Aisyah Ajib : My parents’ journey towards the Fellowship

“Even a tiny drop in the ocean can create ripples. Therefore I believe, that even the smallest of good things that we do, will count, insyaAllah.”

Once an architect of buildings, now an architect of lives. Meet Aisyah Ajib, a 2018 Teach For Malaysia (TFM) Fellow who has a great passion to serve and contribute towards Teach For Malaysia’s mission of ending education inequity.

Having lived 11 years in the United Kingdom (UK), it was a huge decision for Aisyah to come back to Malaysia and join Teach For Malaysia’s 2-year Fellowship Programme. “I found out about Teach For Malaysia and the Fellowship through my school friend, Adeline Chua, a 2015 Teach For Malaysia Alumna who taught in a high-need school in Perak. When we spoke, she was three to four months away from completing her second year of the Fellowship. I was captured by how raw and strong her emotions were about education and the struggles around it. Adeline is not one to sugar-coat the truth, and I trusted her perspective on things,” shared Aisyah.

After speaking to Adeline, Aisyah became intrigued by the Fellowship and spent close to a year researching and learning more. This led to her decision of wanting to apply for the 2018 cohort!

“I gathered a thousand thought-out reasons before deciding to send in my application. In the end, the choice to accept the Fellowship offer was an intuitive one: The reality of the Fellowship as I’ve come to know, is very volatile. However, from the outset, I knew what my intentions were. In order for the Fellowship experience to be meaningful, it was going to be about having openness, adaptability and a willingness to learn new things (completely out of one’s comfort zone). At the heart of it all, I value Teach For Malaysia’s mission the most. This is my contribution towards making the educational landscape in Malaysia more humane, inclusive and fair,” said Aisyah.

Now that Aisyah had set her heart on the Fellowship, the next big (and challenging) step for her to take was to convince her parents of this decision. Aisyah’s parents did not agree on her venturing into this field. “They were quite hostile to the whole idea. But to be fair, they had their legitimate reasons for objecting too. Imagine your child has studied and lived in UK for 11 years. I had obtained my architect’s license there and a UK Permanent Resident card, both took a 10-year long process. They knew very well all the sacrifices and investments made to achieve that milestone. Joining the Fellowship came with high stakes and did not look like the ‘return of investment’ they had in mind,” shared Aisyah.

After spending more time understanding her parents apprehension, Aisyah realised that they were actually not aware of what Teach For Malaysia stood for. They just kept thinking that their daughter was crazy for giving up her architectural dreams to be a government school teacher. Aisyah knew she had to give it time and be strategic in convincing her parents to support her on this journey. She pitched the venture as a career sabbatical project and focused on the leadership development aspects of the programme.

To appeal to her father’s business and factually-driven mind, she got hold of Teach For Malaysia’s annual reports to explain the quantitative and qualitative impact Teach For Malaysia teachers have had on the education system, such as the statistic of 42% academic growth in students taught by Teach For Malaysia Fellows and Alumni, compared to the rest of their peers.

Aisyah also shared stories with her parents of Teach For Malaysia’s Alumni and the different opportunities the Fellowship had opened for them; corporate careers, further education in reputable institutions like Harvard University and education policy-making, to name a few.

To provide support for potential Fellows, increase awareness and build assurance for their parents and families, Teach For Malaysia holds PSP (Pre-Service Programme) briefing sessions for each new cohort before the Fellowship starts. Just like any other aspiring Fellow, Aisyah joined one of the sessions and troped her parents in. During these sessions, her mother met a Teach For Malaysia Alumna’s mother where she was able to discuss her concerns and learnt from another parent’s experience about the journey. Dzameer Dzulkifli, Teach For Malaysia’s Co-Founder and Managing Director, also personally spent some time speaking with Aisyah’s father and explained to him in detail how the Fellowship Programme works. “I feel that the PSP briefing sessions with Dzameer, Teach For Malaysia staff, other potential Fellows and their parents were key in assisting my parents come to terms with my decision. The whole village got involved to help, which is a reflection of how supportive the organisation has been,” said Aisyah.

“Although I had a firm stance about joining the Fellowship, I gave my parents’ initial flat-out objection the benefit of doubt and chose to not rush into a decision to join. My parents are my most important stakeholders and the negotiation process (which still happens!) has taught me a very valuable lesson : I now listen to understand, not listen to reply.

Aisyah’s advice to others considering the Fellowship, in similar situations to her : Communicate your intentions strategically and with empathy. This may take a while and it is very important to make the effort to understand where our parents are coming from in their concerns. This will help everyone involved to navigate through the situation and therefore, reach a decision that everyone can be content with, even if that means agreeing to disagree.

In all honesty, Aisyah’s parents still have their concerns about Aisyah being a Fellow. To that sentiment, Aisyah said “I have come to understand and respect their intentions, as they respect mine. It is a simultaneous learning process for both my parents and I. I am so grateful that they are still supportive in my decision even if it is not one they would choose for themselves.

I think they are by my side as they begin to see just how much the Fellowship means to me and it is out of immense gratitude (and curiosity) that I choose to do this. I told my dad specifically, that the biggest thing he’s given to me in life is his unyielding commitment to support my long drawn-out architectural educational throughout the years (and indirectly teaching me to become a more responsible human each day). He told me not to take scholarships because he was able to fund my studies, that the scholarship money should be received by those who need it. While I may not have tons of cash at this moment to donate to charitable causes, I think what I have right now is lots of practical skills, knowledge and experience to share.

What both my parents have given me, this solid gift of quality education and opportunities, is something that I’d like to try to give back: based on my own capacity and to the kids who really need it and deserve best.”

Aisyah Ajib is a 2018 Teach For Malaysia Fellow, in her second year of the Fellowship Programme. She is an ARB/RIBA Part 3 qualified UK Architect and holds a Masters of Art and Bachelors of Science in Architecture from the Royal College of Art in London and University College London respectively. Aisyah is currently teaching English at a high-need school in Pasir Gudang, Johor.

Teach For Malaysia recruits, trains and supports Fellows to teach in high-need schools across the nation. Beyond the Fellowship, our Alumni continue to champion education in different ways. To date, we’ve impacted over 92,000 students, working with the Ministry of Education and other partners.

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