Soft and Hard Skills for a Healthy Life
Uttara Sok, dean of the Faculty of Education at Paññāsāstra University of Cambodia (PUC), has managed a busy schedule since earning his PhD in education management at De La Salle University in 2008. “That PhD program was perfectly designed for educational practitioners,” he says, and in the changing landscape for higher education in Cambodia, there is strong demand for professionals who are knowledgeable about university systems and the means to develop, resource, evaluate, and improve them.
Support from the United Board Faculty Scholarship Program enabled Dr. Uttara to earn his degree, and when he joined PUC in October 2008, he was eager to share the knowledge he had gained in curriculum development. “I initiated three new academic programs,” he said, “namely, the bachelor of education in early childhood education, the master of education in educational administration and leadership, and the doctor of philosophy in educational planning, policy, and management.”
Dr. Uttara also benefited from courses on Lasallian philosophy and leadership ethics, as well as extensive reading of general materials. “I became a well-rounded person who is not a specialist but rather a generalist – a person who is equipped with both soft and hard skills for a healthy life,” he said. That changed his thinking about education. The primary purpose of education, in his view, “is not just to prepare people to make a living but also to lead a happy life,” he said.
Making that goal a reality is challenging in Cambodia. Higher education institutions can be reluctant to introduce liberal arts courses and many students want to focus solely on their majors in preparation for professional careers. Fortunately, at PUC, Dr. Uttara finds an institution committed to forming new scholars, engineers, and scientists while also fostering a spirit of compassion, moral conduct, and respect for human values. This holistic approach is evident in such course offerings as Personal Growth and Development, Logic and Critical Thinking, and Introduction to Ethics. PUC also has embraced a national requirement that all bachelor’s degree programs start with a foundation year composed of four fields of study – social sciences, science, humanities and arts, and foreign languages – in addition to courses oriented toward the student’s major.
Dr. Uttara often is called upon to share expertise with his PUC colleagues, the Accreditation Committee of Cambodia and other policy organizations, research teams, and professional associations. He responds willingly. He continues to build on the foundation he set during his PhD studies when, he says, he “changed profoundly – from a black-and-white perspective person to a grey perspective person who is holistically developed through this wonderful program.”
This article first appeared in the June 2016 issue of Horizons.