Education - Then & Now

Fifty years ago, my father was a young teacher teaching at a primary school. When he was posted to the minute town of Bidor, he was an instant celebrity in town. In fact, he was such a big celebrity that he was secretly admired by many young girls, and one of them was my mother. (Lucky me!)

Why was he such a hit? Answer - He was a teacher, period. Decades ago, the teaching profession used to be something everybody admired and looked up to.

Coming from a very poor family, my father had to struggle all his way through as a child. Finishing primary education was considered a luxury to most poor Malaysian children in the forties, so if somebody had a child who could move on to secondary education, it was something to shout about.

Coming from a humble family of seven in the small village of Kampung Simee, my father became the most highly qualified member in the Chong family. He was the only member of his family who 'graduated' from a junior high school at Form Three. Further more, in order to accomplish that, his eldest brother had had to work two jobs in order to support him throughout school.

And having studied ‘all the way’ up to Form Three my father earned a place in the Teacher’s Training College. He fulfilled his lifelong goal of becoming a teacher and gained tremendous respect as a well educated person.

Let's now fast forward to the seventies.

The youngest brother of my mother in a family of eleven was a very bright student. He excelled academically and aspired to go overseas to pursue a bachelor's degree. Now that was truly ‘big’. Going overseas to the West for higher education was a major deal. Only a privileged few ever had the opportunity to pursue higher education. These people were the cream of the crops. The vast majority of the people then would consider themselves as lucky if they were able to finish senior high.

When the news broke out about my uncle, it shook up the entire minute town of Bidor. Well wishers came from all corners of Bidor to congratulate my grandparents. Some expressed great admiration and made my uncle a role model for their own children. The day that he was sent off to Subang International Airport, half the town was in the airport bidding a tearful farewell to my uncle as if he was one of their own family.

And when my uncle finally returned from the UK with a degree in engineering a few years later, he was given a heroic welcome. Bidor was elated as it now could add another illustrious 'university graduate' to the list.

Now, let us return to the present – to the 21st century.

Today, higher education is no longer a luxury; it is a must. Gone are the days when one could be considered a societal elite and enjoyed tremendous advantage just because he had a university qualification. Today, the bar is raised substantially. Going through tertiary education for young people, especially the urban dwellers, is considered an assumed path.

Today, those who say ‘no’ to the pursuit of higher education or fail to gain acceptance into an institution of higher learning due to extremely poor academic performance or a severely inadequate financial situation are becoming rare. With the wide choices of tertiary institutions in the market, as well as the various forms of study loans and academic arrangements available, those who still hold fast to the belief that they can't receive higher education have become very rare, indeed.

The world today is an overwhelmingly literate one. Those who cannot read and write are being so handicapped and deprived of information and opportunity that it is beyond belief. Education then and education now have become poles apart.

Let me do a simple comparison between fifty years ago and now:

Students with Form Five education today are equivalent to those who only completed six years of primary school then. Those who have a basic degree now are just the same as those who finished high school then. And if you have a Master's degree today, you are only a bit better off than most academically. In fact, if you truly want to stand out, you need to pursue a doctorate degree just so you can put a ‘Dr’ in front of your name on your business cards.

I’m joking, of course, but only a bit. All jokes aside, the world today is a vastly different place from fifty years ago.

Parents of today – take heed: Stop thinking about the ‘good old days’. Be bold. Think big. Aim high. Encourage your children to challenge themselves academically. What could be more worthwhile or important that inspiring them to go farther and soar higher in this demanding age?

No, degrees are not ‘everything’, but a good qualification will lay a solid foundation and make success much more achievable for your children.

"Life is about constantly going beyond limits!"
- Erican Chong


  1. Good thoughts...and something to keep in mind. The times they are a-changin', and those who ignore it will end up drenched to the bone.

    I think parents need to know that standards have changed, especially in Canada where some folks thinks graduating High School is still a big key to the future. My Dad always drilled into my brother and I that High School wasn't the last step, it was just the beginning.


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