I think everyone is busy with their exams at the moment (or some lucky ones, no more exams!) Good luck everyone :).
This post originally appeared on Tech in Asia, and when the Singapore blogosphere was talking about the Alvin Wang issue, I felt the need to write about it.
There has been a lot of debate about Alvin’s admission to the National University of Singapore (NUS) after the young guy’s social media campaign last week. It caught our attention here at Tech in Asia, and even inspired the Burpple team to create a campaign too.
To date, I see 11,000 ‘likes’ on the webpage, and we have received many comments and conversations in the blogosphere. Just from Willis’ post earlier, we had protestations from someone by the nickname “AlvinWasUntruthful” in the comments thread, and some others also said that he misrepresented himself in his campaign. Prior to his releasing the information that he was already accepted into Information Systems at NUS, our first comment was, “There is always NTU and SMU. The oldest university tends to be inflexible and may hinder your creativity.” Lastly, we also had a comment from the nickname “Graduated” encouraging Alvin to “forget about going to local unis. You will not learn much at computing courses in NUS/NTU/SMU”.
Here’s my two cents:
1. Alvin was goal-oriented
Eventually Alvin released an update on his website which clarified that he was already accepted into Computing (Information Systems), but was appealing to enter Computing (Computer Science). With this, it invited a lot of disapproval from the audience over an apparent lack of clarity/transparency.
But really, I think everyone should give him a break. It wasn’t mentioned that he did get into Computing (IS), but neither did he claim that he was entirely rejected by NUS.
As I quote from Alvin’s website,
… my application to pursue a degree in Computer Science in National University of Singapore was rejected
I think he was very specific on what he wants to get out of his campaigning website. From a social media campaign angle, he was positioning this in a manner as straightforward as possible. It was a mere intention of wanting to amplifying his desire to enter a course and influence the people around to lend some support.
Besides, he was looking to enter Communications and New Media (CNM) where studying social media could possibly be one of the modules that Alvin would probably be required to take. Creating a social media campaign which is able to create such a conversation in the Singapore blogosphere probably means he is exemplary example of a good student applying his knowledge in a real context. Isn’t that what education is supposed to be about? Contrary to what most people are saying, I don’t think his campaign was childish at all.
There were also comments which suggested Alvin should first get into NUS on any course, and then opt for a switch. I agree that that could be an option, but what is wrong with Alvin giving a shot at appealing for a direct admission into the course he desires most? In fact, I find it an utter waste of time to get into a course he is disinterested in, face a difficult time in school, and could possibly face an eventual dropout.
A couple of days back, our fellow blogger Willis tweeted:
Reward success and failure – punish inaction.
I thought that was totally apt in describing this situation. Assuming a situation where Alvin succeeds in his campaign, he will be “rewarded” a place within the course he desires. Even if he “fails,” at least he did give his best shot. At least, for him, he won’t be looking back and regretting not doing anything regarding his appeal. But, if he didn’t even bother about giving it a shot, he would be “punished” by having to settle for the next best alternative.
My ex-principal once told me:
Reach for the sky, even if you fall, you’ll land amongst the stars.
I thought he had the spirit of what a true blue entrepreneur should be and also a lesson that all of us could learn from. It is about giving your best shot at the things that you wish to succeed in, and not give a half-f*ck job.
So if maybe we could ask people out there, if someone says that you can’t make it big with your startup, are you just going to stop there? Are you going to just resign to fate and not influence change? I don’t think so. I think it is in times of difficulties you find opportunities to grow even stronger.
2. I beg to differ that NUS offers education that hinders creativity
I thought it was a pretty unfair attitude for some people to take about NUS. Just to clarify, what I’m saying here does not represent NUS, and the views are my own.
Yes, some elements of the school could improve, but we must also acknowledge that all of us have different learning aptitudes and attitudes, and what might work for one, could possibly not work for another.
