“Education is the most powerful tool you can use to change the world.” – Nelson Mandela
I first came across this statement through watching a documentary about the great South African revolutionary, who made a massive impact in the world through initiating the movement of anti-apartheid in South Africa. This statement has always made sense to me. Yes! Education can help the world become more informed and more knowledgeable. Education can drive innovation, economic growth and prosperity of the world through upskilling the population and ensuring more people are employed.
That’s the way I have always seen it. But recently I had the chance to see another side of the impact of education, which I have never been exposed to before. In January 2016, I took up a position as a short-term English/Chinese teacher at a English language centre in the outskirts of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. I thought as a teacher, I would simply go into the class, teach, students learn, leave, and repeat again and again. Kind of like how my primary/secondary education was like.
To my surprise, it was so much more than that. The students in my classes were extremely diverse. Students came from different parts of Vietnam but happened to be living in Ho Chi Minh City. From youthful high school students to mature adults that were 50 to 70 year olds, we had the lot. Some wanted to learn English because they dreamt of working in a multinational company, some just wanted to meet and communicate with foreigners. One student wanted to study English because his daughter is working in Singapore and he thought he should learn English so he can talk to his daughter more!
Despite all their differences, they were all connected to this one common purpose – learning. They were able to help me create an open and fun classroom environment that was interactive but filled with knowledge, because they had a burning desire to learn. I had never imagine a group so diverse in age and background could throw all of their differences aside and get along so well. We went from a teacher-students relationship to friendships that extended to after class dinners and drinks. Most of my cultural understanding and knowledge have come from talking to my students during and outside class hours. Never did I expect education could be a starting point of eliminating differences and foster inclusion – education brought us together.
My experience in Vietnam opened my eyes to a whole new perspective about the role of education in social progress. To me now, Mr Mandela’s statement remains as relevant and meaningful as ever before.