Education, technology, love

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  • Thursday, 21 Dec 2017

As education strives to keep up with new technologies and the 4th Industrial Revolution, we must not overlook the values that make us human. 

THERE’S this video you must watch. It shows Prof Datuk Dr Asma Ismail, vice-chancellor of Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM), at a forum responding to a question on achieving success in a career while having children.

Prof Asma begins by sharing this: “I am an outlier, in the sense that I do not have my own children, but I have 31,000 children in USM.”

With regard to success, she continues, “I believe that behind every successful woman, there is a very understanding and supportive husband.

“You may be highly educated, but when it comes to that one person, you become very vulnerable.”

She ends by saying, “Very few of us get to marry malaikat (angel) on Earth.”

Say it with me, “Awww.” I’m sure you’d concur with me when I say it’s one of the most sincere expressions of love you’d ever heard.

Prof Asma made these remarks at the recent Malaysia Higher Educa­tion Forum 2017.

Her session was moderated by comedian Harith Iskander and he too paid tribute to his wife, Dr Jezamine Lim, for being the first woman to receive a PhD in tissue engineering from Universiti Kebang­saan Malaysia recently.

These expressions of appreciation and love for another remind us that at the core of it all, we are human beings. We are emotional. We have feelings. We want to love and be loved.

It’s a simple thing, this. But many people are still mean, rude and unkind to others. In Malaysia, the popular colloquial retort to such uncouth behaviour would be “Your mother never teach you, ah?”

This leads us to an important question: What role does love play in education?

Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba and China’s richest man, famously said, “If you want to be successful, you should have a high emotional quotient (EQ) and intelligence quotient (IQ), but if you want to be respected, if you want to survive the next 30 years, you should teach your kids the ‘Q’ of love, of care for others.”

With regard to technology and the Fourth Industrial Revolution, he has also asked, “And what is LQ? The quotient of love, which machines never have.”

How I see it, love has a wide meaning. It encompasses care, empathy, respect, appreciation, and gratitude (syukur).

In the context of education, the role of educational institutions has traditionally and largely been to ensure their graduates get jobs. This isn’t a “fault”.

The motivation for knowledge in and of itself isn’t a good enough reason to enter university or college – it’s just not worth the debt. Arguably, for most universities, graduate employability is their strongest selling point.

Thus, the motivation within higher education today, especially in this era of Industry 4.0, is to offer the most industry-relevant programmes, filled with technical curriculum.

Oftentimes, this happens at the expense of more humanistic subjects or even soft skills.

As new technologies emerge and as the job market evolves with new demands and new opportunities, it’s easy to get carried away.

Consequentially, despite the myriad of benefits from technology, its rapid growth and presence in our lives has led to greater isolation, less empathy and also a higher prevalence of depression.

Similarly within higher education, even if institutions are able to produce the best graduates who can meet workforce demands of Industry 4.0 on a technical level, where will that actually lead us in terms of societal progress?

My fear is that we produce graduates who thrive in the new economy and become billionaires by coming up with innovative products, but just don’t give a hoot about society around them.

And this isn’t an uncommon phenomenon. The subprime mortgage crisis, which led to the 2008 global financial crises, was essentially caused by smart people who lacked ethics and empathy.

Check out an article titled “Why Smart People Do Unethical Things: What’s Behind Another Year of Corporate Scandals” published in 2004 by the Wharton Business School.

So what can be done about it?

On the plus side, higher education institutions in Malaysia have recognised this growing concern.

Heriot-Watt University Malaysia, for instance, offers a Youth Transformation Programme that aims to inculcate emotional intelligence.

The Higher Education Ministry through an initiative known as the Integrated Cumulative Grade Point Average (iCGA) requires institutions to embed ethics and values into their curricula.

Universiti Sains Islam Malaysia emphasises the integration of naqli (revealed or religious knowledge) and aqli (worldly knowledge) as their guiding principle.

And the Higher Education Leader­ship Academy is exploring issues relevant to aligning the role of universities in educating the heart and soul.

In our fervour to harness the potential of technology and Industry 4.0 within our education system, let us remember to take a step back and refocus.

Ultimately, possessing the love quotient means that we are able to put others before ourselves, to use our knowledge for the betterment of society, to be patient and supportive of those who may need more time and help, and to not feel superior but rather duty-bound for the blessings we have received.

>Danial Rahman has education close to his heart and welcomes feedback at The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.

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Danial Rahman

Danial Rahman

Danial Rahman has education close to his heart. He tweets at @danial_ari and welcomes feedback at


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