Teach For Malaysia Director of Growth Aida Azmi shares insights on what it takes to reform the education system.
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Teach For Malaysia is well-known for its teacher placement programme that gets top graduates and young professionals to teach in high need schools.
But if you think it’s about filling a teacher shortage, you’re mistaken.
Its goal is much bigger. The nonprofit is out to catalyse reforms to the education system as a whole and break the cycle of inequity.
“It’s not just about recruiting teachers. We want to bring in the best and brightest talents to be a part of the system for two years and with that experience, actually think about how to fill in the gaps that are missing in the education system,” says Aida Azmi, Director of Growth at Teach For Malaysia.
Teach For Malaysia’s two-year fellowship programme receives thousands of applications from graduates and young professionals every year.
From which, a stringent selection process picks out the cream of the crop with the potential to not only be great educators, but push boundaries beyond their fellowship programme as changemakers.
“No one has all the answers to solve everything. But if we get as many high calibre thinkers and immerse them in the present system, then we can all begin to define the solution together,” Aida adds.
“With all the experience gained, they can then make a more informed decision on their role in nation-building and how they want to make a change.”
And the proof is in the pudding; their impact report finds that students taught by Teach For Malaysia fellows achieved 42% more academic growth compared to their peers.
On top of that, many alumni of the programme have gone on to lead their own initiatives to contribute to the education system; ranging from literacy programmes for underserved communities, to a crowdfunding platform that aid teachers and students in need.
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Education inequity in Malaysia today
A key statistic by the Ministry of Education that has been an indicator of education inequity has been the enrolment and dropout rates for public schools.
While primary school enrolment saw a 97.9% enrolment in 2017, upper secondary school enrolment was only 86.6%.
That’s close to 15% of teenagers not completing school.
During the early rollout of the Malaysian Education Blueprint 2013-2025, it was estimated that one in five Malaysian students did not complete their secondary school education at the time.
The target since is to achieve universal enrolment.
“We are doing very well in terms of early enrolment rates, but it’s somewhat negated by the very high dropout rate,” Aida says.
She says it can be attributed to a host of different reasons, but most typically for an underprivileged family, teenagers often dropout to help support the family.
“There’s a cycle that exists. Children from poorer families don’t have the privilege of access and opportunity for learning beyond the classroom and are left behind in their studies, which compounds over time and festers disinterest,” Aida says.
“Coupled with their socio-economic background, dropping out and making a living to help support the family becomes more of a priority.
“But if we can help them stay in school and complete their secondary education, that alone would have opened up opportunities to better paying work and upwards social mobility.”
Cultivating leaders that cultivate more leaders
“Our annual cohort of 50 to 60 teachers is just a drop in the ocean when you compare to the whole education system that has 450,000 teachers teaching 5 million students in public schools,” says Aida.
“That means we have to strategise an ecosystem and a synergy that creates as large an impact as possible.”
Up until 2018, Teach For Malaysia has placed 354 fellows into the education system and teaching an impressive estimate of 87,000 students directly since they started in 2010.
To maximise their impact, Teach For Malaysia has a stringent process that selects applicants with the highest capacity to be leaders beyond the classroom.
Fellows are expected to empower the students to be leaders themselves, as one of the objectives is to empower local changemakers.
So, despite the fellowship only placing less than a hundred teachers, they are the result of a competitive recruitment process with a 5.5% acceptance rate as of 2017. Currently, 30% of their fellows and alumni come from universities ranked in the top 100 of the World University Rankings.
“This process also stresses on the fact that we need people to realise that the teaching profession is a leadership role as you will educate about 150 students a day,” says Aida.
“What other job sees you being responsible for 150 lives on your first day?” says Aida.
What you can do
If you have the passion for teaching, you can apply to be a Teach For Malaysia Fellow and teach for two years.
The fellowship is open to all Malaysians citizens aged 32 years or younger with a Bachelor’s degree in any non-education discipline. Applicants are also expected to have strong written and verbal English communication skills, a minimum grade of credit in SPM Bahasa Melayu and a strong academic track record with a minimum CGPA of 3.0/2nd Class Upper or equivalent.
Applicants will be subjected to interviews and teaching mock classes before taking the Ujian Kelayakan Calon Guru (UKCG) to be qualified as a teacher under the Ministry of Education.
Alternatively, you can contribute as a donor.