Thursday, September 24, 2020

Inside Botswana?s most radical experiment in college education

Dressed up mannequins and huge wall paintings sound like must have artifacts for a clothing boutique rather than features of a university campus. Batswana students registering for classes at Limkokwing University College, one of two private universities that opened in Gaborone last week, however, found themselves strolling through wall to wall paintings and mannequins dressed in black outfits.

For an unconventional man in search of a life less ordinary, the appeal associated with such artistic extravagance must have seemed irresistible. Malaysian multi-millionaire educationist, Tan Sri Dr Lim Kok Wing, insisted that the college be designed with dressed up mannequins, wall to wall drawings and other artistic props.

The pint sized President of Limkokwing University College, who has attracted international media, has received labels such as ?branding maestro, communications guru, artist and cartoonist? is about an hour late for our appointment. With his slight frame and self effacing manner, it?s tempting to see Lim Kok Wing as one of his cartoon characters. As he shuffles out of his office in black Louis Vutton loafers, dressed in all black, he looks every inch the unconventional educationist he is. He says things like ?students should be allowed the freedom to express themselves in every sense of the word, including their dressing. I just feel that you need not be stereotyped. You don?t see me wearing a tie, but I am still president of the Limkokwing University College. I think you should be what you want to be but respectful. To know what you are all about is important.?

Blinking behind his trademark thick rimmed spectacles he apologizes and tells me how he spent the whole morning being spirited from one meeting to another, before ushering me into a spacious office with all black furniture.

His favorite words are innovation and creativity. ?Just look around and you will see that Limkokwing College is unlike any college you have seen.

Limkokwing is a unique kind of learning centre. We create an environment that helps students acquire the creative mindset in order to create the character of innovation. In this campus, thousands of young people will sharpen their skills, hone their talents and learn to think creatively. The most successful nations in the world are also the most innovative and there can be no innovation without creativity,? he says.

Lim Kok Wing, who has spent a lot of time traveling, says, ?Traveling opened my eyes to education designed for developing countries.

Everywhere I went, I noticed it wasn?t about not being able to afford education but not being able to afford a good education. Good to them meant a British education,? he explains, a concept that still has him stumped.

?The whole purpose of universities is to inspire people. It?s an artist?s environment. Even if you are not an artist, you will become like that. You will become quite discerning. It?s a place where you do not need to go into a classroom to learn.?

He was quoted in one of Malaysia?s publications saying, ?We put a lot of emphasis on personalizing development and talent. It?s not about getting a degree. We promote freedom of expression on campus. People should be the way they are, not the way we want them to be. They must be happy and expressive. It is for the student to become the person he wants to be. That is my focus. It is very lifestyle. I want to build a place where young people would be happy going to class everyday. Education mustn?t be dull and boring. Studying must be fun.?

As the Limkokwing College in Gaborone settles down after a hectic students? opening day schedule the previous day, Lim Kok Wing believes the report card says, ?So far so good.? He thumbs through a clutch of photos shot during the opening session and lingers at one that captured a throng of beaming faces smiling out at the world. ?It went very well. The atmosphere was very vibrant. This place was jam packed. There were about 1400 students some pressed against the rails of the upper floor looking down at the ground floor where it was all happening.?

Lim Kok Wing, who has devoted his entire lifetime to creativity and innovation, has been acknowledged as ?one of Asia?s best creative minds for a long time now.? He is not a man to do things by halves. Not content with building one of Malaysia?s biggest advertising agencies, he is now looking to change the landscape of global industry with his radical education system.

One Asian newspaper wrote that through his university college, now an organization of international renown, Lim Kok Wing has managed to involve young people in events and activities of national and often international interest. ?Believing in thinking big, he has always focused on producing global graduates who are able to take on the world in helping to propel the country ahead in the 21st century.?

He takes me on a guided tour of the university. The campus at Fairground Mall in Gaborone is so eye poppingly colourful he could get away with calling it an art exhibition and charging admission.

The corridors, adorned with wall to wall drawings, are filled with cheerful figures: Staff members dressed in all black chatting animatedly; students in jeans and trendy dresses clutching bags bulging with books, linger along the campus corridors, taken up with the extravagant display of drawings; down at the far end knots of young men and women strolling past imac computers on desks blinking from behind huge glass windows are laughing among themselves, probably unaware that they are part of Botswana?s most radical experiment in college education.

Limkokwing University College presents a paradigm shift in the way Botswana?s college learning is conducted. The radical shake up comes across as a breath of fresh air from traditional campus culture where even the most bright eyed of students finds the everyday life between the first and last period a tad humdrum. Instead, Limkokwing University College seeks to create a campus life that gets student?s creative juices flowing.

As we enter the reception hall, the first things that catch my attention are the 21 wall clocks overlooking the main entrance. Each clock tells the time in a different time zone of the world. ?This is meant to encourage our students to relate to the whole world, to ensure that they are always conscious that they are part of the whole world. I say to the kids, ?before you leave, you should have friends from 50 countries?,? he says. That is easy at Limkokwing University considering that the next room houses the campus electronic library. This gives students access to 25 000 journals and 20 000 books. It is linked to the university in Malaysia and is in the process of being linked to partner universities in Britain and Australia. ?This encourages students to interact with their peers in those parts of the world?. As we crossed the reception into the adjoining room, we pass an arrangement of Botswana flags. ?Limkokwing College is a unique learning centre that encourages patriotism,? Lim Kok Wing explains, adding that their learning is industry driven. ?We will be inviting captains of industry from tourism, manufacturing, media e.t.c for talks with students so that the college responds to industry?s needs.?

We end our tour at the exhibition centre where designs adorn the wall, among them colorful drawings of packagings designed to package fruit juices, tea leaves, soft drinks e.t.c designed by Limkokwing students. At the centre is a clutch of mannequins dressed up in black outfits and slinging bags from their shoulders ? all designs of students from the Limkokwing College.

Ironically, this man, who has established one of the best private universities in the world, never finished school, mainly because the system didn?t challenge him enough. ?Those days were boring. It?s not like it is today. The school was strict.?

The Limkokwing College in Gaborone offers associate degrees in furniture design, advertising, graphic design, fashion and apparel design, merchandising design, web design, creative multimedia, digital video, videography, creative writing, Broadcasting (TV & Radio) public relations, TV and film production, set and theatre design, interior design, retail design and management, tourism management, retail management, software engineering and business information systems.

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