Teaching for a Good Cause

Sunway Group Corporate Advisor Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam taught English at SMK Seksyen 5 Wangsa Maju as part of Teach for Malaysia Week.

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  • In Malaysia, more than two-thirds of students in the majority of under-performing schools come from challenging socioeconomic backgrounds.

A class of 47 students from Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan (SMK) Seksyen 5 Wangsa Maju cheered delightfully as they welcomed Jeffrey Cheah Foundation (JCF) Trustee and Sunway Group Corporate Advisor Tan Sri Dato’ (Dr) Ramon Navaratnam to their class on a rainy Wednesday afternoon.  

Tan Sri Navaratnam was in town to teach English to the school’s Form 1 and Form 2 students alongside Teach For Malaysia (TFM) Fellow Jason Yap. In a half-day session, Tan Sri Navaratnam elicited laughter with his trademark convivial personality, while regaling the enraptured students with stories from his close to three-decade service with the government. He also spoke of the importance of English as the medium for scientific development and innovation.

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The teaching session was part of TFM Week, which is one of TFM’s most significant events where key influencers, including corporate figures, celebrities and members of the civil service spend time as “teachers” themselves for a day, co-teaching a lesson in school with a TFM Fellow. The programme has been crucial in raising awareness on the importance of education in grooming the next generation.

TFM is an independent, not-for-profit organisation that enlists Malaysia’s most promising future leaders in their mission to end educational inequity.

JCF’s involvement with TFM stems from a shared belief in the importance of quality education. In addition to the teaching sessions by the corporate chiefs, JCF has also pledged another RM150,000 to TFM, bringing the JCF’s contribution to a total of RM600,000 since the commencement of the partnership in 2012.

Almost half of 15-year-old Malaysian students do not meet minimum proficiency levels in reading and one in five in Malaysian students does not complete secondary school.

Sunway’s Group’s senior management including Sunway Group Founder and Chairman Tan Sri Dr Jeffrey Cheah AO and Sunway Group Deputy Executive Chairman Tan Sri Razman M. Hashim who are also Trustees of the JCF, have previously “taught” as part of the TFM Week.

“It felt good! I was a temporary teacher many years ago when I was still studying. During vacation, I would work to earn pocket money. So it took me back to those days,” said Tan Sri Navaratnam of the experience.

He believes Sunway will benefit greatly from programmes like TFM Week. “We can understand how the whole education system works, especially in the public sector. And the schools also benefit from the exposure to teachers and the groups like Sunway, which have a unique, different experience in teaching and studying. I think it’s a good exercise in cooperative, collaborative, work in the field of education,” he said.

“Sunway, I think has got a great reputation for providing good quality education and the Jeffrey Cheah Foundation, thanks to Tan Sri Jeffrey Cheah, ploughs back any profits, any surpluses, back into education. It provides for advancement of education without bearing in mind the need for profit. Although we want to be business-like and make sure that we are not a wasteful organisation,” he continued.

Ending educational inequity in the country is possible but will require a lot of concerted efforts, said Tan Sri Navaratnam. One way includes adding more private institutions and by improving existing public institutions. He also stressed on the need to review the current educational blueprints.

“We must make sure that we follow the best practices worldwide. We cannot aspire to improve quality without changing institutions and introducing reform,” he said. “Teachers for example can be selected on merit and competitiveness and rewarded for good performance. There are many models to follow: Scandinanvian countries, some in Asia, China etc. Pick the best and follow them.”

Tan Sri Ramon received his B.A. (Hons) in Economics from the University of Malaya, his Diploma in Public Administration from the Royal Administration in London in 1963, an M.P.A. (Econs) from the Harvard (USA) in 1969, and an Honorary Doctorate of Laws from the Oxford Brookes University (UK) in 2000.

He joined the Malaysian Civil Service in 1959 and held several positions in his long career of 27 years in the Malaysian Treasury and became the Deputy Secretary -General of the Treasury.

Passion for teaching

Before discovering his passion for teaching under TFM, Jason Yap worked in corporate Malaysia for about two years. “So when I knew I had a gift in teaching, as well as the passion for it, that’s when I decided to join Teach For Malaysia,” he said.

Through TFM, Yap seeks to bridge the gap between privileged and underprivileged students by creating opportunities and giving students necessary exposure to important figures such as Tan Sri Navaratnam.

“I think these are the opportunities that students sometimes don’t get. A big thank you to Sunway for actually creating a lot of opportunities, not only for Teach For Malaysia, but also to fellows like us especially today, the Teach For Malaysia Week,” he said.

The Fellows or teachers of TFM will teach for two years in high-need schools across Malaysia. They work hand-in-hand with other educators, the community and private sectors, to impact and improve lives of those within the classroom and beyond.

Sharrvesh A/L Ganeson, 13, who is a student of the class said, “The session was very interesting. Tan Sri Ramon shared some of his life experiences from the Japanese era to when he became an office boy at the age of eight, which I thought was very impressive.”

“He also shared three elements that are very useful to life, that I will always remember. These elements are maintaining our soul, our body and our mind. If these three areas are covered, you will be successful in life,” Ganeson added.

JCF, which is the largest education-focused social enterprise in Malaysia, has also supported Closing the Gap, an independent organisation powered by TFM aimed at helping underprivileged children from disadvantaged families gain access to quality higher education through mentoring programmes.  

Sunway Education Group, which is owned and governed by the JCF,  has also pledged RM1 million in scholarships to deserving students nurtured by TFM, to reduce the post-secondary gap and create opportunities for underprivileged students to pursue quality tertiary education.

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