When the pandemic hit, school closures were only intermediary measures implemented to curb the spread of the Covid-19 virus. Teachers and students waited patiently for the reopening of schools. However as time went on, more than half of the academic year of both 2020 and 2021 was done via remote learning. While all students in Malaysia face a certain measure of learning loss, there is a certain demographic that has it worse and if they do not catch up, it will make or break their future. They are the B40 students sitting for the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) national exams, the equivalent of O-Levels.
Learning loss is exacerbated by the inequitable access to data and devices, a difficulty faced by B40 communities. At least 50 to 60% of B40 households could not afford to pay additional tuition fees, lacked conducive learning environments at home and found remote learning a huge challenge.
Mobilising citizens to tutor students
Understanding the gravity of the issue, a group of youth established Rakan Tutor (RT) to offer free one-to-one tutoring sessions to underserved secondary students in Malaysia. Their main aim is to mobilise and provide an avenue to willing and brainy Malaysians who can volunteer their time to give one-on-one tutoring to B40 youth to prepare them for the major SPM examinations.
In the pilot programme, co-founder Kaveen Parthiban was incredibly encouraged at the uptake of the initiative – both from volunteer tutors as well as students. The pilot programme was also very strategic in its approach, only targeting one specific subject – Mathematics, for good reason.
We connected 250 tutors to 250 SPM students in our first round. Many students found it difficult to grasp key concepts such as algebra and graphing in a virtual setting, and were falling behind in Mathematics. Kaveen Parthiban, co-founder, Rakan Tutor
Since its launch in June 2021,Rakan Tutor has received over 700 volunteer sign ups – onboarding 250 volunteers to tutor 250 students across 50 schools in it’s first cohort. The willingness and enthusiasm from Malaysian society have been a huge booster and validation to the team at Rakan Tutor.
This would not have been possible without everyone’s support and we [RT] never imagined [receiving] overwhelming support from the public in such a short period of time. It truly motivates us to fight for educational equity in Malaysia and to support students who have been unfairly affected by the pandemic. Kaveen Parthiban, co-founder, Rakan Tutor
Why Are Malaysians Volunteering?
The reasons are many for people who willingly give their time, resources, energy and expertise to a certain cause. The Wiki Impact team got in touch with some volunteer tutors to find out the reasons why.
Jacklyn, a tutor that works full time with EPF Malaysia wanted a safe environment to give back to society amidst the pandemic and the risks of contracting the virus in public.
Rakan Tutor provided the perfect platform for many who have been meaning to make a difference but don’t know how to take action while staying safe at home. – Jacklyn, volunteer tutor
Hui Zhen, a final year Psychology student at Sunway University Malaysia who also struggled with Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) shared that Rakan Tutor hit home for her because she could identify with the learning challenges that the students were facing.
Some students are just different, they are not lazy, they are not dumb – they just need extra help and attention, and they just need a system that can cater to them so that they can do what they need to do. SPM was already hard when it was in real-life learning, without the pandemic. We can resonate with the stress of sitting for a big exam like this. – Hui Zhen, volunteer tutor
Despite the negative impacts of the pandemic, there is good to be found. Waves of hope have rippled through Malaysian society following movements such as #kitajagakita and #benderaputih – and perhaps Malaysia is seeing a new awakening of the mobilisation of civil society towards good work.
Student’s give a thumbs up
Students participating in this programme come from 13 different states in Malaysia. While the tangible impacts are yet to be seen, students are already voicing out their appreciation for the additional attention given to them.
Tien Nee, a student from Penang is grateful that help came when most needed and it came in the form of a tutor who is like a friend.
I find it hard to understand what the teacher is saying during my online class and sometimes I need to ask questions in a classroom setting and it is difficult. The tutor from Rakan Tutor is like a friend teaching me. – Tien Nee, student
Another student, Hayati from SMK Agama Igan in Sarawak also benefited from the focused learning, one-on-one tutoring approach. It has also inspired her to pursue her ambition.
My tutor is patient, sporting and I can ask questions whenever I do not understand. I aspire to be a teacher one day. – Hayati, student
Getting the ‘right’ students on board
To ensure the efficacy and success of the programme, Rakan Tutor put a lot of thought into the recruitment process of both students and tutors. Rather than opening a student registration on their website, they connected with teachers from selected schools to help recommend students suited for the programme.
Teachers know their students best – for example their grades, motivation and socio-economic background. That way teachers can recommend those who would benefit the most from our free one-to-one tutoring programme. Kaveen Parthiban, co-founder, Rakan Tutor
The process was time-consuming as over 100 teachers were engaged before getting their students onboard. With this process, Kaveen believed that the programme recruited students that are most in need and most receptive to one-on-one tutoring.
Making the most of online learning despite challenges
Since the programme is wholly virtual, the common challenges attached to online learning were still present. Internet connectivity is a persistent problem as many students rely on mobile data to attend classes.
There are constant phone network disruptions and sometimes the internet is not strong enough for video calls. When disruptions happen, I have to keep repeating my lesson. Jacklyn, volunteer tutor
Online learning is seldom an effective method. However, when it is the only possible choice, educators have to make the most of it. Tutors have to put in more effort to ensure that the sessions are interactive and engaging – especially for a subject like Mathematics.
I get my students to show me their work by holding up the book in front of the camera. – Hui Zhen, volunteer tutor
I draw [Math formulas and methods] on paper and send over the pictures via Whatsapp to enhance visualisation. I have to adapt as I go along as there is as there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. – Jacklyn, volunteer tutor
Building on the success
With the drawbacks that limit learning experiences, the Rakan Tutor team is currently conducting a fundraiser to procure data plans, learning materials, and safeguarding measures for students to ensure they receive high-quality tutoring over the next few months.
I hope that in the long run, more students in Malaysia will benefit from this. We also plan to expand to include more subjects and year groups in the future. For now, we are grateful for all the participation and the messages from the public who want to contribute to Rakan Tutor – through volunteering and other means. – Kaveen Parthiban, co-founder, Rakan Tutor
Explore our sources:
1) Vincent Tan. (2021). IN FOCUS: Prolonged school closure in Malaysia due to COVID-19 shakes up learning experience. Channel News Asia. Link.