Meet The Teacher Who Changed Career Paths To Help The Most Forgotten Students In School

A moment that touched Yoon's heart was when a last class student told her, "Teacher, I suddenly feel like I want to try because you are trying."

Cover image via Felicia Yoon (Provided to SAYS)

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Meet Felicia Yoon, the co-founder of social enterprise Arus Academy

Born and raised in Kuala Lumpur, Yoon heads the school at Arus Academy, where they focus on bringing experiential learning and quality education to underprivileged children.

They aim to bridge the gap of education inequity in Malaysia.

Graduating with a degree in Actuarial Science from the London School of Economics, Yoon found herself drawn instead to a two-year teaching program called Teach For Malaysia when she first graduated

"It was advertised as a program where the best and brightest would be trained and placed in high-need schools as a teacher to reduce education inequity," the 32-year-old told SAYS in an interview.

"At that time, I thought that was perfect for me. I had always wanted to climb the corporate ladder, but I also wanted to do something meaningful before selling my soul to the corporate world."

She signed up for Teach For Malaysia in 2013, and was placed as a Bahasa Melayu and English teacher at a secondary school in Penang.

During her time teaching, she quickly witnessed the education gap between students at high-need schools and other national schools due to lack of resources, manpower, and technology.

"Many students were not motivated to learn and tuned out from school because they could not see the relevance and application of education in their daily lives," Yoon said.

Yoon taught at a secondary school in Penang.

Image via Felicia Yoon (Provided to SAYS)

However, deep down, she knew these students wanted to learn

Yoon told the story of how during her first year as a teacher, she came to know a student in the last class of Form 1, who came to every class, followed all her lessons, and was very diligent in completing her homework.

However, she also knew that the same student had failed every subject in UPSR just a year prior.

Coincidentally, a few months into the job, the student came up to her and said, "Teacher, you know, when I was in primary school, nobody cared if I went to school, so I just decided to not go."

"But then I came here, and I didn't know why you were so particular about students coming to school. I see you would call them if they didn't come and you paid so much attention to our class when most teachers wouldn't even care to teach because they think we're so far behind. I suddenly feel like I want to try because you are trying."

Yoon said the student made her realise that her actions as a teacher, no matter how small or big, have such an influence on a student's life.

"She picked up on my efforts and that became her motivation to learn. As a teacher, these littlest incidents mean the world to me, although it may seem insignificant to others," Yoon shared.

Yoon conducting a project-based learning workshop in Kuala Lumpur.

Image via Felicia Yoon (Provided to SAYS)

With a clear mission in mind, she and three other Teach For Malaysia fellows founded Arus Academy to bridge the education gap and create a learning environment where underprivileged children can gain meaningful education

To date, they have impacted over 2,200 students and 360 teachers by creating and providing Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM)-based experiential learning to students who do not have the same opportunities in government schools.

The centre hopes that their project-based learning approach will inspire students to get hands-on in learning subjects such as design thinking, coding, robotics, programming, financial literacy, data analytics, and 3D modelling to help them in their future.

A group of students showing off their project at Arus Academy.

Image via Felicia Yoon (Provided to SAYS)

Needless to say, Yoon has been in the education industry for close to 10 years now and has not gone back to the corporate world

"There is just so much to be done in this field and the more minds working at it, the better," she shared with SAYS.

Arus Academy is currently working with Buku Jalanan Chow Kit to provide meaningful education to the marginalised community in Kuala Lumpur.

"We want to build a school that is so impactful that when someone talks about Chow Kit, you will not think of poverty, immigrants, or prostitution, but of good kids, a good school, and the fact that we churn out really great human beings here," Yoon said.

She hopes that the public and more privileged Malaysians will help her and her colleagues make their dream a reality by being inclusive, volunteering at their centre, donating books, offering more opportunities to these children, or just by sharing about their expertise.

A group photo of the students and teachers at Arus Academy.

Image via Felicia Yoon (Provided to SAYS)

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