“I’ve learnt to never underestimate the difference a person can make in an ‘ordinary’ position and I believe I can make a difference without having to be in a high-ranking position.”
Jessie joined the Fellowship in 2012 and taught in Selangor for two years. She graduated from the University of Malaya with a Bachelor in Languages and Linguistics (English). Jessie decided to join the World Wide Fund for Nature Malaysia (WWF-Malaysia), as an Education Manager after completing the Fellowship. Read on to find out why.
How did the Fellowship impact the way you think about change?
When it comes to change – be it in education, healthcare or politics – people often think about changing things at the top first. A top-down approach might seem a lot easier, but in the Fellowship, you also see changes happening on the ground. I’ve learnt to never underestimate the difference a person can make in an “ordinary” position and I believe I can make a difference without having to be in a high-ranking position.
How do you connect your teaching experience with what you do now?
At the end of the day, everything boils down to education – be it sustainable development, gender equality, or environmental conservation. My experience teaching in a high-need school reminds me to give students the opportunity to connect what they learn to the real world. Environmental education concerns everyone and is a real issue – what better way for students to apply their knowledge from school than to explore nature?
What was your most challenging experience?
Finding out that one of my students was sent to prison for stealing. I sometimes wish I could have done something to prevent him from committing the crime that sent him to jail. Seeing him in his prison uniform when his family and I visited him was a surreal experience. Sometimes, one small mistake can lead to another. It is really important for someone to be there for the students, to provide guidance and support. It reminds me that little victories and small achievements should be celebrated, because it can encourage them a lot.
Could you share a little about your current role?
I work as an Education Manager for the Eco-Schools Programme at WWF-Malaysia. Primary and secondary schools in Malaysia can follow 7 steps to become a more sustainable/green school. This certification programme empowers students to become agents of change, and also offers an internationally coveted Green Flag award to recognize the schools’ sustainability efforts. We have 2 schools which have received the Green Flag status since we started in 2011.
Apart from managing school registration and such, I also organise activities and events by working with other NGOs and corporations such as MNS, IKEA and BOH. We also collaborate with the Ministry of Education, as well as universities and research centres to promote Education for Sustainable Development (ESD). Our biggest event is the annual International Eco-Schools Conference, which is held in December. Last year we saw participation of 200 students, teachers and volunteers – the biggest conference we’ve hosted so far.
Which teaching or leadership principles helped you most as a Fellow?
I believe Teach For Malaysia has taught us well by using all the principles in the Teaching As Leadership rubric. The principle that has been most critical to my success is working relentlessly. There might be obstacles and restraints working in social services or teaching, but it is important to persist and find ways to solve problems.
How has the Fellowship experience and your current work influenced your views on educational issues, particularly education inequity?
The cycle of poverty is very real, and there are many obstacles that we must overcome if we want to help the next generation break the cycle. I believe by spreading the message to as many people as possible, we can raise awareness and slowly get more people to become part of the solution for education inequity. Teach For Malaysia is doing just that by recruiting and training our nation’s talent to become leaders and agents of change, within and beyond the classroom.
How has your Fellowship journey developed your abilities as a leader and advocate for children from low-income backgrounds?
I have learnt a lot from watching/collaborating with other Fellows. I was very fortunate to have two great Fellows as collaborators, Victoria and Fredy, as well as my Leadership Development Officer, Shannon, who gave me a lot of support throughout my Fellowship journey. The experience I have gained working with all the other Fellows has also helped me become a better leader and advocate. I am still learning new things and seeing new possibilities, every day.