Thursday, December 1, 2011

Beyond the classroom By AMINUDDIN MOHSIN

As a boutique design institution, Saito College has carved a niche for itself by offering relevant courses and the chance to learn directly from its industry partners.

BETWEEN conducting research, completing assignments, attending lectures and tutorials as well as participating in extra-curricular activities, it is perfectly reasonable to gauge a college student’s enthusiasm towards his studies by how much time he spends on campus. But at Saito College, students are expected to be away from the classroom as much as possible.
This is because classes are conducted elsewhere. Saito College principal Ooi Chee Kok explains that its close ties with the design industry enables the industry members themselves to be the college’s teaching partners.
“The teaching and learning happens at the partners’ actual workplace, be it a design studio or office.
Brushing up: A student working on her painting in a studio on campus.
“This ‘real-life’ setting gives the students a glimpse into what the working world is like, so they can acquire the proper skills and work ethic,” he says.
The status of teaching partner and their premises as industry classrooms is commemorated by certificates hung on the walls of the college’s lobby.
“The certificates you see on these walls are our industry partners who’ve decided to become our teaching partners.
“The benefit of this arrangement is that there is no lack of attention from the students because they enjoy hearing what professionals in their field have to say,” says Ooi.
Providing our students with the best opportunity to showcase their skills and creative talents is what we strive for. - OOI CHEE KOK
Furthermore, students at the college are expected to make full use of the opportunities provided by the college for self expression by organising their own design exhibitions, roadshows, festivals and various events.
“Providing our students with the best opportunity to showcase their skills and creative talents is what we strive for. That is why we hold so many events.
“It is a recognition of their capabilities and it allows their creative juices to flow,” says Ooi, adding that the initiative the students put in to organise events and exhibitions is something the college is proud of.
Far from being self-indulgent affairs, the students’ art exhibitions serve to give them a greater insight into the industry and kickstart their careers, even before they graduate.
“Their exhibitions usually attract all kinds of attention. Sometimes this leads to guest appearances by very prominent artists,” says Ooi.
“This further enhances the students’ talents and skills by giving them an insight into the art of accomplished artists from different countries,” he adds.
New outlook
It has been around since 1988, steadily establishing its reputation as a boutique design school, and producing over 6,000 graduates in the process. Now, Saito College is looking to update its image and present itself as a more approachable, people-based institution, says Ooi.
Ooi explains that the rebranding exercise includes a better introduction to the college’s staff through direct engagement and write-ups in its course booklets.
“We want our staff to be accessible to students and parents and we’re going to position them that way,” he says.
“Our course booklets are more comprehensive now and we’ve highlighted our staff and students better. We put a ‘face’ to the whole thing to build familiarity.
“Hopefully this helps prospective students and parents who are interested in our college to get a better picture of what it’s all about,” Ooi explains.
As a design college that constantly pushes its students to think out of the box, the institution is used to unconventional thinking, but one of the more unorthodox decisions was to introduce a course on security.
Ooi shares that security is one of the fastest growing sectors in Malaysia which needs its fair share of trained professionals. As such, the college took the initiative and decided to enter the market by offering diplomas in security management.
“The security industry has been expanding and needs professionals to fill the shoes of certain positions within their organisations.
“With Datuk Kamaruddin Mohd Ismail, former Malaysia Airports Bhd security and safety senior general manager at the helm, we have an edge,” he says.
Kamaruddin is a senior lecturer at Saito College and is also the college’s business development director, says Ooi.
“With his expertise and advice, we decided to go into this field and set up our Security Management Academy,” he adds.
Kamaruddin explains that the security sector is more important than ever and training new blood to fill up the industry’s openings is crucial.
“These days security is a key important for all kinds of different businesses. It is no longer limited to monetary institutions and public transportation hubs.
“If you look carefully, security is everywhere. The retail sector uses quite a bit of security in malls and so do hospitals,” he says.
Kamaruddin has 34 years of experience serving in the Royal Malaysian Police at district, state and headquarters levels. He retired as police deputy commissioner. His experience includes criminal investigation, special branch, narcotics, training, lecturing, research and planning.
With such an extensive background, it is little wonder that Kamaruddin knows law enforcement and security.
Normally, the only way to get training in security would be by joining the armed forces or law enforcement agencies, shares Kamaruddin.
“But Saito provides an alternative through the courses available in our Security Management Academy,” he says.
“The subjects taught are industry relevant and relates to real-life situations which are very important in the business of security.”
Independent students
Ooi shares that the college holds a “non-stringent” attitude towards its students, offering a lot of leniency in terms of modules and allowing them to set their own pace for their studies.
“Our students here in Saito College are a very independent lot. Most of them are holding down part-time jobs while pursuing their diplomas here,” he says.
With flexible classes and the option of picking and choosing their credit hours for each semester, students have nothing to worry about if they opt to work while studying, he adds.
“This is especially true for the Security Management Academy, as many of the students were already working when they decided to take up the course.
“But we are happy with this development and hope to be able to continually cater to the changing needs of students by adapting ourselves,” he says.
Saito College is a contributor to the Star Education fund

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