#The Edge Kuala Lumpur Rat Race 2014* Shared values and vision bring Pace partners together

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FOR seven weeks in each academic semester, undergraduates from Taylor’s Business School (TBS) travel twice a week to SMK Convent Sentul and SMK (L) Methodist Sentul in Kuala Lumpur to run activities for the Programme for After Class Enrichment (Pace) students there.

They plan games and quizzes and help the students with worksheet exercises prepared by The Edge Education Foundation. They also play the role of big brother and sister.

“By being part of Pace, TBS students learn to contribute something back to society. They learn that being less privileged does not mean low-performing, and that they [Pace students] too have ambitions,” said Vinitha Guptan, Dean of TBS, in an email interview.

Guptan added that TBS students would also be able to use their business skills and incorporate some of these when supporting Pace students. TBS undergraduates are required to work in teams to prepare activities for each Pace session, and to run these activities while managing a class of about 20 Pace students who are often noisy and excitable, in particular the boys.   

Participating in Pace is part of Taylor’s Business School’s University Core Module 4 — Community Service. The module is compulsory for Banking and Finance and Finance and Economics students. From the August 2014 semester, Pace will also be open to International Business and Marketing students under UCM4.

“Our objective is we want to produce all-rounder graduates. This [Pace] tests them on their soft skills, how they interact with the students and [tuition] teachers,” said Taylor’s Business School economics lecturer Rabi’ah Abdul Rahman. Rabiah is overseeing TBS students’ involvement in Pace this year.

Taylor’s undergraduates act as assistant tutors during the English and Mathematics tuition. After the one hour of tuition is over, they take over the classes to run the activities.

The partnership between The Edge Education Foundation, Taylor’s University and EY (Ernst & Young) came about because of shared values and goals, and the three partners signed an Mou in February last year to collaborate on Pace at the two schools — SMK Convent Sentul and SMK (L) Methodist Sentul — for three years, starting in 2013.

“It was a partnership that was easily sealed as all the partners shared the same values and a genuine intent to give back to society,” said Vinitha.

“Pace is great as student-to-student mentoring is a good way of helping the weak. They can relate better and understand the needs and weaknesses of these kids, and the low performers are also able to communicate better with their [big] brothers or sisters,” she added.

Since Pace’s launch on April 23, 2013, about 250 TBS students have participated in the programme at the two schools.

Lee Soo Fern, Malaysia Talent Leader, EY Malaysia, said EY believes that through working with others who share the same vision, the combined influence can be greater than acting alone.

Education is one of the three key areas that EY focuses on as part of its corporate responsibility. The other two areas are entrepreneurship and environmental sustainability.

“In EY, we believe that education closes the opportunity gap for low-income students. By developing skills and broadening access through education, we can make sure the next generation has the skills it needs to make a positive impact,” she added.

Currently, 12 EY staff are involved in the mentoring component at Convent Sentul.EY mentors and the Pace students of SMK Convent Sentul with their final products.Another Pace partner, KLK Oleo, part of Kuala Lumpur Kepong Bhd which is sponsoring Pace at the two schools in Sentul, came on board this year to take on the mentoring component at MBS Sentul. Seven mentors aged between 27 and 36 signed up for Pace under the company’s CSR project, OleoCARE. The mentors come not just from KLK Oleo’s headquarters in Mutiara Damansara, Selangor but also from its sites. KLK Oleo has three sites in Shah Alam, Rawang and Pulau Indah.

“KLK Bhd is already sponsoring Pace financially. Mentorship is an additional step forward, with greater involvement for the employees,” said Daniel Chong Kok Meng, KLK Oleo regional manager of Fatty Acids and Glycerine Business Unit who is heading the OleoCARE committee this year.

“Our goal is to help the students be interested in their studies and equip them with life skills so that they can break out from the poverty cycle,” he added.

Pace students are not the only ones benefitting. Lee of EY said that EY’s mentors have learnt and grown by being involved in the programme.

“They have acquired or honed their knowledge and skills in leadership, teaming, engaging with others different from themselves, creativity, patience and flexibility, amongst others,” she said.

“I think the greatest attainment is just seeing our colleagues come together and making a difference for the schoolboys. This is unique as we are initiative-focused which allows us to incorporate great community ideas,” said Dr Kong Chee Sing, one of the KLK Oleo mentors.

Taylor’s Vinitha said that for some TBS students, Pace is “just another module” while for others, it has changed their perspective on life.

In his reflective journal which TBS students are required to maintain as part of the Community Service module, Low Henn Jian wrote that his experience in Pace last year “was probably one of the most meaningful and beneficial activities that I have ever done in my life”.

“I learnt so much from this eye-opening experience. I can only hope that I was able to impact the kids to an extent, no matter how little that impact might have been. I also learnt to see these kids in a different light. They are not miscreants, nor are they troublemakers. They are merely boys who are devoid of any guidance or role models,” added Low who was involved in the programme at MBS Sentul.

Chong: Our goal is to help the students be interested in their studies and equip them with life skills so that they can break out from the poverty cycle.

One drawback is that TBS students interact with Pace students for only six or seven weeks over the course of a semester, and each semester sees a new batch of undergraduates at the two schools.

Vinitha said that TBS students who took part in Pace last year suggested that the participation should be over a longer period.Mentors from EY and KLK Oleo, however, have a longer-term commitment towards the Pace students.

KLK’s sponsorship is for three years. But KLK Oleo’s Chong said that OleoCARE would like to be involved in sustainable programmes, so given the opportunity and if resources are available, the mentors “would be delighted to walk this journey with the students” into Form 4 and Form 5.

EY’s Lee also affirmed the company’s desire to continue being involved in Pace. “Our people are eager to be able to give back to the community and make a difference, particularly to those most in need, and Pace provides an opportunity to do so,” she said.

As a partner, she is realistic in her expectations of Pace.

“Academic progress has been mixed and gradual. However, we know we cannot expect change to happen overnight. It will take time. Furthermore, academic performance is influenced by other factors as well. We hope that the enthusiasm and self-confidence they have acquired in the course of the projects will positively influence their attitude towards their studies,” said Lee.

“We recognise that we may not be able to help every single one of them. But if we can help at least half of them to do better in school and life and develop whatever potential they have, we would be very happy,” said The Edge Education Foundation chief executive officer Dorothy Teoh.

Corporate Malaysia can chip in to help other disadvantaged students through The Kuala Lumpur Rat Race™. All funds raised from the race on Sept 23, 2014 will be distributed via The Edge Education Foundation. Half the total amount raised will be divided among selected beneficiaries for education and/or training projects/programmes. The remaining 50% will be divided equally between the foundation’s programmes to promote financial literacy and the English language. All monetary contributions to the Rat Race, via The Edge Education Foundation, are tax-exempt.

This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on June 30, 2014.