In search of ‘Ilham’

STUDYING for a major public exam can feel like a solitary undertaking, more so during a raging pandemic that has kept students and teachers from face-to-face interaction.

But thanks to a group of resourceful Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) 2020 candidates, close to 200,000 of their peers had a platform to fall back on not only for study materials, but also emotional support.

Tangible results: Syabil Ilham Syah said his exam performance came from his active role of assisting other students in their SPM preparations.Tangible results: Syabil Ilham Syah said his exam performance came from his active role of assisting other students in their SPM preparations.

And as Syabil Ilham Syah Syahrul Fithri has experienced firsthand, extending a helping hand to others can in turn bring forth visible results for oneself.

Fondly known as Syabel among his friends, the 18-year-old scored 8A+ and 1A in the SPM 2020 and he attributes his performance to his role in thespmnetic, a platform offering notes, online classes and exercises for students needing extra help in their exam preparations.

“I was at the bottom of my school’s ranking before I got the Best Student award for my SPM trial exam. I improved this much because of my efforts to assist others, which helped me to learn new things in return,” he told StarEdu.

As one of the vice presidents of the student-led initiative, he was responsible for seeking out collaboration opportunities with non-profit organisations to provide the followers on the platform with motivational talks, and to reach out to more teachers and tutors who were able to conduct online lessons for free.

It all began early last year when he chanced upon a Twitter post from thespmnetic founder Siti Faruz Damia, who was looking to recruit volunteers for the cause.

Intrigued by the idea of sharing knowledge with a wide network of students, the former student of Mara Junior Science College (MRSM) Tun Ghafar Baba, Melaka, decided to join the effort.

“We were all Form Five students and came from various parts of Malaysia – from Kedah to Sabah and fully residential schools to vocational colleges. Almost none of us knew each other,” he recalled.

As part of the committee laying the groundwork for thespmnetic, set up on March 19, 2020, Syabel shared that their immediate aim was to provide students nationwide with easy access to free study materials online amid the enforcement of the first movement control order.

“Many students were feeling down due to a lack of resources as they had left their books in school,” he said, adding,

“We also realised that online learning provided by schools was not sufficient for students from less fortunate families who couldn’t afford tuition and extra resources.”

To address the issue, the group made online classes and tutoring services available for free for their followers who, he said, were mostly from B40 families.

The platform soon gained traction, with overwhelming response from students, he revealed, taking the founding members by surprise.

This led to the expansion of the platform from just a handful of Telegram channels to other social media sites such as Twitter, Instagram and TikTok, each drawing thousands of followers.

The growth was supported by 55 student administrators who were responsible for designing, compiling, vetting and uploading study materials for the over 25 SPM subjects featured on the platform.

Recognising that an interactive element was crucial to sustain the virtual network, the group opened up communication channels for students to ask questions, post feedback, discuss issues, and socialise with each other.

“This was possible through our Telegram discussion group and Discord server which had hundreds of active users joining the voice channel every night,” he said.

Having observed the students’ active participation, Syabel advocates the benefits of peer learning.

“Many of our followers are comfortable having people their age tutor them. They are motivated to study after finding study pals through the platform,” he said, describing such learning as “effective, informative and less intense”.

Syabel himself found that the method worked for him, especially since he had missed social interactions in school for the better part of last year.

“I decided to combine my social time and study time through a study group. It is totally fun to learn with your friends as it keeps you engrossed. Studying can be mundane for many, including me,” he said.When asked if he recommends web-based instruction post-pandemic, he, however, appears to be in favour of traditional classroom learning.

“The most affected from this pandemic are from B40 families as they can hardly afford electronic devices and good Internet coverage,” he reasoned, adding that the impact of online learning is adverse for everyone regardless of their backgrounds.

“Problems arise from family issues, solitude and distractions at home. You will never feel immersed in learning in an online setting as you would in a physical classroom,” he said.

Syabel is also of the view that learning should not be based on the school curriculum alone, but should emphasise more on soft skills.

“We are trying to grow as humans, not robots,” said the Petaling Jaya native who hopes to land a scholarship to study economics at the London School of Economics in the United Kingdom.

Reflecting on his journey throughout the past year, Syabel is thankful that he did not give up his involvement when the going got tough.

“There were times where I questioned whether it would all be worth it,” he conceded.

Having gained a sense of fulfilment from helping others, he dreams of one day establishing his own foundation to fund education for the underprivileged.

In the meantime, he said he will continue supporting thespmnetic through his role, while at the same time fostering teamwork and altruism among the student volunteers.

He shared that the committee has recruited a pool of SPM 2021 candidates as administrators as they are familiar with the new education syllabus known as the Standard-Based Curriculum for Secondary Schools (KSSM).

“We plan to improve the quality of our study materials and implement a more consistent posting schedule.“In the long run, we hope to collaborate with bigger organisations and institutions to support our effort,” he said.To access the student-led platform, go to

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