Free tuition a hit with poor pupils

Sunday June 24, 2012

http://thestar.com.my/education/story.asp?file=/2012/6/24/education/10909841&sec=education

By JEANNETTE GOON
educate@thestar.com.my

Tuition classes may seem like torture to most students who dread the after-school drilling, but for some it is a privilege that they were never able to afford.

IT BEGAN with a realisation that students from low income families who were occasionally not able to afford food, would not be able to pay for tuition classes either.

In a real-life situation that happened in a school in Kuala Lumpur – a teacher came upon a student who was not eating during recess. When asked why, the student replied that he had used the money to buy workbooks.

When the teacher asked why he wasn’t joining the after-school tuition class that cost RM150 per year, the boy said: “My father said there is no money. My brother wants to get married in June.”

The scenario sparked an idea and the non-profit organisation Teach for the Needs (TFTN) was born. Founded by Zul Fikri Zamir Mohamad Munir and Asmidar Alias, the organisation believes that all students are able to succeed if given equal opportunities.

Through this programme, teachers register as TFTN ambassadors and, based on specific criteria (such as financial need, family situation and desire to succeed), choose about six students to attend tuition classes that these teachers will provide.

Still in its trial period, TFTN founder Zul said that they are working on evaluation tools to assess all the ambassadors around Malaysia.

Meet the need: Teachers can sign up as Teach for the Needs ambassadors and form a class of about six students for after-school tuition.

“Our benchmark is until the end of the Ujian Pencapaian Sekolah Rendah (UPSR),” he said, adding that the aim is to have all their students pass every subject.

By mid-May, 20 teachers had already signed up with a total of 150 students from all over Malaysia, said Zul, adding that non-teachers can sign up under the non-teacher division.

“Our non-teacher division has initiated the Expansion Programme in Ipoh, Perak, called Projek Dahikmah.” He explained that the project involved students from the Institute of Teacher Education who taught UPSR students every weekend at the Dahikmah Orphanage in Gopeng.

Said Zul: “Our second Expansion Programme in Jengka, Pahang, called Projek Jengka 11, involves eight lecturers from Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) Jengka who will give free tuition classes to almost 50 children in need from Jengka 11. They will come every Friday afternoon, from 3pm to 5pm, to Balai Raya Jengka 11.”

There is also the Projek Bukit Sekilau Expansion Programme in Kuantan, Pahang, modelled after Projek Dahikmah, where students from public universities around Kuantan give classes at the Bukit Sekilau Orphanage.

As co-founder, Zul said his personal experience being in the programme was great. “I have never imagined having an opportunity like this.”

He said many of his students are from poor families, some of whom wear the same clothes for more than three days.

“These kinds of students don’t get the same opportunities as their friends,” he said, adding that while they may not have had the opportunity to attend tuition classes it didn’t mean that they did not want to.

Said Zul: “I set my classes three days per week, each lasting about one hour to an hour and a half. Every day, these students would ask if they have a class with me and if I say that there isn’t, they will ask why. We have had more than 15 classes and there is no sign of them being tired of the classes.”

Far-reaching: A class in session at SK Bukit Mawang in Bintulu, Sarawak.

He added that all the students show up for every class. “The challenge is now on me. These students want to learn but they don’t get enough attention. I’ve learned that besides setting a benchmark for them, the most important thing is to let them learn on their own.”

Zul said that learning had become a “paranoid thing” for these students. “My job now is to change that and show them that learning is fun again,” he said.

Asked if students who needed help could get in touch with the organisation, Zul said: “Sure, why not?”

Besides the classes provided by TFTN, the organisation has its Side Projects to promote their cause. In March, they were able to raise about £200 (RM1,000) at a charity event at Warwick University in the United Kingdom.

“Our next Side Project is Ride on a Dream, a collaboration with the National Taiwan Sports University (NTSU),” said Zul. Thirteen cyclists from NTSU are going to cycle from Johor to Perlis from June 28 to July 16.

TFTN ambassador Izyan Izzaty, a teacher at SK Jugra (2), in Banting, Selangor, related her experience in the programme.

She began her account by stating how tiring being a teacher was. “The burden in the classroom is one thing, but the clerical work is another,” she said, adding that by the end of the day she would be both physically and mentally exhausted.

At one point, she was tempted to cancel her TFTN class, but she went anyway. When she arrived at the class, the students were waiting for her, and one of them said: “Why are you late? Come, let’s go to class!”

Izyan was surprised. “These students? Getting this excited to learn?”

During the class, she gave them a simple vocabulary exercise, which she thought they might find boring, but again, she was pleasantly surprised. The pupils were eager to do the work.

“But what made me feel good and bad at the same time was their determination to try, even the weakest one who could not read,” she recounted.

Malaysian hero: Zul Fikri posing with his students, whom he inspires and encourages to love education.

“That moment kicked me hard. I felt good for coming, and bad for thinking of neglecting them because I was too tired. My exhaustion was nothing compared to their joy of learning. Just by looking at their faces and efforts, my weariness was long forgotten,” she said.

Although Izyan may not have seen the results, she is happy with the effort the pupils have put in.

“I started everything from the basics. I made them work extra hard.” Even during recess at school, she would randomly call for them to answer questions. “Even though it may be slow, the progress is apparent. They come to school at night, which is already an effort,” she said.

She conceded that these students might be considered “problematic”. “They are neglected at home and misunderstood in class. They don’t need anybody to be mad at them anymore. They have enough resentment and stress. What they need is for people to stop and listen to them.”

Izyan said it was for this reason that she signed up for TFTN.

“Even though these students are not the clever ones, they have their own ways of making us satisfied,” she said, adding that she had “found the reason” for being a teacher.

For more information, visit 
teachfortheneeds.org
.