Is picking up rubbish, leadership? What about installing broadband in a computer lab? Would the same apply for tackling smoking in school? Or making your own materials to educate fellow students on leadership skills? And what if all these projects were sparked with the help of superheroes like The Powerpuff Girls, Superman or Captain America?
What all these diverse projects have in common is that they are all student-led enterprises ignited by the Accenture Student Leadership Camp in collaboration with Teach For Malaysia. First conducted in 2013, 10 such camps have since been held in Penang, Kuala Lumpur and Miri over the past 4 years. This year’s camp in July involved 60 students from 5 schools, and was the second time this event was held in the North region.
As one of Accenture’s Corporate Citizenship initiatives, the Student Leadership Camp was conceived out of a desire to contribute towards the development of Malaysian education to create an opportunity for students to develop leadership knowledge and skills in a safe environment. It is important that students are able to learn from both their successes and failures through trial and error, because this is how learning works in the real world. As such, the initiative adopts the problem-solving methodology to help students recognise problems around them; identify the root cause of the problems; and inspire them to come up with solutions with the help of their friends and community.
This problem-solving approach was evident from a simple and common yet highly effective activity: to build the highest and most stable paper tower as a team. Students from different schools in Perak, Kedah and Penang chattered animatedly as they rolled up newspapers and taped them together in various configurations to create their masterpieces. Tripods, columns and boxes appeared from nowhere as they constructed monuments to balance their precious eggs, with the guidance of Accenture’s mentors. When the dust settled, the design left standing was a cross between the Petronas Twin Towers and Istana Budaya – both testament to the power of creativity in nation-building.
Creating new things wouldn’t be quite as enjoyable without a dose of laughter, and fun is another key element in Accenture’s programme. As part of a workshop on presentation skills, the students were assigned various unique scenarios like dealing with illegal racing as a Ninja Turtle, cheering up a grumpy teacher as X-men, and cleaning up their school as The Powerpuff Girls. Roars of laughter filled the hall as the students employed numerous tricks, techniques and superpowers to communicate their imaginative solutions to the audience. The Ninja Turtles showed off their martial art skills, the X-men exercised their various psychic powers, and The Powerpuff Girls spread the power of Sugar, Spice and Everything Nice! Even the teachers got in on the act, with one Teach For Malaysia Fellow channeling his inner Captain America to inspire his friends to attend school!
For the day’s final activity, students gathered back in their respective schools to brainstorm possible solutions for problems in their institutions. Thoughtful dialogues could be overheard as one school tackled the issue of dirty toilets. Another school was deep in discourse about the logistics of organising a remedial English camp for their weaker peers. The atmosphere was one of focused and hopeful conversations, as students and mentors began mapping pathways towards realising their projects, which will be presented during the next camp later in the year.
These encouraging outcomes stood out to Santhini, a veteran teacher who also mentors one of Teach For Malaysia’s Fellows. “The students are in charge. They want to improve themselves and their surroundings. Through this camp, the students are able to apply their knowledge to try new things; they are speaking up and working together. We are seeing 21st-century learning through application and problem-solving. Best of all, the students seem to be enjoying themselves!”
One of the students who was really energised was a Form 2 student from Santhini’s school. She and her friend could be seen practising her presentation skills in front of Santhini during one of the breaks. It took them a few tries, but they kept going and were eventually quite impressive with their nuanced elocution, precise eye contact and measured hand gestures. She later told us that she discovered how to be a good leader in this camp by learning how to perform, communicate and speak in English. Quite impressive, given that English is not her first language!
Soonufat Supramaniam, our 2015 Teach For Malaysia Fellow, echoed his student’s sentiments. “Coming for Accenture’s Student Leadership Camp has given my students the opportunity to engage with Accenture’s consultants personally to understand and further develop their own leadership strengths. They have the chance to not only identify a local issue but also develop a work plan to tackle it. Today, they have learned about the importance of teamwork, vision-setting and powering through some very creative team-building games! Some Fellows who were part of one of these games even did the Chicken Dance together! It is great to see my students start to grow their interest and become more at ease with a new environment. I hope that this camp can benefit more students in the future.”
As the students posed for photos and exchanged contact details with their mentors and each other, it became clear that the real heroes of the day were not Spiderman or The Hulk, but regular people trying to do incredible things. Cleaning up a school or teaching friends may seem like everyday tasks, but when solutions come from unexpected or unheralded sources, such projects become extraordinary. Hopefully more inspiring results will unfold when the next Student Leadership Camp rolls into town!
Joon Kee joined the Teach For Malaysia Fellowship in 2012 and taught in a high-need school in Kuala Pilah, Negeri Sembilan. He is currently a teacher at Pelita International School, Penang. In his past life, Joon Kee worked in Law, and graduated with a Bachelor of Laws (LLB) from the University of Manchester.