Bridging the learning gap

Game for learning: Pupils in a Sarawak school immersed in learning through PPSE.

IT has been a decade since Teach For Malaysia (TFM) placed its first cohort of fellows in schools to bring about change.

Since 2012, TFM – this year’s Merdeka Award recipient under the education and community category – has been placing the country’s most promising leaders as full-time teachers in some of Malaysia’s most high-need schools to combat education inequity through its flagship fellowship programme.

And, in 2020, TFM expanded its reach to train and coach in-service national school science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) teachers through the two-year Program Duta Guru (PDG).

To date, TFM’s movement of 1,046 fellows, PDG teachers and alumni has impacted over 330,285 students in 893 schools nationwide.“Together, we form a collective to create impact across all layers of the education ecosystem,” TFM chief executive officer Chan Soon Seng told StarEdu ahead of the non-governmental organisation’s 10th anniversary celebration in Kuala Lumpur yesterday.

The do, he shared, marked TFM’s journey of growth and its 2030 aspirations.

TFM, he said, is building a movement of leaders to effect immediate and long-term impact on high-need communities across Malaysia.

Through its fellowship programme, TFM recruits individuals with strong competencies and skillsets, to serve in schools that cater to low-income communities. Over 30% of its fellows are from top universities such as Harvard University, Oxford University and Cambridge University, with some 33% coming from companies like IBM, Shell, KPMG and Maybank.

“These fellows, or teacher leaders, experience and understand the structural challenges that hold our most disadvantaged students back.

“They also collaborate with other teachers and community leaders to improve students’ outcomes and leadership.

“Later as TFM alumni, they will collectively drive long-term systemic change from inside and outside the education sector.

“Our alumni also work within the country’s emerging ecosystem of education social enterprises, and play a leading role in ensuring that children and teachers nationwide are supported with online tools and resources during the Covid-19 pandemic.”

This year, the TFM fellows have been placed in high-need communities across underserved regions.

As “co-teachers”, they provide full-time additional support for teachers in national schools, through direct in-class, school-wide and community-wide initiatives, said Chan.

“Our aim is to address learning loss and support the transition from home-based teaching and learning (PdPR) to classroom lessons, for example, by providing targeted instruction that is aligned with students’ current learning levels, small group tutoring, after-school enrichment programmes, and parental engagement and local community initiatives, on top of the in-class support hours.

“Our recent Program Perintis Sekolah Enuma (PPSE), carried out in eight schools across Sabah, Sarawak and Kuala Lumpur, saw a 10% to 12% increase in the number of students who achieved a score of 80% and above for all key skills in Bahasa Melayu, English and Mathematics, and a 10% to 18% decrease in the number of students who scored 0 for these subjects,” he said, adding that the project enabled 643 students, regardless of their abilities or prior knowledge, to access a gamified digital learning application anywhere.

To apply for the fellowship or PDG, log on to (by Oct 30) or email

Making a difference

In conjunction with its 10th anniversary, ex-students of TFM fellows share how these dedicated teachers have helped write their success stories Cikgu Loh Chee Hoo was one of the best teachers I’ve had the honour to learn from. Siti HajarSiti Hajar

He taught me to be myself, to go for what I wanted to do and to believe in myself, especially when no one else would. Fellows like Cikgu Loh inspired me to become a better person and had led me to representing the state at national level archery tournaments since I was 16. While waiting for my Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) results, I lost my direction in life.

Through Project ID, a TFM alumni organisation, I earned my first salary and experienced life as an intern in Kuala Lumpur. It opened my eyes as a ‘kampung girl’ and helped me step out of my comfort zone. Under the mentorship of another fellow Sofea Hafek, I could find a way to move forward again. She would tell me, ‘It doesn’t hurt to try, and what if things go well? We will never know.’ Those words would help me believe in the possibility that ‘impossible opportunities’ are not out of reach.

Siti Hajar

An SMK Pendamaran Jaya, Selangor, alumna and a recipient of the Sunway-TFM Scholarship and the Global Korea Scholarship 2022, Siti Hajar will be pursuing her undergraduate studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul, Korea.

When I was 13, I started working in a restaurant to reduce my mother’s burden. Coming from a low-income family, I grew up without amenities and the only way I could watch TV was through my neighbour’s windows. ShawnShawn

I was in Form Four when I met Cikgu Brian Geh. He was a dedicated teacher who saw my potential in mathematics. Cikgu Brian encouraged me and selected me for a Mathematical Olympiad, which became the first step of inspiration for me to take up accounting in Form Six.

To sustain my studies, I continued working at restaurants during the weekends, and later achieved a 3.75 CGPA. Throughout my studies, Cikgu Brian stayed in touch. He advised me to participate in activities outside of school as it would improve my chances of getting into university, assisted me in my scholarship application and helped me improve my English.


A Jeffrey Cheah Foundation scholar, Shawn recently graduated from Sunway University with a bachelor’s degree in accounting and finance.

Cikgu Chong Zhi Xiong taught at my secondary school and would organise Mathematical Olympiad competitions for us students.

He would always provide students with lots of opportunities to explore the world through activities like technology exhibitions and university visits. He would even take us out for lunch. Gan Jia HueyGan Jia Huey

Whenever he saw that a student was interested in something, he would go the extra mile. Beyond enthusiasm, he had a deep care for his students and wanted us to find our passion. I don’t think I would’ve grown as much as I had if Cikgu Chong hadn’t helped me break out of my shell. Realising my own interest in teaching, I applied for the fellowship this year.

My own experience with refugee children has led me to see that education isn’t accessible to everybody. Schools aren’t just for learning; they’re also about having a space to grow, having fun, meeting new people and finding new opportunities. It’s something everyone should be entitled to. I hope to be able to do all these for my students, just as Cikgu Chong did for me.

Gan Jia Huey

A former student of a TFM fellow, Gan is herself now part of the programme aiming to give back to the community.

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