Taylor’sphere, and the future of learning – Raihan Hadi in conversation with Ben Foo

taylor'sphere ben foo raihan hadi

The commercialisation of education has, in the past decade or two, created a translucent wall between learning and actual practice that we have probably forgotten how to relate the two. 

Don’t get me wrong, the goodwill and wisdom of teachers is at the apex of my list of things to respect, but how many of us can actually put a hand on our chest and say that what we learned during our time at the university is exactly what we ended up doing to the best of our potential?

If you fall under the “yay” group, you’re very fortunate, those in the “nay” group, I’ve got news for you.

I’ve recently discovered the existence of an ecosystem that amazed me with it’s simple yet timeless approach to learning and its applications in the real world. 

Having studied in 3 different countries in my lifetime up until my Masters, I thought I was done with institutions and then Taylor’sphere appeared from behind that cloud with a silver lining.

Taylor’sphere is, in my humble opinion, the first of its kind educational ecosystem right here in Malaysia that does what educational institutions are meant to do, i.e. provide an optimum environment for students to learn different theoretical and practical aspects of not just what they are passionate about, but also equips them what they need to succeed whilst following through with those passions to the best of their capabilities.

Without further ado, I would like to invite you to learn more about Taylor’sphere from one of the bright minds behind the whole thing – Ben Foo, Group Chief Marketing Officer at Taylor’s University.

Tell us a bit about the Taylor’sphere ecosystem and the inspiration behind it.

It is the atmosphere that has been created within the whole Taylor’s education ecosystem. For a brand that has been around for over 50 years, there are many things that we have done correctly when it comes to education.

The university is widely recognised in Malaysia, and according to the QS rankings it’s not only ranked number 1 in Malaysia, but in Southeast Asia as well. We are ranked 53 in Asia in the latest QS Asia University Rankings 2022.

Our Taylor’s brand is synonymous with academic excellence and top student achievements. And that is great. It has been good for the brand for decades since Taylor’s College establishment in 1969, but over time, as we experience with the current generation of students and even parents, a question often pops up – “What makes Taylor’s great and for what larger purpose do we serve?” 

Academic excellence and producing top students are important but it is now regarded as basic hygiene for choosing a good university. It is expected, not the differentiator.

Taylor'sphere Campus
Taylor’s Campus

Looking at it from the marketing perspective, I wanted to understand what makes Taylor’s so unique, and it’s this ecosystem within Taylor’s that recognises and celebrates the accomplishments of each individual student and alumnus.

There are some who are very intellectual, some very creative, while some are usually known to be “street smart”, and then you realise that there are these different profiles of intelligence. Trying to frame it all up has been our pursuit over the last five years since I came on board.

I was inspired by a book that I read two and a half years ago by Charles Handy called “21 Letters on Life and its Challenges”. The author refers to some work done by Dr. Howard Gardner who is a Professor of Psychology at Harvard, as well as the wisdom of Aristotle, who during his time had discovered key inclinations of people and identified 3 key intelligences which are, in Greek – episteme (intellect or theoretical), phronesis (wisdom or practical) and techne (technical knowledge).

With the Taylor’s ecosystem,we realised that we have an infrastructure in place that celebrates individuals from all of these 3 aspects of intelligence.

So being inspired by the book, along with what I know to be true, came about the pursuit of framing it up together. And when we spoke with students, with whom we spend a lot of time, we realised that they’re really very well rounded, and not just from an academic perspective – they are street smart. They learn by leadership, they learn about self-awareness, they generate great ideas as well as finding ways to create something tangible out of those ideas.

What are the major components of Taylor’sphere that differentiate it from conventional education?

So I have already spoken about the core intelligence criteria and the framing up of all three types. 

Given how the Taylor’sphere ecosystem nurtures all of these, I like to refer to it as a greenhouse. If you were to imagine how a greenhouse works, the best example would be of those in the Netherlands, a country famous for their tulips despite their harsh weather conditions and climate. The Netherlands has massive greenhouses all over the country where they nurture and grow beautiful tulips that are famous around the world.

The size of the greenhouse, how much light it allows in, the soil used, the layout of the irrigation, the water systems, the temperature inside, the timing of when water flows into the soil –  everything is intentional and works together to create the best ATMOSPHERE for the plants.

With this example in mind, Taylor’s is the greenhouse. The seed are our students who grow to become mature and fruitful in the intentional atmosphere that we create. We see ourselves as gardeners that keep the greenhouse operating and nourishing, nurturing the students to become the best they can be.

