Teach For Malaysia's Dzameer Dzulkifli On Building A Better Nation

By Tien Chew

The managing director of Teach For Malaysia and Gen.T lister reveals the challenges and milestones of the NGO and their quest to build a better tomorrow.

Tatler Asia

We’ve all heard the saying before yet rarely do we act – education is the key to a better future.

Dzameer Dzukifli, Teach For Malaysia’s (TFM) managing director, knows that as desensitised as we are towards the expression, it holds truth.

Only through education can we better our own lives, the lives of others and in the bigger picture, the lives of everyone in the country.

Enter TFM,  a movement that believes that a child’s background should not determine his or her outcome in life. The NGO recruits top graduates and professionals to teach in underprivileged schools for two years to help marginalised communities. 

We sit down with this Gen T-er to talk about the challenges and milestones of the organisation, as well as how Malaysians can give back to society through Teach For Malaysia and improving education.

Farra-(1).jpg (original size)A still from the movie Adiwiraku | Photo: Courtesy of Teach For Malaysia

Why did you decide to pursue this cause?
I was lucky enough to have a privileged upbringing; I went to public, private and even international schools. I also had the opportunity to further my studies in the UK, which has given me a lot of insight into the difference between those who have and have not. I feel that something needs to be done to change this. I wish there was someone else was doing it but I just happened to be at the right place at the right time.

Why should Malaysians care about education?
We all think about where we want to send our own kids (or in the future) and we always think of what’s best for them. If we scale it up to a community or a country level, we may not think that we have to worry about other kids. However, if we don’t think of the greater good, we all suffer in the long run, be it cutting queues at the LRT or being pushed aside when you’re doing groceries.

What are the TFM's milestones thus far?
We have placed 6 cohorts (batch of teachers) in the last 6 years, we’ve reached 300 fellows (teachers) and have an alumni that has collectively impacted 45,000 students across Malaysia. Some of our students have won choral speaking competitions, which is an amazing achievement. Their story was even turned into a movie called Adiwiraku!

group-2.jpg (original size)A still from the movie Adiwiraku | Photo: Courtesy of Teach For Malaysia 

What are some of the challenges you and your team are currently facing?
It’s broken down into two parts. The first is how do we get more bright young graduates to consider teaching in non-privileged schools instead of jumping into a job and the second challenge is funding. We have to fundraise from the corporate and government sectors to continue. However, we realise that the biggest potential funds come from individuals. RM50 a month helps us support 1 fellow to impact 2 students. That’s about 4 lattes to help 2 students.

How can Malaysians give back to society through TFM?
The organisation is a platform that attracts people who want to make a difference. We’re creative in making that happen. Donating helps us keep our core program going, which then allows volunteers, interns or even students to help. We’ve got an alumni (ex-fellows) that sets up initiatives to contribute back to the cause. Across the board, there are so many opportunities. If I had to leave you guys with two things: apply to join the fellowship or donate to TFM.

How can the youths of today empower the youths of tomorrow?
Get rid of the fear of failure. We have to believe that failure is a key component in learning and we have to allow that to happen.

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