Back to school

  • In Your Face
  • Wednesday, 14 Jan 2015

WHEN I kicked off "In Your Face" last October, I highlighted how two young Malaysians rolled up their sleeves and came up with their own initiative to introduce practical science and maths education in a semi-rural classroom.

And to be honest I really did not think I'd run into any other under-30s doing anything with a similar drive, namely to give secondary students a boost towards academic success.

I certainly did not expect to have what 19-year old Cassandra Yeoh Shu Wen's one-woman, three-month project in 2014 to improve the academic performance of remove class students at her alma mater, SMK Kepong Baru.

We met up a couple of days ago as I was intrigued as to why she went back to her school to do this right after she finished her SPM exams - a time when most school leavers would either be working at a part time job or gearing up for the next phase of their lives.

Yeoh explained to me why she held these one hour classes for five days a week from January to March last year.

"My teachers understood I was working hard to overcome the challenges dyslexia brought to my life, and they helped me with my studies by giving me extra classes during recess, and they stayed back after school to help me. So I wanted to help others the same way my teachers helped me," said Yeoh.

Yeoh, who still tutors two of the students from the class once a week, explained to me how she was able to adapt her own techniques for overcoming dyslexia help her students go from failing to succeeding in their exams.

She said one key element of her tutoring style was to let each student work at their own pace, instead of forcing everyone to finish a chapter or topic by a set date.

"I also taught them to understand different parts of a question, such as 'solve five plus two'. I would teach them what 'solve' means and then highlight the different steps in different colours to help them remember the procedures," said Yeoh.

Yeoh told me that in the process of tutoring her students, she learned many of the stereotypes swirling around those in remove classes - that they were lazy and unwilling to learn - were just untrue, as her students proved to be keen and hardworking.

She said many factors contributed to them being in remove classes, such as parents who were unable to help their children understand their primary-school homework through no fault of their own.

"Everyone learns at their own pace, and it is unfortunate that these children lack the basics. But with effort and support, they can succeed. No child is a 'slow-learner', we just have to understand how to help them," said Yeoh.

And then she said something that took me by surprise - that SPM school-leavers were the best at doing what she did, as the only requirement to being a successful tutor is the right mentality and approach to teaching.

"You have to know how many students you have, go through their books and speak to their teachers. Any SPM school-leaver would be able to teach Form 1 to 3 students easily, but they need a willingness to spare the time, and a willingness to help others without expecting anything in return," said Yeoh.

She urged school leavers to go down to their old school, speak to their teachers and help out.

"I really hope that you can care for others the same way others cared for you, gave up time to help you achieve success. There are rewards, but they are not material rewards - for example seeing them succeed, or when they work hard and understand what they are being taught," said Yeoh.

And if you were to ask me what I think, I would put the challenge out there to all SPM school-leavers with time to kill, to ask them - do you think this is worth doing?





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