Higher education is the key to a better life

Last Friday, I was treated to dinner by a grandniece. Yen has been accepted by a local public university for a degree course and was throwing the small party to celebrate her admission into the varsity. Higher education is the key to a better life and I am glad Yen is continuing her studies, unlike one of my nieces, who decided to quit school and get married just after completing her Form Six.

How time flies! It seems only yesterday that I visited Yen’s mother in the Sarawak General Hospital as she was about to give birth. Yen, who completed her Form Six in Kuching City, is a determined and confident girl and I am sure she will fare well in her university studies. Being accepted into a local public university is a blessing for her; she will be close to her parents and siblings and can go home whenever there are no classes. It is an exciting time and a new chapter in the life of the 20-yearold girl.

She will get to make new friends, learn new things and experience new things in life. In the office, my collegues and I have just bade farewell to a young co-worker who has left to continue her studies overseas. Imagine how nice it is to be young and a student who only worries about books and studying! I could have told my niece who opted to get married after finishing Form Six to study first and worry about getting hitched later on. But life has taught me many things and one of the things is not to interfere in other people’s lives if they do not want to listen to me. You see, my niece still has her parents around and they apparently condone her marriage.

Perhaps, I should not blame her parents for not guiding her properly. After all, they are uneducated and perhaps, this is why they do not think far ahead. In life, I think it is better for a woman to be financially independent, unless of course, she marries a rich man who will take good care of her financially for life. Financial independence can give a woman a lot of confidence and makes her feel secure. I think financial independence, the ability to earn your own money, is important for every woman.

Besides increasing your self respect, you can own a decent home and a decent car, send your children to good schools, contribute to the daily expenses of your household, improve your skills, go on trips with friends and pamper yourself whenever necessary. At supermarkets, I have come across some women who, apparently are not independent financially and hence, have to ask their husbands’ approval everytime they pick up an iterm on the shelf.

As a financially independent woman, it is quite painful for me to come across such scenes. My niece did not inform me she was getting married to a young man who used to work with her father at a shipyard. I guess she was afraid I would stop her from getting hitched. After sitting for her final Form Six examination papers, she packed her bags and left my house where she had been living while studying in Kuching. The next thing I heard from relatives who saw her Facebook account was that she had married. This niece was born stubborn and over the years, while she was living with me, we had clashed physically and verbally.

To stubborn kids, it is useless for those who are older to say,” I eat more salt than you eat rice.” They will not listen to you now. Maybe they will, one day, when they have grown old and have really eaten more salt. Now, this makes me think of Yen’s father, who is my nephew. Decades ago, he also lived with me in my house while studying in Kuching.

I have welcomed so many nephews and nieces whose parents live in other towns or who come from broken families that some of these nephews and nieces jokingly nickname my house “an orphanage for kids”. I have also welcomed so many abandoned dogs and cats that the boys and girls have also nicknamed my house “the SSPCA”.

Like my niece who rushed off to marry, Yen’s father also did not continue his studies after completing Form Five at a top school in Kuching. He was a good student and excelled in Mathematics and Science. What a waste! While waiting for the official Form Five public examinations to come out, he worked as a salesman. He earned so much money, probably for the first time in his life, that he opted to quit school. Nothing that my late brother, Seng, and I said could make him change his mind. I remember Seng crying one day after an emotional meeting with Yen’s father.

That heart wrenching memory will stay with me until the day I die. My nephew then was in his late teens and very stubborn. Later, he left Sarawak to work as a salesman in Peninsular Malaysia and we did not get to see until he married a co-worker and Yen was born. Initially, my nephew made a lot of money as salesman. He became rich but one day, suddenly because of the bad influence of the people he befriended, he lost all his money. Now, he is a changed man and realises the importance of having a good education, preferably a degree from a top university.That is why perhaps he is encouraging his daughter, Yen, to go to university and get a useful degree.

Life is full of ups and downs. Sometimes, I believe we have to experience bad things to appreciate the good ones that enter our lives. In rural Sarawak, life is changing for the better for many villagers because of education. Their children’s education. Education is breaking the cycle of poverty the villagers and their children were born into and providing them with opportunities they never thought possible. Education has also broken the cycle of poverty my parents and siblings were experiencing. When Yen completes her university studies in two or three years’ time, I am sure life will be even better not only for her family but also for close relatives like me. If you are a student and you happen to be reading my column today, don’t think of other things. Just study hard and excel in your studies. A better future surely awaits you.