Among the things I need to do as a lecturer of a community college, one of the things I really enjoy doing is coaching Final Year Project students. Lecturers are supposed to be supervisors to the students, but I view myself as a coach. This is where the magic happens, where I can go in depth with students, almost on a one on one basis.
My students often complain that my expectations are too high but personally, I think my standards are comparatively low. Note the pretext though: I do not treat my students as students. I treat my students as working adults on their first job. And I always tell them that I impose an even harder standard on myself, if that is any comfort at all.
So what are the expectations I have for an adult? Well, there are a few which I insist for them to do. And I’ll just talk about one of it today.
Make Your Own Decisions
Singapore is a very tough society to survive. From a ruling described as “draconian” by many around the world breeds an entire generation of people who are “kiasi“, a local term which literally means “afraid to die” but I think what this really means is being afraid to take ownership. In fact, I believe many people may find making wrong decisions and having to bear the consequences more fearful than dying. This make sense at least to me: we have heard too many stories of people committing suicide as they couldn’t bear the weight of what they have done.
This culture of being afraid to take ownership, I thought, results in three main categories of people: (1) people who often look for justifications for their decisions, (2) people who push the decision making to other people and blame them when things go wrong, and (3) people who are in indecision.
I am advocating for a variant to the first type. Instead of looking for justifications, which felt like trying to cover up for mistakes, I’m advocating for my students to think things through carefully, look for reasons that support and give confidence to make decisions.
I make my students think through every decision they make in their project. They have to bear the responsibilities of the decisions they make. But I also need to give them the confidence to make decisions. This is where they need to practice critical thinking skills, searching for suitable reasons for the decisions they made.
With that been said, it doesn’t mean I free myself from responsibility. I, too, as their coach, I will take ownership of the wrong decisions they made. I’m not sure if students know this (but I know some of them will because they said they are reading my blog) but managers will also come down hard on the lecturers if we are not doing enough to support the students in their work.
So here is the big contradiction:
I cannot tell my students what they need to do if I need them to make their own decisions. And this is so for major decisions as well. That may not seem like sufficient support, or at least I felt that I’m doing less when compared to the rest of the lecturers.
But what I do give, is, guiding them on a possible thinking process. They come up with a decision, and I’ll refute their decisions with my arguments. If they decided to go with my line of thoughts, I’ll refute my own arguments again. And again. Until they are able to acquire a comprehensive set of reasoning that will help to support the decisions they made.
Lastly, I still wouldn’t make any decisions for them, they have to do it themselves. I found that at the end for their project, it will usually improve their comfort and confidence level in making decisions.
This is a time consuming process. I’m taking a huge risk that they may fail, which means that I too, have failed.
I don’t think the Singapore society should have another generation of kiasi people. They just need to be able to think things through, make a decision, get the confidence and just do it, just like Nike.