A LOT has been said about the standard of education in Malaysian schools, specifically about how much standards have fallen.
We can't deny that this is the perception held by many Malaysians, as those who can afford it are sending their children to private schools, international schools or even foreign boarding schools.
We also can't deny that if a parent can afford it, they'll also send their children to after-school tuition classes to supplement what they're learning in school as they feel what is being taught in school is insufficient for their children to do well.
I should know. I went to a private school in Kuala Lumpur and had tuition classes on top of my regular schooling.
And having said that, I couldn't help but wonder then and wonder now - what is happening with the students whose parents can't afford to send them to private schools, international schools or abroad to boarding schools? What is happening to the students whose parents can't afford to send them to all the tuition classes they need to sit through if they are to succeed?
Sure, some might be fortunate enough to go to schools with adequate resources, schools where the teachers are dedicated to giving their students their best. But let's face it - a lot will wind up in under-served schools lacking in the right materials or properly-motivated teachers. What will happen to these students when it comes time to sit for their exams?
Thankfully, there are grassroots initiatives like the free tuition website Edunation, which was founded by 35-year-old Edmond Yap with the aim of helping underprivileged students succeed in their education.
I spoke to Yap not too long ago, and he told me that one of the main catalysts behind Edunation was a Form 3 student named John who he met in 2005 when he was a civil engineer tutoring children in orphanages as a volunteer. .
"One month before the PMR exams, he was having trouble with Maths. I tried to help him, but he kept getting his answers wrong, I asked him what's 1/2 + 1/2 and he told me the answer's 1/4," said Yap.
Yap told me that his experience with John burned in his mind, and he added that he was inspired further when he saw Salman Khan speaking of the Khan Academy.
"I saw him speaking during a TED Talk and I thought - this is it. What if the entire Malaysian syllabus was put online for every child to use for free," said Yap.
He added that he struggled until he met Brickfields Asia College (BAC) founder and managing director Raja Singham in mid-2012.
"I was asking for RM100,000 to get started, and he asked me how much I actually needed to get started and I said RM500,000 a year and they agreed. It really took off then. We said to ourselves to see who we could help and we first chose to help Form 5 students with last-minute revision," said Yap.
He said that once Edunation had money, their first move was to pay teachers to come in and start doing videos on some of the core subjects we have to help students face their SPM exams before branching out to cover other subjects in 2013.
"We really want to help local schools. We want to help the students and the teachers in a way to reach the most at-risk kids," said Yap.
He shared with me a discovery he made with the Edunation team.
"Performance in math is really horrendous in so many different schools. For example, there is a school in the heart of Petaling Jaya. 100 students sat for the PT3 exam, and less than one dozen qualified to enter the science stream - and to qualify you need a C for Science and a C for Math. That means that the majority of them got a grade lower than a C in Science and Math, and this is a school in the heart of Petaling Jaya," said Yap.
At this point I asked Yap how the Edunation team monitored the performance of their videos and received feedback from their target audience.
"The number of viewers on our website has been doubling organically every year since we started. This year, we expect to see 120,000 students using our platform a month, especially right before the SPM. This is the trend we've been seeing. Students have been leaving messages for us saying that they were really helped by what we're doing and the teachers we've featured," said Yap.
He added that subject knowledge and charisma were key elements in the teachers who give the lectures.
This testimony was supported by another member of the Edunation team, Cheryl Fernando.
"We got a student saying that she was unable to take Ekonomi Asas classes in her school as she did not have a teacher to guide her, but she discovered our videos before her SPM exam and she ultimately got an A+ for Ekonomi Asas," said Fernando.
She added that Edunation was branching out to do Tamil and Mandarin videos.
"We are looking for Tamil teachers. We have three Mandarin teachers and their content will be specifically for the vernacular schools. We will offer Maths and Science videos in Tamil," said Fernando.
So with this in mind - who's up for supporting Edunation as they help our under-served students? To find out more, visit their website at www.edunation.my