DEVAKUMARAN Narayanasamy first heard about open universities while working in London in the late 1990s to early 2000s. It occurred to him that if there were such a university in Malaysia, he would definitely jump at the opportunity to further his education. Turned out there was.
Open University Malaysia (OUM) gave him the platform to realise his dream of obtaining a Bachelor of Psychology, not just out of passion but also to further propel him within the field of community development.
He had founded PeaceWorks Malaysia some 15 years ago, as a result of his passion for helping the people he met at church. It was here that he learnt of the need to help refugees, migrants and the Orang Asli community, on whom he now focuses his attention.
“OUM makes it possible to go back to school because they make it convenient. They deliver your materials virtually and you get to study at your own pace. The first thing that OUM provides its students is accessibility towards achieving a degree and then they make it convenient for you to achieve that goal. It’s a good approach.
“For people like me who do not work 9-to-5 jobs, going for classes in the evenings could be difficult.
“Because OUM offers flexibility, there are opportunities to go for lectures and join in discussions when these suit your schedule,” he said.
Devakumaran considers Associate Professor Teh Lai Ling, the director of the Alor Star, Kedah and Perlis Learning Centre, and Prof Rajaletchumi Thaliah as mentors who were integral to his education.
“Teh would drop everything to sit with you and help you out. All the students have a good rapport with her, including me. She was the one who introduced me to Prof Rajaletchumi, who helped me a lot in my final research project.
“When I started my paper, I didn’t know how to start. I had a specific topic in mind, which was on refugee students, and Prof Rajaletchumi helped me through the process.” he said.
Aside from sharpening his study skills, he said, his time at OUM also helped him to break out of his comfort zone.
“One of the papers we did was on Community Service. It forced me to go out, meet people, and work with others. Many of the papers that OUM offers make you work with others, which builds social, academic and research skills.
“OUM also has a vibrant student body that allows us (students) to be mentors and mentees among each other,” he said, adding that he flourished at OUM by working with people within the university and building rapport with people outside of his alma mater by working on his research paper and courses such as the Community Service paper.
Devakumaran exceeded his own expectations when he was asked to give the valedictorian speech at the 26th Convocation in October.
“My most profound experience at OUM was the convocation. There were approximately 5,000 graduates and I was the one chosen to deliver the valedictorian speech at the final session. I did well but I really did not expect it,” he said.
“Delivering my speech in front of my parents, family and Tan Sri Azman Hashim, who was my old schoolmate at the Methodist Boys School in Sentul, was an amazing experience.
“As you grow older and start progressing in your career and raising a family, going back to school is not at the top of your mind but OUM makes it possible for students to do it all,” he said.