THREE years ago, I was invited by Teach For Malaysia (TFM) to teach English for a day at a Form Four class in Kapar, Selangor. I was excited to return to the classroom and do my part.
Back when I was in secondary school, our days were led by fiery teachers who demanded our best. We were asked to read a lot of story books and novels to keep up with the pace the teachers set.
Spending the day at Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Tengku Idris Shah showed me a lot needs to be done to get today’s students up to mark. They struggled to understand basic English as I read to them and got them to speak up.
But all was not lost. The ray of sunshine came in the form of an extraordinary TFM Fellow, Jasmine Ong, who was the class English teacher. Under her tutelage, the students were energised and excited to learn. She became to me, the example of what the young are capable of in making a palpable difference in a classroom.
Jasmine shared my belief that reading is the key to many great things. With that, I provided the students with a challenge – a prize will be given to the student who read the most number of English books that year.
One student, Sarmeela, who spoke mainly Tamil and Bahasa Malaysia, took up the challenge with stride to read 23 English books that year. As promised, I treated her, her best friend and her father to dinner at Grand Hyatt, Kuala Lumpur.
TFM was conceived, and is driven, by a group of admirable young Malaysians led by Dzameer Dzulkifli to contribute towards reducing education inequity in the country. Similar to other Teach For All partners across the globe, TFM sends carefully selected and trained Fellows to teach in high-need schools, especially among communities that face socioeconomic challenges. The goals are simple – increase student achievement by helping students discover their passion for learning and excellence.
For the Fellows, TFM hones them for leadership roles. They receive valuable on-the-job training managing students, dealing with peers and problem-solving. Many dedicate at least two years to this programme and then move on to the corporate sector. Some of them stay on as teachers out of sheer passion for education.
The idea is to give them a real chance to be part of the solution rather than to just be armchair critics.
It is this spirit that attracted the Ministry of Education (MOE) to support TFM. MOE pays the salaries of TFM Fellows and also provides support in various other forms such as the provision of teaching accreditation to TFM Fellows.
TFM today is ready to scale up. It wants to move into more rural districts – this year marks its first foray into Sarawak. There are currently Fellows serving in areas such as Subis and the outskirts of Miri.
Of course, such an ambitious plan of action means its costs will rise. Logistics and travel will become more expensive. While MOE continues to do its part, TFM needs greater financial help.
Corporate Malaysia, this is where you step in.
TFM is catalytic in improving the quality of talents for our future. Initiatives such as TFM – should they be able to reach critical mass – will lead to a larger feedstock of quality human capital to your benefit.
I urge Malaysian corporate companies to think of the long-term advantages and pitch in. There are two ways you can be part of this:
> Allow your young employees to join TFM and sponsor them for the specific duration. The experience will fast-track their leadership learning and your organisation will be the biggest gainer.
> You can extend financial support to TFM to help it meet its goals to reach out to more schools and more students.
To me, the most inspiring point about this crop of graduates is that they choose to be doers. Instead of complaining about faults within the system, they get actively involved to solve problems by working with the existing curriculum.
TFM is now one of the projects under the Economic Transformation Programme’s Education National Key Economic Area (NKEA). And we are here to support them to get private sector collaboration to build further impetus for its growth.
On my part, I have donated RM50,000 from my limited senator’s fund for TFM, and my people at Pemandu strongly support the organisation’s #RedCampaign, a public fund-raising campaign which aims to raise RM2.5mil by March 31.
Education is very close to my heart. If we get it right, we will organically resolve all kinds of social ills to create a more equal and balanced society.
TFM is doing its part. But it cannot do this alone. The private sector must step in to support in any way it can to make a positive difference in the education of our children.
For more information about the #RedCampaign and Teach For Malaysia, please visit www.redcampaign.my or www.teachformalaysia.org
Datuk Seri Idris Jala is CEO of Pemandu, the Performance Management and Delivery Unit, and Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department. Fair and reasonable comments are most welcome at email@example.com