Monday, May 28, 2012

Hunger for knowledge leads one to develop questioning mind

WHEN I entered secondary school in the 1970s, one of the things my form teacher told his students was if we wanted to lead interesting lives, we should try to improve our general knowledge. So serious was he that he dedicated a period each week to a "general knowledge" class.

During the "general knowledge" period, which was held on a Friday, students were divided into teams and pitted against each other in a quiz - with questions set by students themselves. Mostly the questions were about stuff not found in school books.

The "general knowledge" class was so interesting that it became the highlight of our school week, and absenteeism was zero. There were no prizes for "winners" except bragging rights.

The best were affectionately nicknamed "walking encyclopaedias", a titled worn with pride those days.

The weekly drill for things we did not know unconsciously made us hungry for general knowledge and the quest for more cultivated in us a curious, questioning mind. Those who knew most in school those days went on to not only do well academically, but also were successful in later years.

One chap surnamed Lim, whom my classmates and I nicknamed the "professor" because of the wide range of stuff he knew, later went on to become an adviser to a prestigious foreign-based financial organisation.

Although general knowledge did not make it as a subject in schools, like living skills, I recall owning a book written about it. Simply titled General Knowledge, the red book about the size of a desk diary was published by Preston, if I am not mistaken, and cost a princely $9.75 then.

I came across General Knowledge by chance at one of the bookshops in Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman and my bamboo coinbox became the casualty. Although my savings were intended for a shortwave radio I had been eyeing for weeks earlier, the book got the financing first because the copy I found was the last the bookshop had.

One of the reasons I bought the book was to help me write better compositions. The other reason was because I could not afford the better "general knowledge" books my friends owned -- the Encyclopaedia Britannica. They were way out of reach for my father's finances.

But General Knowledge was just as useful in its portability as what it contained. The content was a storehouse of facts and trivia that ranged from general science to astronomy, and geography to world history as well as mathematical formulas to determine stuff like volume, surface area, distance, etc.

I have not seen books like it today and I regret that I have lost mine before my children could read it.

Of course, my children, like yours, are well-versed with the Internet today and they have access to information no encyclopaedia during my time could provide. But sometimes, I wish they had developed the same curiosity and thirst for knowledge my classmates and I had.

Perhaps it was easier those days for people to read meaningful books, newspapers and other periodicals when there was no Internet or entertainment to distract them.

Maybe people from our generation owe it to our teachers - the few rare ones who were highly knowledgeable and who took the trouble to plant seeds of curiosity to make us who we are today.

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