Empowering Teachers through Cikgu Kickstart

Meet Samuel Isaiah – one of the finalists of the Global Teacher Prize in 2020 and the founder of Cikgu Kickstart, an initiative that empower teachers and mitigate the effects of the pandemic on education. How did a Malaysian teacher teaching in Orang Asli villages come up with the idea of Cikgu Kickstart? Read more to learn about Samuel’s journey. 


Global Teacher Prize 2020

Some aspects of Samuel’s inspiration to found Cikgu Kickstart came from his 10 years of experience as an educator and a teacher, but it also largely came from his experience in the Global Teacher Prize, where he was announced as one of the finalists. Looking back on that experience, Samuel remembered how his mentor, Dr Mariah convinced him to apply for the prize, as she believed it would significantly impact the education reform of the Orang Asli community in which Samuel was teaching. The prize had a holistic application criteria which consisted of an evaluation of a teacher’s innovations, leadership qualities, potential for scalability, views on education, their ability to bring theory to practice and so much more. With the mission of contributing to other underprivileged communities, school leaders and teachers in Malaysia, Samuel put his all into the application process without having the prize in mind. He also recalls how touched he was as he saw Malaysians coming together to support him during the whole process and concluded that his Global Prize Teacher experience was “very fruitful”.

What inspired Samuel to found Cikgu Kickstart

“Teachers have great innovative ideas but they don’t know who to go to develop these ideas.” This was the first aspect behind the founding of Cikgu Kickstart – to provide teachers with professional development and support to run projects to improve education. The second aspect was the lack of funds to incubate teachers’ innovation projects. 

“Teachers end up spending out of their own pocket to do their job.” 

Samuel was lucky to have had supportive colleagues and networking opportunities in order to run his own initiatives, and wanted to provide the same to other teachers. 

“If we empower teachers, the impact will be significantly felt by the students.” 

The Cikgu Kickstart Awards, launched at the end of February 2021, is an initiative aimed at helping 15 teachers nationwide realise their aspirations for the classroom, beyond the classroom. Fifteen grants, ranging between RM2000 and RM6000, will be awarded to teachers alongside a series of professional development workshops, seeking to identify exceptional and sustainable ideas. The ideas generated will be improved upon over the course of the workshops, eventually scaled appropriately for a nationwide audience. 

Educational reform in Malaysia

However, Samuel believes that these initiatives are only the first step towards providing a quality education for all.

“Whatever starts with me ends with me, for it to be sustainable, we need policy reform.” 

According to Samuel, a key challenge of education reform is getting everyone to agree on a unified direction. In many cases, societal expectation and culture often contradict rather than merge together. “Everybody has a different idea of what would be the best education for Malaysia – this is one of the biggest challenges in policy reform.”

Despite that, he believes that education reform can be achieved by collaborating with various stakeholders. He believes that in order to reform, educating the public and creating awareness will be among the first things that should be done. He also acknowledges the importance of involving teachers in education policy, as they have firsthand experience of the day to day challenges that currently exist.

Samuel on Cikgu Kickstart experiences and its future

Cikgu Kickstart is an initiative by teachers for teachers, which will help to empower teachers. He believes that with the right support, teachers can address a lot of issues in their schools and community. “I’m confident that the participants who have gone through the Cikgu Kickstart programme in the past 2 months will be changed for the better and they will keep coming up with innovative ideas. We’re showing Malaysians that we have what it takes, and aren’t ‘just chalk and talk’ as people often say.” 

Throughout his time running Cikgu Kickstart, Samuel found himself constantly amazed by the ideas pitched by finalists and in awe of the dedication of teachers. “No matter how much the teachers know, they are always willing to learn, they’re willing to put themselves into uncomfortable positions for the sake of the students, and they’re not being paid a single cent extra for doing that.” Despite challenges such as COVID-19 and school closures, Samuel felt a huge sense of accomplishment for Cikgu Kickstart. “I feel humbled and proud. I have so much admiration for the teachers.” 

“You cannot see instant results in teaching,” said Samuel as he acknowledged that it is not easy to pursue something with no end goal. Samuel shared the words from one of the finalists, a senior teacher who has been teaching for 30 years that left him touched. “The last 5 years of my teaching really changed what I believed for the past 25 years. I opened up my eyes, my heart and my mind so I can understand how to impact my students.” 

“It is honestly not easy, but seeing the impact, I am so proud of the teachers and my team.”

Samuel is certain about the future of Cikgu Kickstart. He also shares the possibility of it coming back next year with more and better improvement. “We are committed to do what it takes; spending time with the teacher participants, supporting them when they need guidance, and dedicating our time and energy to the project.”


The judging process of Cikgu Kickstart is currently underway, stay tuned to find out which finalists will be named winners of Cikgu Kickstart Awards 2021!