We might not have the best of everything, but we can make the best out of everything.
Education is never a one-way conversation where the student passively receives information and does not question the basis of arguments that are presented. We also have a role in our own education – to be inquisitive, to question, and to learn actively.
I think NUS recognizes that each and every student within the school has differing capabilities and are meant for different roles within society. Beyond the textbooks and mainstream education, there are also other activities within NUS which allow us to shine in ways we can as individuals; developing us into outstanding people to contribute back to society. Some are meant to be ministers, industry leaders, designers, creators, and even entrepreneurs.
Take, for instance, the NUS Overseas Colleges (NOC) program, which is under the NUS Enterprise scheme, which specially hones individuals who are interested in entrepreneurship, where they are sent overseas for a year to work and study. I am very proud to say that I have been part of it, and I didn’t regret giving up one year (of my youth and income) to take part in it.
We have had really successful cases, where our talented NOC alumni have displayed creativity and created startups which had successful exits. Our first example was Darius Cheung, an NUS graduate and NOC Silicon Valley alumnus who co-founded tenCube WaveSecure, which was acquired by McAfee. In the most recent news, eBay’s StubHub acquired PeekSpy, where the latter company was co-founded by Oliver Oxenham, who is also an NUS graduate and NOC Silicon Valley alumnus.
What I am trying to put across here is: a school provides you an environment to hone your creativity. Whether you allow that creative talent in you depends on how much you are willing to let it shine. In my opinion, NUS offers more than just an education. It offers an entire experience which students can opt into, which in turns allow one to display their creativity and potential.
3. We all should never stop learning
I personally value education and knowledge. With the success of Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and many others, entrepreneurship has been made so sexy that sometimes some might perceive that building a successful startup is as easy as ABC, that we could become billionaires before the age 30.
As much as I don’t think cumulative average point (CAP) or a degree should determine how adaptable or how capable you will be to survive in today’s society, let’s face the fact these things are valued. Here in Singapore, we put great emphasis on paper qualifications. Our society values paper qualifications; that’s the sad reality. But there’s also a reason to why it is important.
Going through a tertiary education equips you with the knowledge to substantiate arguments and makes one go through a higher and analytical thinking process. Some might argue that such information and knowledge can be obtained while on the job. I concur, but having to go through exams and formal education also tests one’s mental endurance. I think exams actually made me pay attention to more details, and because of the prior knowledge learnt in school, I could easily relate and apply them at work. Beyond that paper qualification, it provides individuals an opportunity to meet people from different environments, culture, and extend that to a wider, quality network.
I once spoke to Professor Bruce Quan Jr, who lectures at Peking University Law School, on his thoughts about the pursuit of studies. In the startup context, given his cross-cultural roots, Prof Quan’s take is: you might meet individuals who are either keen on investing or participating in your idea, or meet people who are interested in the market that you come from. This might further facilitate exchange of ideas and even fusion of them – leading to greater innovation and product disruption.
Going to school also puts you into networks which provide you with access to the people who might possibly help with your startup. For instance, if you are interested in venturing into solar energy, your educational base puts you a step closer to the talents and research scientists who are already developing such products. You have also greater access to industry leaders in the alumni networks who could better guide and help you.
In other words, you will be placed in networks which will provide you easy access to resources such as researches, studies, and people who could help build your startup fast. Don’t dismiss me by saying that he’s a professor, that’s why he advocates education. I think what he says make sense.
My take on this…
I think every individual has a role to play in their own education. I think Alvin did the right thing by taking his responsibility and ownership in his education. Ultimately, I think many Singaporean students make the mistake of wanting to pursue a paper qualification for the sake of pursuing one.
There are many lessons to learn from Alvin’s social media campaign. Whether you’re an entrepreneur, investor, or student – be a hungry (and thirsty) hippo. Live your life to the fullest, give the best shot in things you set to achieve, learn proactively, and take responsibility as well as pride in the things you do.