This environment we have is a very intentional atmosphere aimed at making students realise their full potentials and get ready to take on the practical world. They learn to immerse themselves into problems and come out with amazing solutions.

Moreover, we have a structured approach and the infrastructure to address each of the 3 different types of intelligences.

Starting with Intellectual intelligence, we have the Taylor’s curriculum framework. This is our academic framework in which students will be able to pick up the knowledge and skills not just within one subject, but across various subjects thanks to the opportunity to mix and match their modules and as well as dabble in multidisciplinary projects.  .

For instance, any student from an engineering background can pursue modules in Psychology, whilst another from a business background can pursue modules in technology.

What we do here is expose students to a broader spectrum of learning, take them outside their comfort zones in order to help them understand the world from a wider perspective – they acquire problem solving skills, and learn about critical thinking, the evaluation and synthesis of data, integration of all information at hand and make more informed decisions in life and work.

Then there’s Creative intelligence. We understand that not everyone discovers their creativity, or has the same talents. This is why we provide the opportunity where they can discover their hidden talents.

Prototyping at the Taylor'sphere Me.reka Makerspace
Prototyping at the Taylor’sphere Me.reka Makerspace
me.reka makerspace taylor'sphere
taylor'sphere bizpod
Mentoring at BizPod

For example, if a student has an idea that can be commercialised, they can take it to the Taylor’s Me.reka Makerspace (TMM), which is a physical space in our campus. It might be that they want to make smart umbrella machines, and the team will work with the student to develop a prototype.

There’s another component called Bizpod, and it is our own startup incubator. Here we work with that student to help them develop a business plan using the prototype to create a commercially viable product, along with creating a good pitch followed by preparing them to approach investors for funding.

This is how we make a student feel supported and not alone, worrying about doing it all on their own, as they are also getting access to advisors and mentors.

For Practical intelligence, we have included compulsory life skills modules that each student has to take from Year One.

Under life skills, we have embedded topics such as emotional intelligence, multicultural communication, mindfulness, design thinking and more, thus helping students grow in confidence.

We see these skills reflected in our alumni, who are leaders in various public and private sectors.

So to me it seems like Taylor’sphere is like a shell that is constantly making pearls out of grains of sand in the ocean, would you say that analogy is correct?

That is actually a great way of putting it! Yes, Taylor’s provides that sort of safe environment where even under tremendous pressure the rough edges get polished up with care, thus forming smooth, shiny pearls.

You could also relate it to the formation of diamonds from coal, since we help shape the students from all angles so they don’t go out to the world with a cookie cutter degree, but armed with the knowledge of how things work practically.

This is why 99% of our graduates get employed immediately upon graduation. We stand 16th in the world for the Graduate Employment Rate indicator in the QS Graduate Employability Rankings 2022, which I think speaks volumes about our success.

What are your plans for Taylor’sphere for the upcoming year?

Our plans for Taylor’sphere goes back to and involves our core, that is our enriched community of students. We are very fortunate to have a great community of students who build and expand our network.

Moving forward we want to be able to tell more stories about this community of students who, especially during the last one year, have embodied the slogan – Rise with the Best. This is a reflection of our amazing alumni that provide support to our current students.

Through their stories, we want to show Malaysians that every student has their own struggle, and we have seen how especially during this pandemic our community of students have come out much stronger by supporting each other.

We want to recognise these struggles and continue to be the platform that supports them as an inclusive entity.

Can you tell our readers about a few success stories (projects) by the students of Taylor’sphere?

Certainly! To begin with, one of our students built a parking app named ARRIVO that uses AI as a tool. By doing so, it helps cameras at parking spaces identify license plates and automates the payment processes. ARRIVO is now valued at RM5 million.

A more recent one is the DuckiePi learning device developed by our Engineering students and the TMM team. This device functions like a CPU powered by the Raspberry Pi, a single board computer the size of a credit card, and is aimed at solving a problem that many B40 school-going children have been facing during the pandemic – not having a PC.

bernard yap duckie pi
Bernard Yap, one of the main student creators of Duckie Pi
The Duckie Pi

The DuckiePi has all the functions needed for an online class, including Google Suites applications, Zoom, and camera functions, and uses an interface similar to ChromeBook.. The best part about it is the affordability. A single unit of this device costs only RM 500.

They decided to call it the DuckiePi, as the lake surrounding our campus has many ducks (our mascot), and the fact that it is powered by the Raspberry Pi.

We have been able to provide 158 of these devices thus far to underprivileged children in several communities, and currently we are working with our corporate sponsors to be able to provide more.

For more information on Taylor’sphere, visit https://uni.taylors.edu.my/taylorsphere/

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