Here’s My Why: Louis Puah of Praxium Education
We asked Louis to tell us a bit about his life story — because why is he so interested in education, anyway?
His first piece of advice helped us to tackle the idea of ‘passion’ in young people’s lives. Perhaps it’s always been thought that “passion” is a fluffy concept, is something that we strive for but never manage to get — but Louis’ words illuminated the idea that passion is a disposition that one can exhibit, that it takes different steps to attain that outcome.
“You need to be willing to do the hard thing, do the difficult choices, learn the challenging skills, because that’s how you exhibit passion.” Settling back in his chair, we can’t help but remain in awe at how his grasp of the tension between careers and passion rings out clearly in his explanation, as clearly as his passion for education rings out through our conversation.
“I went to Stanford in my early-twenties. In California, when I attended competitions, hackathons, these programming contests, I was amazed to see that there were so many teens. They were 12, 13, 14 years old participating alongside people who were adults and professionals. They were not just participating, they were winning. These 14 year olds would win a competition from Facebook and Google over adults and university graduates. I thought how amazing it is, that young people today with access to online resources, mentors, and people who can guide them, can actually achieve such great things.”
Singaporean kids deserve so much more. They deserve to get these learning opportunities. After all, we are supposedly the best education system in the world.
“Here’s the thing — I didn’t feel lousy about having my [“university-level”] skills be matched by a thirteen, fourteen year old kid. What I felt was awe, I moved away from feeling lousy about it and instead felt amazed by how talented and capable youth are!” His eyes start to glimmer as he recounts his interactions with the young competitors. “In fact, I really wanted to redirect my energy to illuminating their futures.”
Louis leans across the table, lunch abandoned, and continues. “It’s this idea of how our youth are this level of amazing now, and how regardless of whether they take some conventional pathway or not, they would grow up to develop these skill-sets and be at an even higher level of awesome!” As he speaks, we can’t help but be grateful for the fact that his passion and energy has been sent to the right place. “What we’re not asking for is kids to take a different career for the sake of it being unconventional and different.
What we’re looking at is helping youth discover and engage with their passions as they grow up, so that they progress to an even higher level of awesome in that specific area or field. In fact, they can be awesome at multiple fields, in different careers! I wanted to support them; I wanted to first introduce youth to these experiences that they can find their passion in.
The students who we coach, they gain access to this exclusive group where we match them up, one-to-one, with successful industry professionals as well as changemakers, so that we can help accelerate their growth.” We bring up an article written just this week on local news, which highlights one of the top university’s ventures into relying more on holistic development and independent learning metrics as opposed to solely academic grades. Louis crosses his legs, seemingly deep in thought, before a smile breaks out over his face. “Yeah, actually”, he begins, “that’s what we’ve known for awhile, and expected to happen.
A lot more universities are changing the way they admit students, and that is aligned with how companies hire. They’re starting to look at track experience, work experience, that students actually have. In terms of Praxium, we’re already running a bunch of programmes that help students understand what kind of careers they might be interested in. What we’re trying to do more now with families, with parents and their children is to take a look at your kid, and what they are interested in.”
Before we can broach the topic of what if the kid doesn’t know what he/she wants, he grins reassuringly. “We know, many of them cannot tell you what they’re interested in. Which is why we design these essential experiential learning programmes, hoping to mitigate at least the factor of lack of exposure and experience that might severely hinder youth from feeling confident in undiscovered passions.”
There is movement in the Praxium office, as co-worker Darryl approaches the island of desks. We hear him murmur about “project-based” learning, and Louis picks up on this, swiftly introducing us to their novel approach. “Beyond discovering their interests, we explore how you [youth] can create real products from that.” He tilts his laptop over to us, flicking open a few tabs. What is he doing? After a few seconds, he settles on one window and nudges us to look. It’s a guide he created from scratch for students who are looking for tips on how to write resumes and organise their portfolio. “How do you create your portfolio based on these interests? We help them do that, we engage them in the process of creating a tangible item, product and learning experience that they can pencil into their papers.” As we scroll through his guide, the wind ruffles his hair. It changes pattern, it changes style — unlike the world today, where labour patterns undergo rapid change, where industries collapse and emerge from corporate debris.
He ends off with a wry grin, “We want to empower every individual to write their own story — their own success story.”
With that, we’ve found the end-quote for this story, but follow the story with Praxium right here, right now.