Positive education, a strategic choice

WHAT would you do if you broke a vase or a jug?

Four hundred years ago, the Japanese developed the art of kintsugi – putting broken pottery pieces back together with gold.

Not only does the precious metal help to cement the broken pieces, but it also leaves the cracks and scars clearly visible, creating beautiful artistic patterns.

This unique approach is based on the philosophy that going through life’s challenges, and enduring its disappointments and stresses, can make us stronger and more unique individuals.

Reflecting on the experience that the world – and especially young people – had undergone over the past year, I could not help but draw parallels between this and the image of the repaired pottery.

Many students, particularly those transitioning into university, had had to deal with mental health challenges, income loss, campus closure, exam cancellations and travel plan disruptions, on top of seeing their dreams of having a great social and academic experience shattered.

So, how can we help this generation repair their social, personal and academic experiences with gold and emerge stronger?

They are, after all, our future, and their recovery is the key to the world’s recovery.

I believe we can start by changing the narrative and recognising that this generation had a once-in-a-lifetime experience to overcome genuine global adversity.

Pointing out that they have survived this will help them realise the extent of their potential and strength of character.

It will be a badge of honour that will enable them to answer the typical interview question “What is your experience dealing with challenging situations?” in a compelling manner.

The pandemic helped to show us how interconnected we are at all levels, and how our destinies are essentially at one with each other.

It also presented us a unique opportunity to build stronger relationships with family members and loved ones.

Parents, policy makers and educators can play an important role in supporting young people, many of whom clearly have confidence and academic attainment gaps.

To ensure that new students have the necessary prerequisite knowledge for them to progress successfully, academic institutions – especially universities – should relax their entry qualifications, adopt more flexible policies and develop structured enhancement programmes.

Now, more than any other time, positive education presents itself as a strategic choice for academic institutions to adopt, policy makers to support and learners to demand. Positive education supports the holistic development of students, emphasising three essential and integrated components: academic excellence, well-being, as well as character building.

It also focuses on enabling the students to develop a clear sense of higher purpose so that they can pursue their aspirations while striving for a positive impact on the world beyond themselves.

The challenges of a global pandemic are a unique catalyst for our youths to develop self-awareness, and a deep sense of meaning and purpose.

This will help them mobilise their human, social, emotional and economic capital to make the world a better place.

The pandemic pushed all our systems to their limits and beyond. It also showed us the impact we have on the environment and our planet, and how we can be part of the solution.

I am confident that this chapter will be behind us in the foreseeable future and that global economic recovery will take place.

When this happens, whether we revert to our old ways or decide to change will be a choice that we will all need to collectively make.

Choosing to embrace our scars will help remind us of how unique, resilient and capable we are. That, I hope, will nudge us to make the right decision.

Positive education can serve as the precious metal to restore the broken dreams of our young people.

I am sure that Japanese artists are more than capable of repairing the broken pottery to look like new, without using a material that currently costs RM7,000 for 28 grammes.

At that price, it would surely be cheaper to buy a whole new item!

However, highlighting the “scars” as a part of the design is akin to recognising that we need to embrace our challenges and acknowledge that through them, we can positively transform our world and become the unique human beings that we are.


Provost and chief executive officer, Heriot-Watt University Malaysia;

Deputy Chairman,Vice Chancellors Council for Private Universities

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