This Malaysian Social Entrepreneur is Empowering Students to Dream Big

By Chong Jinn Xiung

Kelvin Tan is the co-founder of Project ID, a social enterprise that designs experiences to teach students about leadership, career-building, and mental and emotional health

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Kelvin Tan, co-founder and chief executive officer, Project ID
Cover  Kelvin Tan, co-founder and CEO, Project ID (Photo: Khairul Imran)

Kelvin Tan didn't intend to be an educator or a social entrepreneur. After completing his studies, he aspired to join the advertising industry, but his trajectory changed after he volunteered to be a teacher under the independent non-governmental organisation, Teach for Malaysia, in 2012. During his time there, he started a programme to help his students realise their full potential and broaden their career aspirations.   

The programme grew to be a success, and Tan eventually established it as a social enterprise called Project ID, with the goal of empowering students from underserved communities with skills in the areas of leadership, mental and emotional health, and value building.

Tan shares more, in his own words, about how Project ID has evolved since it started, the time he had to deal with his co-founders leaving, and what he thinks of the future of education in Malaysia.

Read more: Lessons From An Artist On Hustling, Failing And Being Realistic

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Photo: Getty Images
Above  Photo: Getty Images

Being a teacher was both exciting and scary because we didn't know what to expect. We all have ideas on what education should be, but things are different when you go out into the real world and experience the challenges. When I told my parents that I was going to be a teacher, they initially freaked out. It wasn't easy convincing them at first that teaching was what I wanted to do in life, but they eventually understood and supported me. 

Students from disadvantaged backgrounds face many challenges. Most lack exposure to the world and don't know about the broad spectrum of careers available. They also often lack access to quality training in soft skills, such as critical thinking, problem-solving and public speaking.   

The most difficult moment of running Project ID came two years into its founding. Two of my co-founders left the organisation, and I contemplated whether to shut it down or continue. But when I looked at the impact that Project ID has had on our students' lives, the feedback was overwhelmingly positive. Our students value the programme so much. I was particularly proud to hear how one student managed to get a full scholarship from the South Korean government to pursue her degree overseas.  

Education is rapidly changing as student empowerment and independent learning take centre stage. The pandemic has shown us the power of technology when used for education. I believe that in the future, teachers will be more a facilitator than the person imparting the information to students. 

Abolishing exam-orientated education is a small step forward. The deeper issue is figuring out how to make a system that encourages learning. Even if you eventually abolish all exams, you have not changed the mindset of educators and parents. We must realise that learning is not the pursuit of fulfilling key performance indicators but empowering students to learn meaningfully in schools and be prepared to be the future workforce.

See more honourees from the Education category of the Gen.T List

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