore them all. We often hear employers lamenting the lack of soft skills and poor English proficiency among graduates, which reduce employability. Studies show that students from urban areas and those from higher income groups tend to be above average in these two areas. The said socioeconomic background also offers greater exposure to extracurricular activities. While accessibility is still an issue that needs to be addressed, those who are able to pursue higher education must avail themselves of the opportunity.

So fill your university days with not just studies but also find outlets to explore your

interests and develop your talents. Not everyone is gifted academically, and finding your unique talent will benefit you far beyond the classroom.

Mingle with strangers, care deeply about a cause, go outside of your comfort zone. Do not do it at the expense of your grades, but let your character grow alongside the knowledge you gain.

Our youths are the bright hope and future of our country. By fulfilling the true purpose of education to nurture not just the mind but also the heart, we will be building a nation of heroes.

The writer is a doctor at Hospital Enche Besar Hajjah Khalsom, Kluang in Johor. The secondary school national champion of the inaugural Spell-it-Right competition in 2008 is passionate about education and sharing her journey in medicine. Email her at education@nst.com.my

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