1) How did you hear about UKECharisma and what made you join it (and why Project Education)?
I learnt about UKECharisma’s Project Education on Facebook, and my first thought was how well-designed and meaningful the project was envisioned to be. There was a lucid vision of how the interests and capabilities aligned - teaching and inspiring the children and Mentees would tap into my skill-set and experience of being overseas-educated. I was further impressed by how the Project, via the Mentor-Mentee system, was clearly concerned at making a sustainable impact. Beyond these factors, on a personal level, as I nurture a special interest in education systems in Malaysia and Singapore, the Project was an opportunity to experience first-hand the Malaysian education system.
What were your expectations when you arrived on the first day of the project?
The organisation and communication prior to the Project’s start-date had been commendable – there were clear and transparent selection criteria, prompt e-mail responses to enquiries, and professionally crafted supporting documents (the volunteer handbook, fundraising guidelines, etc). This consistently high standard raised my expectations for the Project. When I arrived on the first day of the Project, I expected a high level of administrative/logistical support throughout the project and clear lines of communication. I also expected my fellow volunteers to be similarly enthusiastic and inspired to hit the ground running. On a personal level, I expected a challenging experience ahead teaching and inspiring the children and mentees, as well as a first-hand insight into the practical reality of education in a Malaysian government-aided primary school.
Do you think the project was successful and why?
On a formal level, the Project was very successful. The Project fulfilled its objectives of inspiring a higher level of interest in the English language for the children, as well as inspiring the Mentees to think about broader tertiary education options. The volunteers bonded well, and there was a real sense of having made a meaningful impact on the children. The response from the children was overwhelmingly positive, and much of this may be attributed to the relative youth and vigour of the volunteers. On a more personal level, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, although it was challenging at times creating lesson plans and coping with the language barrier (some of the children found it difficult to communicate in English). I made many great friends during that fortnight, and felt that together, we had made a meaningful and sustainable impact.
What are the most important things you feel you have learned/gained/attained from Project Education?
There was a steep learning curve in teaching primary school children. It was immensely frustrating at times, and one had to always keep in mind that children would be children. This teaching experience reinforced in me the importance of preparation (one cannot ad-lib for a class; comprehensive lesson-planning is essential) and that each individual child is unique and talented in his or her own way. The teaching experience also made me much more appreciative of the immense contributions teachers make to society in moulding the future of the nation, as well as empathetic to the tough challenges they face. Interacting informally with the teachers also gave a ground-up perspective of the relationship between top-down government policies and the very real practical challenges teachers face on the ground.
“I expected for it to be all fun and games, and little more. Needless to say I was shocked at the amount of time and effort we had to put into the planning of lessons and workshops! However I really have to say I had the time of my life in this project, I really understand what people mean now when they talk about how rewarding teaching is, and I believe I’ve gained some new friends that will probably last a long long time! Absolutely loved the team :’)”—Chien Yee
“I’ve come to the conclusion that it is true that the Malaysian Education System is failing a lot of kids though it’s easier to place blame on individuals and groups rather than to come up with a real solution. There was boy in my class who could speak, read or write neither Malay nor English and he was a Malay boy. His ability to communicate hung on malay nouns and images associated to those nouns. On the first day, I spent most of my time trying to help him but with only 2 weeks I had to spread my time and attention around leaving him to try to catch up by himself. Therefore, kids get left behind and who to blame is truly ambiguous. Maybe they should start holding children back. I have a bad feeling he’ll be leaving primary school for secondary school without ever learning proper Malay nor English and that is a scary thought.”—Shana
“I think the project was a success based on the feedback I received from the parents, teachers, and pupils. It was very encouraging. Parents want me to make it an annual event, while teachers report that the students’ interest, especially in communication has increased. While they originally greeted their teachers with “Selamat Pagi, Cikgu”, they now say “Good morning, teacher”, and it is all good, very good.”—Mr Ooi, SK Seri Setia’s Principal
“I never expected to make such close friends in the course of 2 weeks, never expected that staying in a 6-bed dorm would be that much fun! Didn’t expect to have to scrap workshop plans and make new ones about 4 times over, but to put up a respectable performance nonetheless :)”— Anon. Mentor