SUBANG JAYA: Growing up, Christopher Cheong was not the kind who could sit for hours studying for exams. As a teen he disliked school subjects, especially history, until the “right” teacher came into his life.
Cheong, now 22, remembers how Mr Daiva had been unlike his other teachers. “He made history sound so interesting that I ended up falling in love with it,” he tells FMT.
Mr Daiva’s teaching methods included asking questions, conversing with students, and encouraging them to think for themselves. “Not once did he pull out the textbook and read through the syllabus with us.”
After SPM, Cheong went on to pursue culinary arts, and it wasn’t until the pandemic hit last year that he realised his true calling.
He then decided to pursue a teaching career but said his lack of training and, as a result, job opportunities proved challenging.
“I have been turned away many times because there is this general belief that you need to be an education major to be able to teach,” says Cheong, who claims the typical route to becoming a government teacher in Malaysia is unfair to those who do not realise their passion immediately after high school.
‘As accessible as possible’
Despite this, his difficulties were nothing compared to what others would go through each time a lockdown was announced. “I had a roof over my head, I didn’t have to worry about paying any bills, and there was always food on the table.”
Realising these were privileges many Malaysians did not enjoy, Cheong decided to create a platform that offered tuition classes for free. He founded the “White Flag Initiative” in August, which provides online tuition to Form 4 and 5 students at no cost.
He says virtual classes were a no-brainer: it was important for education to be as accessible as possible, without the need to rent physical spaces.
Cheong started off by teaching history to a handful of students on Discord. Chosen for its ability to mimic a virtual classroom experience, the application allows students to access class materials and attend meetings without losing track of attached documents or links as they might in a normal group chat.
Over time, the number of students increased, and requests for other subjects to be taught began pouring in. “I started recruiting volunteer teachers on Instagram and LinkedIn, and took it upon myself to interview them to see if they were fit for the role,” he says.
Today the five-month-old initiative has grown significantly through word of mouth, with 13 volunteer teachers teaching 11 subjects to more than 1,700 students nationwide.
A first time for everything
Cheong recalls how his inexperience led to him being “overprepared” initially, and he would ask his students for feedback after every class.
“I wanted to know if I was doing or saying the right things. Were the materials executed well? Did they understand what was being taught? Would they prefer it if I spoke less or more?”
He says the point of the White Flag Initiative is not necessarily to improve students’ grades, but to change the way they view education. “There is no point in chasing good results if students don’t understand why they are learning to begin with,” he explains.
“I want things like rote memorisation, and forgetting what you’ve learnt after the exam is over, to be obsolete.”
As for the volunteer teachers, “it is not important for them to have teaching experience” but, like Mr Daiva, “they should demonstrate a passion for sharing their knowledge in an inspiring manner”.
Cheong currently tutors around 150 students on a weekly basis and is wholly focused on the initiative. Despite having completed his studies in the hospitality field, he does not see himself looking back.
“That passion is of the past,” he says. “I am now dedicated to impacting lives through education.”
If you are a Form 4 or 5 student who could benefit from the White Flag Initiative’s free tuition classes, sign up here.
Subjects taught include English, Bahasa Malaysia, chemistry, history, biology, science, mathematics, additional mathematics, economics, physics, and accounting.