What are some real issues that are most important to educators on the ground right now? These five topics that were discussed among Malaysian educators and our partners, during Leaps of Knowledge, might give us a clue.

One of the best things about gathering educators across Malaysia is the opportunity to create conversations that matter. Leaps of Knowledge 2022: Recreation provided a platform for exactly that and more. 

Giving educators a glimpse into what a ‘recreation’ of education might look like, the conference focused on co-creating education with students and featured media and design installations that reflect out-of-the-box teaching possibilities, a panel of creatives in education, ‘Best Classrooms’ by the top ten finalists of the Malaysia Teacher Prize Awards, and a series of workshops that tackled the HEART of education and gave educators a chance talk about what really matters in education. 

>> Read about what a recreation of education can look like here

So what exactly went down in these discussions? What are some real issues that are most important to educators on the ground right now? Perhaps their questions might give us a clue. Here are five interesting questions that Malaysian educators asked during the workshops and the answers from our partners in education that followed. 

1. On local vs global competency

“Many urban students are well-versed in global issues but are lost when it comes to local issues in their own backyard. How do we make sure that while our students learn to be more globally competent, they do not abandon their local knowledge and traditions?” 

Alina Amir answers a question at Workshop H

In response, Alina Amir, co-founder and CEO of Arus Academy reminded us that firstly many things are now interconnected. As educators, we need to help students make that connection so they realise that local and global issues are not very far apart. When it comes to remembering our own culture, Alina says we must first teach students to be proud of who they are and appreciate diversity but without feeling small. 

“First I have to be proud of what my heritage is, and second, I have to be okay that other people are different from me. This isn’t going to be one 45-minute lesson. It’s going to be something that you do and repeat across the year…”

Dato’ Kathleen Chew, Programme Director of YTL Foundation suggested that one way to create that sense of cultural pride and build global competency at the same time is to create a platform where students can meet other students from other countries, online. 

“Students will say, tell us about your country. What is your culture about? And because there is a natural curiosity, this global exposure will create a curiosity in children here, so they’ll want to know more because they’ll be asked these questions and they’ll have to go and research so they can answer. So it’s really about how you curate that experience.” 

2. On fear and creativity

“One of the biggest barriers to creativity is always fear - fear of failure, fear of looking foolish. That is something ingrained in us adults, especially Asians. How do you break that when you want to bring out people’s creativity?”

Joanna Bessey shares her thoughts at Workshop E

Head of Enfiniti Academy, Joanna Bessey shared from her experience in teaching both children and adults. She always starts her sessions with an ice-breaker to set an environment of play because having a playful mindset can help to overcome self-consciousness. 

“Human beings are very dramatic, our emotions take over and we think the worst has happened when it hasn’t happened yet… A playful mind is inquisitive, curious, and starts to see things from a different point of view,” she shared. “Usually when you’re in that spirit of play, all those fears and nervousness starts to go away because, hey! We’re playing!” 

When we have a mindset where we’re willing to play, we can treat the challenge as if it were a game, rather than seeing it as a big obstacle. Joanna gave the example of learning to ride a bicycle as a child. You will fall but when you’re young you just keep trying. That child-like play mindset works as a good starting point to help us cope with big tasks ahead - whether we’re about to try something new with our students, or when preparing a tough lesson. 

“Have a playful mindset, connect with creativity, then no obstacle becomes so overwhelming that you give up.” 

3. On fun and classroom management

“When we’re thinking about a fun and joyful classroom, my biggest fear as a teacher is whether I can control the crowd or not because it can sometimes get chaotic and messy. It could sometimes disrupt neighbouring classes as well. Where should we draw the line between controlling students and letting them have fun and explore?” 

From left to right: The HEART Panel session featuring Dato' Kathleen Chew, Aishah Sinclair, Joanna Bessey, and Lim Soon Heng

Co-founder of Atom & The Dot, Sheena Moh prioritises play, but in a conducive environment like going outside of the classroom, reminding us that outdoor lessons can create a new learning environment for kids which gives them the incentive to learn. 

Lim Soon Heng, Executive Director of KL Shakespeare Players and a big advocate of student-centred learning, suggested that if you’re working with students, classroom management is also their responsibility. He shared an example of how to involve students in that process. 

“What we do is, before we start the project, we sit down in a circle and say, this is what we want to work on but it can get noisy. So what are some of the rules you think we should have? And have them input in the rules so it is their rules, not your rules and so they are more inclined to follow it.” 


4. On bringing change as a young educator

“When I was a young teacher, I received backlash from senior teachers because we have a different school of thought when it comes to building character in students. How are we going to educate these teachers when you’re trying to do the right thing?”

Jason Wee, on pushing boundaries as a young educator.

No stranger to addressing difficult topics, Jason Wee, co-founder of Architects of Diversity shared his thoughts on this issue. 

“In history when change happens, it will always be young against the old. No matter where you are in history or which country, this is the trend. Embracing that youthful renewal is very important. Bringing in those values is something we just have to fight for. Secondly… I think working within the system, doing what you do, is a very crucial task and pushing boundaries whenever you can is already doing your best. Because if you’re pushing the boundary, you’re doing it for another teacher after you as well.” 

He further encouraged educators by reminding them that the space they create for students is special. “We control the four walls that our students are in, which is the place of least resistance. In this space, we have the capacity to decide and control what happens.” 

5. On managing mental health

“How do you manage mental health as a teacher post-covid? Many teachers are not well taken care of and as a Professional Learning Community coordinator, I want to make a change in my school.” 

Kelvin Tan and Melissa Gomez tackle the topic of mental health for teachers

Rising mental health issues among teachers in Malaysia is a real issue, as Melissa Gomez, CEO and co-founder of Edvolution acknowledged. Through their experience of working with school leaders, her team realised that there is a perception that young teachers are able to take on many things and some are bullied by senior teachers. This makes them afraid to be honest with their school leaders. However she always encourages teachers to share what they’re really going through instead of taking things on alone. 

“The moment you start feeling burnt out, instead of taking things into your own hands, have a chat with your school administrator and then escalate it to the principal. Even though they may not be able to resolve your issue, they need to be in-the-know that this is what you are facing. As individuals, you need to identify what you can and what you cannot do, and that conversation must happen between the teacher and the school leader.”

CEO of Project ID. Kelvin Tan, also shared his story of being through a real burn out when he was a Geography teacher with over 400 students across 10 classes. 

“The doctor told me to take a week off as I was on the brink of depression but I felt I could only take three days… I'm sharing this story so you know that you’re not alone. How I coped is by finding resources online and getting peer support - someone whom you feel safe confiding in.”

It is so important that educators are able to get together and feel like they can have conversations about issues that are real. By creating space for such conversations, educators can help each other make a difference in their own classrooms and schools. 

One way to continue this is with The HEART Course - a free online course that creates a space where educators are excited to connect over ideas in education and start conversations that bring change to their classroom, school, and community. Gather your fellow educators and experience all five sessions together.

In each session, you can WATCH discussions and best practices from global thought-leaders following five themes in education. There are conversation prompts to help your group DISCUSS ideas after each video, and toolkits to APPLY what you have learned. Each session also has a growing curation of resources from over 30 education partners in Malaysia and beyond. Educators like yourself can CONNECT with these partners to bring students’ learning beyond the classroom! 

Get started with The HEART Course here.

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