Beating the Odds
TFM Alumni organisation, Closing The Gap works towards empowering bright, deserving students to beat the odds and attain a quality higher education.
Access to higher education remains one of the most significant determinants for social mobility in Malaysia. However, only 1 in 5 Malaysian secondary school students continue to pursue their tertiary education after completing their SPM, with only 5% of young adults from the bottom 40% income group of Malaysia having earned a Bachelor’s degree compared to 40% of their peers from the top 20%.
While TFM Fellows work towards impacting students in the areas of academic growth, leadership skills, and access to opportunities while at school, many of our students still struggle with access to tertiary education. In order to solve this problem, Closing The Gap was established to help bright, under-represented students navigate the complexities of the post-SPM landscape and help them get into universities. All four of CTG’s co-founders have served at Teach For Malaysia, with our Co-Founder & Managing Director Ida Thien working in the Alumni Impact team while CTG’s other 3 co-founders, Connie Foong, Brian Geh, and Cheah Kok Hin are all Teach For Malaysia 2012 Alumni.
CTG holds to the belief that a quality university education can drastically change the lives of students and their families. They help Scholars reach their full potential through mentoring, workshops, university residential camps, and career guidance. CTG Scholars go through long-term, structured intervention in the form of a two- to three-year programme. This ensures that they receive support that is crucial for their growth and sets them up for success at university.
Since its establishment in 2016, CTG has impacted 175 students across 4 cohorts. In our first three cohorts, Scholars have successfully obtained and unlocked about RM3.9 million worth in scholarships to pursue tertiary education both within Malaysia and internationally.
Scholar 1: Yugendran, 20
Yugendran, a 2017 Cohort Scholar, completed his A-Levels at Epsom College Malaysia with a Tune Libra scholarship from ECM Libra Foundation. He is now on a Yayasan Khazanah scholarship to pursue a bachelor’s degree at Stanford University. Yugendran hails from a humble background with his father working as a motorcycle mechanic while his mother is a housewife.
Recognising his potential, his school counsellor encouraged him to join Closing The Gap. Once he did, things changed. Only then did he realise that applying for scholarships is not a smooth sail, considering that he was aiming to obtain a scholarship to study at reputable universities around the world. His participation in CTG workshops and the CTG residential camp gave him the realisation of the difficulty in the scholarship application process for said universities.
Where Yugendran needed assistance, his mentor, Dhruva Murugasu, guided him. Dhruva helped him chart his goals, plan his higher education pathways, as well as prepared him for the scholarship assessments, applications review and even connecting him with individuals from various institutions to help him explore the various possibilities. It was the continuous support from his Mentor and Yugendran’s persistent participation in CTG’s workshops and activities that helped Yugendran to make his dream of securing a spot at Stanford possible.
Yugendran has had his fair share of rejection emails from scholarship bodies and university applications as he tried to make his dream a reality. The journey was tough as Yugendran was applying for these scholarships while studying. His command of languages was his kryptonite and scholarships required him to write essays for his applications. One of the monumental challenges he faced was sitting for the SAT exam, where he had to pay for the examination fee with his own pocket money and prepared for it independently. Yugendran hopes to inspire other young Malaysian students who have similar aspirations to beat the odds and achieve their dreams!
Scholar 2: Sherlyn, 18
Sherlyn is a CTG Scholar from the 2019 Cohort who is currently pursuing a Diploma in Business at HELP University under the Sin Chew Education Fund. Sherlyn comes from a family of five, with a household income of approximately RM 2000.00 per month. She is currently caring for her mother who is suffering from cancer and her brother who is classified as an OKU.
Prior to joining Closing The Gap, Sherlyn was faced with the constant dilemma of whether she should pursue her studies or continue working as she was struggling to keep up with her academics and her family was experiencing financial difficulties. She also shared that there were many occasions where she felt like giving up on applying for scholarships in order to continue working. The residential camp organised by Closing The Gap, where scholars were given the opportunity to stay on campus and experience what being in university is like, was a turning point for Sherlyn; she decided that her goal was to obtain a scholarship and enter university. Throughout Sherlyn’s involvement in Closing The Gap, she was mentored by Roshinee (TFM staff alum), who supported her in terms of identifying her area of interest, exploring pre-university pathways, guiding her as she applied for scholarships, and even organising a fundraiser to cover the additional fees and her living expenses for the duration of her studies. According to Sherlyn, “My mentor Roshinee was the light when I was in the dark. If it was not for her, I would have most likely continued to work instead of pursuing my tertiary education.”
Sherlyn is not only proud that she is the first person in her family to obtain a scholarship and attend university, she is also extremely happy that she has grown to be a resilient individual with a shift in mindset to not be confined within her immediate surroundings. Sherlyn hopes to become a CTG Mentor to support someone else on their journey to beat the odds and achieve their fullest potential!
Scholar 3: Dayang, 18
Dayang is a CTG Scholar from the 2019 Cohort who is currently pursuing a Foundation in Arts at Sunway College Kuala Lumpur under the Sunway-Teach For Malaysia Scholarship.
Every time someone asked Dayang what her plans were after SPM, she would end up stressing about it. This has even led her to burst into tears as she did not know how to respond to the question. As much as she knew that she wanted to pursue tertiary education, she did not know if she could get there as she was not an academically excellent student, nor was she from a well-to-do family that would be able to financially support her through the process. The gap between where she was and where she wanted to be initially scared her.
The CTG programme was an enlightening experience for Dayang as she was able to attend workshops, receive mentorship, and gain access to resources such as a database of scholarships. The residential camp in particular was the highlight of her journey with CTG, as she experienced what it was like to be a university student where she attended lectures, met university students and career professionals. It was after this camp that Dayang had a better understanding of what she could do after SPM and had a specific goal to work towards. She stretched herself to great lengths to achieve her goal which was to secure a scholarship, such as completing a mini internship with DHL organised by Project ID (another TFM Alumni organisation) to gain experience as well as make the difference during scholarship applications. With the help of CTG, Dayang has successfully bridged the gap between where she was and where she wanted to be!
Closing The Gap is looking for enthusiastic, committed working professionals or final year university students to join them as mentors to help the next cohort of Scholars achieve their dream of pursuing tertiary education. Mentors will be paired with a Scholar for two years and are required to reside in KL/Selangor. Applications open in October!
Closing The Gap is also looking to partner with organisations who are invested in empowering bright, deserving students to beat the odds and attain a quality higher education.
Follow Closing The Gap on Instagram @closingthegap or on Facebook (Closing The Gap, Malaysia) to stay updated on their work. For further information regarding the programme, check out https://www.closingthegap.my/
Teach For Malaysia recruits, trains and supports Fellows to teach in high-need schools across the nation. Beyond the Fellowship, our Alumni continue to champion education in different ways. As of 2019, we’ve impacted over 111,000 students, working with the Ministry of Education and other partners. During the MCO period, TFM has worked to minimise disruptions in the lives of, as well as support the wellbeing and learning of our students, teachers, school leaders and parents.