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Education and Creativity

by Guan Libing

Education and Creativity 1997, updated

Looking at Ken Lyen’s schedule of commitments, one would hardly think that he has the time to breathe. He works an eight-hour day at his clinic, and he squeezes time to attend various meetings. In between his tight schedule, Ken also finds time to write books and musicals. Ken who holds a medical degree from Oxford University, has co-written twelve books mostly on some aspect of child care and education, and thirteen musicals.

His first musical was Big Bang! which was directed by Broadway veteran, Bob Turoff. Big Bang! was staged in July 1995. Since then he has written twelve more musicals.

Ken’s musical interest was probably inherited from his parents. His father, David Lyen, a general practitioner, played the saxophone and was a baritone singer. His late mother, a nurse, played the piano. From the age of three years, Ken began playing the piano, taught by his aunt Esther. At the age of ten he became the protegee of Mr. Goh Soon Tioe, a well-known violin teacher in Singapore.

With his father working in the medical practice, there was little doubt that the youngster would some day follow in his footsteps. Ken said "From young, I had not thought of choosing another profession. Dad is a doctor, and I would be a doctor too."

Incidentally, Ken was born in Hong Kong and he emigrated to Singapore with his family at the age of seven. After studying at a popular school in Singapore, he continued his studies in England, and went on to Oxford University where he obtained his medical degree. This was followed by postgraduate studies in London and Philadelphia. He lectured at the National University of Singapore before setting up his own practice.

What are his views about Singapore’s educational system? The soft-spoken Ken said: "I feel the current obsession with school ranking based purely on academic results is a misleading assessment of our schools, and distorts the educational system because it focuses too heavily on exam results.

"All of us know that exam scores are not the final verdict in assessing one’s capabilities. I feel that exam results cannot guarantee a school leaver’s emotional and financial success in his life and career. And these results would not necessarily make him a better parent or citizen."

Ken’s school has left a deep impression on Ken. "I used to be a rather shy child. At school we had sessions where we were urged to stand up and speak. During these sessions, we could talk on any subject, be it something we had read or experienced.

"I remember such sessions very vividly, because it gave every boy a chance to speak and voice his views. I would say that this has cultivated confidence in me. And it also taught me how to present my ideas to a room full of people. Such skills become very important in adulthood."

Describing himself as an average student, Ken remembers that his classes were filled with fun and creativity. His class was filled with rebels and troublemakers, many of whom are now at the top of their professions.

One classmate, John Tan, commented that Ken was never the type you would find at the basketball court or on the school field. While he was a reluctant sports person, Ken was active in the school orchestra.

School is a good ground for fostering long-lasting friendships. In Ken’s words: "The friends I made at school are possibly the closest to me, compared to friends made in other phases of my life."

Indeed some of the books he coauthored, and musicals he helped produce, have been in collaboration with former classmates. His school also had a strong culture that encouraged the students to serve society. This spurred him to start the Margaret Drive Special School and the Balestier Special School, both of which are now under the Rainbow Centre.

"I saw the need to start an independent program that helps intellectually disabled children, children with autistic spectrum disorder, and children with multiple disabilities. Fortunately we managed to get some experienced overseas staff to train our local teachers."

Ironically, Ken also sits on the opposite camp. He was the former coordinator for Junior Mensa, a club for people with high IQs.

With so many commitments up his sleeves, Ken remains basically very much a family man. He plays tennis twice a week.

He starts the day from 6:30 a.m., sends his youngest child to school, and he does not sleep until the early hours of the morning - those are devoted to writing books, articles, and music.

His hope is that society will become more liberal and tolerant of minority groups. Singapore’s educational system has an important role to play in this regard.