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Sarawak Tribune: Overcoming poverty, social exclusion via education

TFTN Sarawak Tribune

TFTN on New Sarawak Tribune, 07 Nov 2012: Frontpage

The World Education Forum held in Dakar in 2000 subscribed to a goal that by 2015 “all children particularly girls, children in difficult circumstances and those belonging to ethnic minorities, have access to complete free and compulsory education of good quality.”

 While access to basic primary education is less of a problem in Malaysia, a growing cultural focus on extra commercial tuition classes and costly supplementary books have created a tremendous performance gap between pupils from less fortunate backgrounds and their privileged classmates.

 On 1st March 2012, a group of young volunteers established Teach for the Needs (TFTN) – an independent non-profit organisation that aims to provide equal education opportunities for pupils in Malaysia.

 For the past months, qualified teachers, volunteers and activists all around Malaysia have selflessly and indefatigably pooled together their efforts to provide free tuition classes to primary school pupils, mostly from less privileged households and orphanages, who are unable to afford commercial tuition like their fellow peers.

 These tuition classes, covering subjects ranging from Bahasa Malaysia, English, Mathematics to Science, take place in a class of five or six pupils totaling three hours in a week, after school hours at their respective schools.  This eliminates the need to source for additional transportation, classroom and logistical arrangements.

In this short period of eight months, TFTN has attracted a total of 120 volunteers from all over Malaysia.  Amongst these volunteers, 22 are assigned with strategic and administrative roles, and 20 as teacher-ambassadors on the field teaching at their respective schools.  Interestingly, out of the 20 teacher-ambassadors, 7 are from and in Sarawak, comprising the large majority.

The remarkable response received by TFTN has stemmed from the eagerness of these volunteers to participate in “education activism” – that all children deserve the chance to learn and acquire knowledge regardless of their family background. Most of the teacher-ambassadors had their respective experiences with less fortunate pupils that they had encountered at least once in their teaching profession.

 By focusing on overcoming poverty and social exclusion via education in a structured, organised set up, TFTN volunteers have been given a platform to form social bonds with a sense of purpose and belonging.  Volunteers are also driven by incentives such as the feeling of achievement and recognition.

 There are two major elements that TFTN has identified to help achieve the educational experience (at least partially) similar to their more fortunate peers from privileged households.  The first is cognitive or IQ development via extra tuition classes.  The second is EQ (emotional intelligence) development via interactions and relationship building with the pupils.

 Anas Alam Faizli, Executive Director of TFTN explains that by emphasising on EQ development, “TFTN aims to challenge the stereotype amongst Malaysian society that fails to see that children from less fortunate households too have got potential.  These children are often labelled as trouble-makers, lazy and unworthy of attention.  Most of them are often left behind and lacking in terms of emotion, affection and basic physical needs, thereby impeding a wholesome educational experience.”

 “By getting society’s focus back to these pupils, people will realise these children too have got the potential to be developed.”

 Mohd Zubir bin Mohd Tahar, a Primary 6 English teacher at Sekolah Kebangsaan Long Semadoh in Lawas is a TFTN teacher ambassador for the underprivileged students of the same school.  He shares, “My experience teaching in this school cannot be captured in words. I am proud and thrilled to have been given this opportunity to teach the Lun Bawang pupils in this school and be exposed to their unique culture.”

“Flanked between Sabah, Brunei and Indonesia, our school in Lawas is in a mountainous region offering a peaceful, scenic atmosphere conducive to the learning environment of the students.”

 “I have been entrusted to tutor and help 7 out of 18 of the Primary 6 students under the TFTN program in their quest to do well in the UPSR (Ujian Penilaian Sekolah Rendah).  The TFTN class is held twice every week according to the given schedule.  So far, 6 out of my 7 mentees have shown noticeable and tremendous improvement after having started my tuition classes under TFTN.”

 Abdul Azim Hussein a teacher at SK Labang Sebauh, Bintulu, says, “I made the decision to be a teacher-ambassador for TFTN not only for personal achievement but I genuinely want my mentees to be equipped with the knowledge that would help them survive in their lives.”

“My tuition classes under TFTN are held for 2 hours 3 times a week after school.  Initially, I was a bit concerned if my efforts would make a difference to them but it has been gratifying to witness the improvement in their studies day by day.”

 “To make the TFTN interesting for them, I have devised different approaches to teaching and posing questions to them to stimulate their thinking.  I have in mind what the students need for their self-development and helping their families towards a better life in the future.”

Abdul Azim Hussein adds, “Ultimately, I do my best to instill in them an awareness of the importance of education.  I share with my TFTN mentees success stories and photos of people from the same less privileged backgrounds and inspire them that if those people could rise above their horizons and succeed, so can they.”

“Tutoring under TFTN has been an invaluable experience to me knowing that I’m part of a movement to help our nation to advance and succeed through education.”

Anas Alam Faizli concluded, “I would encourage fellow Malaysians to be part of any cause such as TFTN. Every individual’s involvement or commitment, whether time, monetary or effort, is important in creating further awareness amongst the Malaysian professional circles.”

“If interested, TFTN really welcomes contributions to our funds, which mainly finances educational materials for tuition classes, as well as training and development programs as TFTN’s value add for our teacher volunteers. It is also a focus of TFTN now to recruit more qualified public school teachers to volunteer with our cause. Colleagues with family members, relatives or acquaintances, who are teachers, are encouraged to recommend and promote TFTN’s cause.”

In a famous quote by an American cultural anthropologist, Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

More information on ‘Teach For The Needs’ (TFTN) can be found at:

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