In 1984, as a Malaysian school dropout, the fifth of twelve children, I was humiliated because I couldn't afford milk for my own two children. This caused a very strong sadness in my heart, but that year I learned about positive thinking and mind science.
I decided to learn as much as possible in order to become a teacher for the poor. Traveling overseas to learn personally from the author of a program, I was rejected because I couldn't afford the fees. I was also told that their system was copyrighted and so it was forbidden for me to distribute their teachings.
I prayed and vowed that I would research and create my own program and would never deprive anybody of the chance to come up in life because of money. From that day till today, I have been abundantly blessed to fulfil my vow.
I started by opening a free school in my house, and soon registered an NGO. With years of research and running free schools, I developed and tested a system that could teach English in three to six months. The ability to read, write, speak and understand basic English is the main attraction of our school. This has helped tens of thousands of poor children. Given wider support, I believe it can play a huge role in teaching English as a second language all over the world. I have also created simple programs to teach basic maths, computer and life skills. The world is full of extremes. Education stands between the rich and the poor.
I know from experience the many reasons that children drop out of school: because they cannot cope with education, pressures, distraction from home or peers and often they live too far from school. To help children find a good job in the 21st century, they need skills in English, computing, basic maths, and workplace skills. On top of this they need to demonstrate they are confident, reliable and responsible.
Our success is rooted in our focus on life sciences as opposed to just a conventional academic curriculum. We take children who would have been ignored by the rest of society and give them the education which leads to future employment opportunities.
To do this, I established free boarding schools for school dropouts or children above the age of sixteen, and run day classes for others. Many students cannot concentrate on studies so we use concentration exercises. I have simplified every subject to help students understand.
We make the students practice a lot to develop effective skills and senior students ensure practice is done. We teach students to aspire and have realistic hope of a better future. Potential is taught with activities to help them believe in themselves. Science of Life is taught to understand the challenge of life and to live by principles.
Boys have to bring their sisters or a female student as a condition of enrollment, which ensures gender parity. Everybody plays a part in building, maintaining the schools, cooking the meals, teaching the classes, carrying out community service and running all the centres. I am constantly researching and testing to upgrade my program.
As students become skilful, this helps them believe in themselves. As they become outstanding, we teach them the power of giving back to society. Then they become role models to attract others to education.
Starting from 24 students in January 2000, we're now reaching 15,000 students on a daily basis in 185 schools, in five countries -- Cambodia, Timor Leste, Malaysia, Laos and India -- all run by my students. More than 100,000 have graduated and most are sooner than later gainfully employed.
This post is part of a series produced by The Varkey Foundation Global Teacher Prize, an annual $1M award for an exceptional teacher who has made an outstanding contribution to the profession. For more information on Global Teacher Prize, read here.
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