Renowned Malaysian educationist and entrepreneur Lim Kok Wing shares his valuable insights on the future challenges facing the education sector in an interview with The Phnom Penh Post.

Creativity is considered a key driver of education in the 21st century. Would you agree with this?

First the concept of creativity has to be clearly understood in order to know why it has become a key driver for 21st century education. Creativity has always been an element of human growth that has contributed to how we have progressed as a species on this planet.

Creativity is a natural aspect of mankind that inspires us to improve our current ways of doing things. We therefore invent and innovate continuously.

Today we have reached a point where our progress has become rapid. Every technological advancement has expedited the next transformation which we now see in our daily lives. What used to take months was reduced to weeks and now to mere seconds.

We are now entering a time of huge and rapid changes with groundbreaking innovations in the use of artificial intelligence, the pervasiveness of the internet and the convergence of sciences is leading the world into a new era.

Undoubtedly the effect on mankind is tremendous, and needless to say education can no longer be viewed from a conventional standpoint.

The founder visits the Limkokwing University campus in Phnom Penh. Supplied

Careers are going obsolete, even as we speak, as technology takes over laborious and repetitive tasks. Industries are changing, moving their processes up the value chain.

However, what still remains the domain of people is our creative ability to innovate and to invent – and this we must foster and nurture in the next generation.

How is Limkokwing University different from other higher education institutions in Cambodia, and what cutting-edge education is offered to remain above the others in a tight market?

What is important to remember is that Limkokwing University is international, and every one of our students is therefore immediately piped into a global network. This network comprises a virtual community of students and alumni from more than 160 countries, not to forget the campuses we have set up in 13 countries, including the one in London.

This global network has enormous value to a young person in learning about other cultures and, in fact, gaining market intelligence in an easy way.

The university has a “Global Campus Programme” that insists students should spend a semester or a few weeks overseas in any of our campuses.

This truly broadens the mind through exclusive experiences that are woven into the programme where they conduct research and interact with top brands with whom we have forged strategic partnerships.

Our collaboration with industry provides students with direct involvement with companies that may hire them, and at the same time they gain valuable insights into what industry expects from them.

Are Cambodia’s educational policies ready to meet the 21st century learning and technology environment? What needs to be done to accelerate learning in these areas?

Cambodia has made very commendable progress in its commitment to raising the competency of Cambodians as professionals to manage the economic growth it has gained over the past few decades.

Its policies on education are on the right trajectory, and the success of its plans lies in how these policies are implemented on the ground. The calibre of the teaching force is relevant and decisive in ensuring the nation’s youth is properly trained and educated.

To accelerate learning, it is wise to look beyond traditional or conventional education. It will require boldness and courage to do this because most parents are used to the way things have always been done and it will be a huge hurdle to overcome this thinking.

But the future is going to demand that we change all that, so the government may have to first reach out to parents and convince them to embrace the change that must happen.

There is much we can learn from countries like Finland, which has made great strides in reshaping education. Learning from them, we can then customise a blueprint that fits the culture and economic needs of our own nations.

As a Malaysian educationist and entrepreneur, what is your advice to Cambodia, where at least 65 per cent of the population is under 30 years of age? What direction should they take in terms of education?

Cambodia can consider itself fortunate to have such a huge youth segment. This points to a future that can prove to be an economic goldmine if their talents are properly nurtured.

Limkokwing University has campuses in 13 countries, including in London in the UK. Supplied

The participation of industry must become a priority in shaping Cambodia’s education. Industry is at the forefront of change and they know where the future lies.

They have no choice but to embrace new technology or new practices to stay competitive. They know the kind of skills they need, and through their participation Cambodia can build formidable human capital which in itself will attract high-end foreign investors to set up their base in Cambodia.

Like Malaysia, Cambodia should look ahead to raise its economy to the next level, and highly skilled human capital is part of that equation.

The Covid-19 outbreak is changing the entire business world, and the education sector is also braced for major changes in the future. Do you see a major paradigm shift in the way education is delivered in schools, colleges and universities?

The pandemic has merely expedited what I have always thought a foregone conclusion. I think it is the new generation that give you clues to how education is going to change.

We have what is known as Generation Z, which is an entire generation that grew up in the era of the internet. They embrace technology in a way that no other generation has.

It is not so much the Covid-19 outbreak that is forcing change, it is this generation who will dictate how and what they wish to learn.

As I see it, education is going to be about skills and talent. Young people do not want to spend too much time on theoretical study – they want hands-on, experiential learning.

Notwithstanding anything else, they know how to get information.

Employers complain that universities fail to produce suitable candidates for the fast-changing labour market. How can education institutions resolve this to improve employment opportunities and raise productivity at the work place?

This brings me back to my earlier answer that industry has to be very involved in how people are being educated and trained. The yardstick to measure learning has to change.

Lim Kok Wing says young people want hands-on, experiential learning. Supplied

The regulatory system must work with industry to create what is really needed. All institutions have to comply with the regulatory demands so the change can really happen if all stakeholders can agree on the yardstick by which to judge competencies.

Soft skills need to be given greater importance. The ability to think and solve any kind of problem should be emphasised.

Young people know how to get the skills they need, but most of them lack life skills. They do not know how to cope with life. By addressing their emotional intelligence, we imbue them with confidence and the ability to cope with stress and pressure on the job.

Productivity and efficiency can only happen if those employed are passionate about what they do. This requires a paradigm shift in management practices to engage in constant training to upskill their employees, instead of replacing redundant labour with new skilled people.

As a veteran expert in the creative industry, how do you see the Cambodian creative sector developing? What needs to be done to better unearth creative talent in the Kingdom?

Cambodia is a highly creative country. There is an abundance of talent. The country has the “living legends” of master craftsmen and craftswomen. Find them, recognise their status and preserve the knowledge. They serve as an inspiration to a younger generation of Cambodians.

By creating awards that recognise creative talent, we raise their profile and give merit to local creative professionals. In Italy, a designer is viewed as a superstar and is highly respected, but in Cambodia, as elsewhere, it is still the conventional professions such as doctors, engineers and accountants who are honoured by society.

In Botswana, our final semester students have to learn entrepreneurship and they are mentored by a panel of industry leaders. They are challenged to set up enterprises and learn to manage a business. Some of the best ideas are recognised by the government and given seed money to become real businesses.

This is something Cambodia can consider. The Limkokwing University is ever willing to assist in sharing the mechanics of this programme.