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Education activism through volunteerism

August 21, 2012

Teach for the Needs believes that there are many Malaysians who want to help contribute towards education empowerment, so let us be the platform!

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By Anas Alam Faizli

On March 1, a group of young volunteers established Teach for the Needs (TFTN), an online community whose name may have already well suggested its raison d’être.

The World Education Forum held in Dakar, 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 primary 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.

TFTN’s noble purpose is hence to provide an opportunity for primary school pupils, mostly those 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, are provided voluntarily by these honourable young teachers at their respective schools.

The classes take place in a small class of five to six pupils totalling three hours in a week, after schooling hours.  This eliminates the need to source for additional transportation, classroom and logistical arrangements.

Volunteers can be both teachers and non teachers alike.  The teacher-ambassadors contribute by providing free tuition classes at their respective schools while our non-teacher volunteers assist in providing strategic and administrative support to the group.

Why Needs?

One would wonder, why did we choose to use “Needs” instead of Teach For the “Needy” or a singular Teach for the “Need”?

TFTN’s aspirations encompass three major premises, thereby constructing the three needs and the S in Teach for the Needs.

The first pillar is premised on the belief that there is a need to provide an opportunity for the less fortunate pupils to experience an educational experience, at least partially similar to that of their more fortunate peers from privileged households.

There are two major elements that TFTN has identified to help achieve the said “educational experience”.

The first is cognitive or IQ development via extra tuition classes. The seconds is EQ development via emotional interactions and relationship building with the pupils. Often households facing financial and familial issues fail to provide these two relevant aspects in a child’s scholastic experience, to supplement formal education from attending schools.

The second premise is looking at TFTN as a training ground and opportunity for the young teacher volunteers under the TFTN banner to develop their pedagogic skills and confidence as well as to instil the benevolent spirit to help those in need, without expecting material returns.

This stems from our belief that one of the reasons for education inequality in Malaysia is the over-commercialisation of education. Not only does this enlarge the growing lack of “emotional” input in the teaching profession as a social profession, it also essentially leaves behind pupils who cannot afford to pay for them.

Thirdly, the longer term and qualitative premise that TFTN aims to address is to challenge the stereotype amongst the Malaysian society, which fail 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.

However, TFTN believes these children may have actually been the product of oversight on the part of teachers and society, losing “hope” that they will make it.

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 potentials to be developed.

With this aim, TFTN aims to provide a nimble and flexible platform, geared by drivers of change, who would like to renew hopes for these children and the Malaysian education system.

TFTN believes that there are many Malaysians who want to help contribute towards education empowerment, so let us be the platform!

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

Colossal response

In a short period of five months, TFTN has attracted a total of 74 volunteers which aspire from selflessly to help achieve these needs that TFTN is advocating for.

Amongst these volunteers, 22 are assigned with strategic and administrative roles, and 20 as teacher-ambassadors on the field teaching at their respective schools.

Non-teacher volunteers are welcomed to participate through facilitating group exercises and extra-classroom teaching at these orphanages.  TFTN has also adopted two orphanage houses in Gopeng and Kuantan under our Expansion Programs with 32 volunteers.

Total pupils under TFTN’s care at the moment amounts to 150 pupils.

Empirical studies have proven that successful volunteering emerges when the objectives of the volunteerism provide opportunities for personal achievement and enable the volunteers to form social bonds.

Volunteers are also driven by incentives such as the feeling of achievement, recognition, the aspiration to give back to the society, and the urge to bring about social change.

Most importantly, TFTN aims to provide a platform for these young volunteers to participate in what we coin as “education activism”, where a common educational goal is strived for, while providing a sense of belonging in a structured, organisational setup.
When TFTN was announced to be “open for business”, these young teachers took to the challenge without hesitation and eagerly offered their free tuition service. This undoubtedly exhibits the zeal and pent up demand for a platform like TFTN that exists amongst these new breed of educators.

These young volunteers, during coffee breaks, often spoke with passion, of their respective experiences with less fortunate pupils that they have encountered at least once in their teaching profession.

The growing number of teaching workforce in Malaysia has also helped this overwhelming response.  There are 250,000 and 300,000 primary and secondary school teachers within the public education system respectively, serving the educational need of almost 3 million and 2.4 million primary pupils and secondary students, respectively.
From these numbers, it is not surprising that TFTN is able to attract our current volunteers in a mere five months.

TFTN going forward

As a ready platform for education activism, TFTN aims to expand our volunteer base of teachers, with our three value propositions focusing on three focus groups; pupils, teacher-ambassadors, and volunteers.

The first value proposition is to provide tuition, EQ support and organized continuous monitoring for the academic development of the focus group of pupils.

Our second value proposition is the complementary training curriculum for our teacher-ambassadors to supplement and enhance their teaching experiences, not only to strengthen their pedagogic skills, but also to guide them to professionally tailor their approaches to the TFTN’s targeted group of children.

It is hoped that, these young teachers would also be education reformers addressing existing problems in the education system throughout their long career.

The third value proposition is the availability of a stable funding base from philanthropic sources, as well as public fund raising for its additional welfare programs. These are expected to be channelled to volunteers, who will primarily engage in the adoption of welfare houses, orphanages, and relevant initiatives.

Not only will this involve monetary and material donations, these volunteers are also expected to be able to ride on the TFTN platform to provide educational and motivational inputs to less fortunate children and orphans.

From the latest national poverty line study, 3.8 percent households are designated as living with household incomes beneath the poverty line. This means that more than 100,000 primary pupils are eligible for the program, out of the 3 million primary pupils in Malaysia. Therefore, there is vast opportunity still for a platform like TFTN to serve this group of pupils.

As a mid-term target, TFTN aims to cater to 1,500 students, with a force of 300 ambassador-teachers, and five orphanages, by the end of 2017.

“Education is a companion which no future can depress, no crime can destroy, no enemy can alienate it and no nepotism can enslave”- Ropo Oguntimehin.

Anas Alam Faizli is the executive director of Teach for the Needs (TFTN) which is reachable at Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/teachfortheneeds


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