How Cheryl Ann Fernando Is Improving Access To Education In Malaysia
After years working in marketing and public relations, Cheryl Ann Fernando took a leap of faith and left her corporate job when she discovered her true calling—teaching. Today, her work is focused on improving school leadership and reducing inequality in education.
Here, she describes her work in her own words:
I used to voluntarily teach underprivileged students when I was working in PR, and it was then that I realised how important it is for students to have access to quality education. I also started understanding how education inequity is a problem in Malaysia, where students who come from lower income backgrounds struggled to change their life trajectory because they could not get the educational opportunities they deserve. I realised there and then that I had a role to play in contributing towards improving education outcomes in Malaysia.
Some of my greatest lessons came from my students. They taught me perseverance, grit and helped me to develop a greater sense of understanding and respect for everyone. Till today, although I no longer teach them, I enjoy listening to and learning from them.
We must understand the different circumstances and challenges that limit a person and recognise our privilege before we make assumptions. For starters, we need to develop empathy towards people, especially students from different socioeconomic backgrounds. People often think that underperforming children are lazy and not interested in learning, when in fact they have to make tough choices between staying in school or working to support their families. It's difficult to convince a child who’s hungry that staying in school is important for their future.
To ensure my classes are interactive and fun, I put a lot of effort into engaging the student with the topic. That is what I still do now with the school leaders I work with, to ensure that topics are relevant and sessions are engaging for the children. For my students, I use a lot of pop songs (Taylor Swift was a favourite) and even K-pop songs.
More than learning, my students needed someone to be there for them. When I was teaching, I was often given the weakest class and I struggled to teach them. But I often focused on being there for them, listening and reaching out to them by empathising with their challenges. A former student who used to cause a lot of trouble in class reached out to me recently to tell me that he’s training in the army. I was so proud of how well he’s doing for himself.
My husband and two children serve as my inspiration and guide to help me keep going. My kids are a reminder that I have a duty towards this country to ensure that they are going to grow up in a Malaysia where all children will have equal access to quality education.
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