TICKET TO THE FUTURE
Education is the ticket to the future, for tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today.
The story of Cheryl Ann Fernando is quite a remarkable one, giving up her corporate career as she sets off on a journey to teach English at a rural school in Kedah. Embarking on a heart-warming quest, she enters a classroom with no teaching experience but tries her best to make a difference in the lives of her students.
Thrown in at the deep end of the pool with a shrunk paycheck, she was dumbfounded by the fact that most of them could barely speak a word of English.
However, Cheryl harboured optimism that she could do the impossible for the students. Her experience was so inspiring it was made into a movie called ‘Adiwiraku’ which won the award for Best Film at the Malaysian Film Festival last year.
It did not stop there for this 31-year-old, who has embarked on an ambitious pursuit to do more for the local education system. Looking at Malaysia, how do we actually transform a school? What do we need?
“What we need is a strong leadership,” says Cheryl.
She has gone on to join 'Global School Leaders Malaysia', a leadership development program working closely with school principles and senior leadership team for a two-year duration.
In Malaysia a lot of our initiatives especially for non-profit organizations are focused on the students and teachers, this will be one of the first initiative that will focus on school principles
The educators will undergo training to improve their school system. This program was modeled after a successful program in India called “School Leader’s Institute India” which focuses on the implementation of the right knowledge, skill sets and motivation for principles and senior leadership personnel.
“In Malaysia a lot of our initiatives especially for non-profit organizations are focused on the students and teachers, this will be one of the first initiative that will focus on school principles.”
“It’s very exciting and new it’s an area that’s yet to be explored - the transformation from good schools to great schools - that’s why leadership is very important,” states Cheryl.
At the dawn of 'Global School Leaders Malaysia', Cheryl admits she had her doubts when she first approached schools with this program. She was amazed, how responsive and eager the senior teams were at accepting change into their schools.
“My main challenge working with principles was that I feared that they’d think I was too young for the job, but what I’ve experienced over the past months is that they’re very open and excited. Whenever we have their training they are just like students again. I see a lot of them are really willing to change their schools,”
“Depending on what area they’d want to focus on. They all have the same training but when we go to their schools individually and train them we’d focus on whatever they’d what to focus on.”
Each program customised individually to each school, engaging in areas where schools could use a changeover. “I’m very patriotic in that sense I love government schools. I love working with the kids there I think that’s where the highest need is,” says Cheryl.
I’m very patriotic in
I love government schools. I love working with
the kids there I think that’s where the highest need is
An adventurous soul seeking to find her true calling, Cheryl admits she’s made a lot of wild decisions leaving her corporate job in Kuala Lumpur as she bolted off to rural Kedah to teach. She’s very grateful for her supportive family that’s been there throughout her journey.
“They never really understood but they’ve always been supportive. Knowing that I had a good support system helped me to do great things in their life.”
Apart from investing her time and energy to provide a better learning structure for students, Cheryl shares the joys of newly found motherhood.
“Initially I thought teaching was tough but when I became a mother I was like, oh my god, I have so much respect for mothers now, especially my own mother.”
“I think it was really tough at first then I eventually got used to it. Things don’t get easier; I think you just get stronger. You just get better at dealing with these challenges,” says Cheryl.
Working closely under Datin Kathleen Chew from the YTL foundation, Cheryl was newly appointed as country director of Global School Leaders Malaysia. Although, being newly pregnant was a concern as she thought her condition would jeopardize her new position.
“I told Datin Kathleen and she was like ‘Oh, Cheryl I’ve had seven children, I’ve done amazing things. So, you can do this.’ I think having inspiring women tell me that you can do it definitely makes me more confident,” says Cheryl.