Project Spotlight – The Sustainable Learning Project

In their second year, Fellows work on initiatives that address issues within their communities that affect education inequity. In this series, we spotlight a few of our Fellows’ projects – and the impact they’ve had on the students and the community. Today, learn about The Sustainable Learning Project, initiated by 2012 Fellows Kugahnaesen Manogaran and Lutfi Afiq Rosli.

What is your project about? What is the problem it hopes to solve? How does that problem affect your students’ ability to achieve?
Our school is considered semi urban, although it is located within a 5km radius of Malaysia’s most developed towns. The socioeconomic status of the local community is generally below the national average. Literacy and numeracy skills are quite weak and this is corroborated by performance in public examinations as the school has generally underperformed when compared to the district average.

Only a handful of students proceed to tertiary education post-SPM. Many choose to join the workforce.  Over the last 5 years, only slightly more than 1 out of 2 students have passed their SPM Mathematics (45% – 65% pass rate).  Similarly, 20%-30% of students have been failing their Science and English papers.

To sum it up, many students are leaving school without adequate skills to survive in the labour force. Hence, creating a vicious cycle that affirms the status quo on the socioeconomic fate of the area as a whole.

The Sustainable Learning Project aims to foster a culture of learning which will ultimately change the socioeconomic fortunes of the local community, in particular the percentage of students pursuing tertiary education, increase the ratio of white collar workers to blue collar workers and most importantly, reduce the crime rate. We do this by running after-school remedial programs in key subjects like Mathematics and Science, focusing on individualised lesson plans according to the students’ current level of knowledge, in order to get them at the level they are expected to be. We also run a mentoring program for Form 5 students that inspires them to further their education, guiding them towards suitable courses (tertiary institutions) and equipping them with necessary skills deemed valuable by employers.

What kind of challenges did you run into when implementing it?
Our first challenge was to get the school administration and other teachers involved and excited about the project. Luckily, it did not take them long to come around. The second was involving members of the community and university students to act as students and mentors to our students. It is always difficult to sustain a steady number of volunteers over a long period of time.

There is also the matter of security. We managed to get teaching supplies and aides furnished by sponsors, but because the extra classes are held in our local community hall, there are always concerns about making sure these don’t get stolen or vandalised.

What kind of impact have you seen since the project began?
Since the project began, we have seen an average increase of about 13% in Science and 20% in Mathematics for students who have been attending the program regularly. On average, students who attend the program increased their scores by 15% compared to those who did not. One student even managed to increase their grade in Mathematics by 40%!

Do you think this project will continue beyond this year?
We believe the project will continue, even without us there to facilitate it. Our school has agreed on making the project an annual part of the long term strategic plans should the success continue in 2013 as it did in 2012. Potential successors to replace the Fellows as Project Coordinators from within the school have been discussed by the School Administration.

Parents will also be approached to volunteer themselves, recruit volunteers and act as chaperones during the project.

Modules for the English, Mathematics & Science will be readily available for years to come as they have been prepared during Phase 1 & 2. Only if new subjects were added, then a whole set of modules need to be prepared, but this is a task that the respective Subject Department are willing to undertake when they become a part of the project. In short, there’s no reason why the project should not continue beyond this year!