Educating the underprivileged

Alina says different kids learn differently so there is a need to diversify the one-size-fits-all assessment.

UNDERPRIVILEGED kids who have fallen through the cracks will get another shot at learning, thanks to Arus Academy.

The social enterprise that provides after-school classes where students actively solve problems by building and creating their own physical and digital solutions, will set up a school next year.

“We’re setting up a full-fledged school based on the national syllabus instead of just doing after school classes.

“We’ll be integrating different communities in the school – undocumented children, urban poor, and the middle class, all together in one small centre in Kuala Lumpur.

“It’ll be run like a proper school. If we can make this work, then we can expand the project, ” Arus Academy co-founder Alina Amir told StarEdu on Tuesday.

Some 15 to 20 kids who are either not in school at the moment, or are struggling to cope in the current education system, will be the first batch of Arus students.

A half-a-million ringgit has been budgeted to set up the school and get good, committed teachers.

Arus is also looking at a cross subsidisation model where those who can afford it contribute something to subsidising the rest, she said, adding that the community and corporations can support the initiative either by contributing funds or expertise.

“We welcome collaborations. Those with the expertise can come look at our curriculum, and the way we build our lessons so that we can make learning more relevant to the real world.

“A data scientists for example, can tell us if what we’re teaching is what their industry needs.”

Arus classes at its spaces in Bukit Mertajam, Penang, and Shah Alam are free. Almost all students are from underprivileged backgrounds. The classes are funded by corporations working with Arus.

“We don’t profit because whatever we make is used to sustain the team and spaces we operate in.

“Our team in Penang conducts long-term programmes to increase community participation, while the KL team, which runs mainly short-term programmes, works with corporate partners to be sustainable.

Arus Academy has come a long way since winning the inaugural Star Golden Hearts Award. Launched by the Star Media Group in 2015 and supported by Yayasan Gamuda, the award recognises unsung heroes who are dedicated to helping those in need and promote unity among Malaysians.

Arus is currently conducting its ‘Powerful Lesson Initiative’ at four national schools – a pilot project to create meaningful and relevant lessons in classrooms by using the national syllabus to solve global issues.

Malaysia’s national curriculum is amazing but the problem is in the delivery, she said.

“For example, students learn about the Ice Age in History class, but we should also teach them about climate change, ” she said, adding that the Arus team worked on creating lessons around subjects taught in schools and trained teachers on how to make their delivery more powerful.

Full lesson plans with worksheets will be available as open source so any school or teacher who wants to pick it up can do so for free by the end of the year.

Alina said many students are interested in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) but opt not to take these subjects fearing that they won’t score in the exams.

“Most of our kids who do well in robotics, coding and programming, are in the Arts stream. It breaks my heart because they’re clearly good at STEM but because they cannot pass the papers, they don’t want to take the subjects.

“Different kids learn differently so we have to diversify our one-size-fits-all assessment, ” she said.

To improve the education system, we also need to better support and take care of our teachers, she said.

Earlier, speaking at the Khazanah Megatrends Forum 2019, she said our assessment is still not comprehensive enough to bring out the potential of our students.

The Actuarial Science graduate, 31, who left her job as an analyst at a multi-national firm to join Teach For Malaysia in 2012, found that the mainstream approach of teaching and learning was not engaging, and not reflective of real world experiences.

As a result, kids, especially the underprivileged, were still unable to read despite being in secondary school.

“The future of education and our nation, depends on how inclusive we are, ” she said.

Urging Malaysians with different strengths and backgrounds to “go back to school” and see what they can offer teachers and students, she said collective nation building requires the playing field for education to be levelled.

“We need an education system that enables all kinds of students, and we must be brave enough to make big changes.”

For details on Arus Academy, visit

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