To celebrate and explore the potential of student leadership, Teach For All is collecting and sharing stories from across the network and around the globe. When students LEAD, we all LEARN.

Teach For Malaysia

What Students Want

Student Leaders
Adult Supporter
Ujval Sidhu-Brar
Age of Students

Please describe how your students exercised their leadership and the impact they had.

Shashi is the editor of a TFM-supported book titled "What Students Want". He is curating student-created essays, stories, drawings, and scripts. Through these pieces, students articulate what they want for themselves, their education, and for the future of Malaysia. Despite his young age, Shashi was chosen to lead this project because of the strong impression he made on TFM staff at several points in the past.

In November 2014, Shashi signed up as a student at Kem SKORlah - an intensive 4-week practical training programme for incoming TFM Fellows. It was clear that he was a spirited young man with a sharp mind and a burning passion to initiate change, not often seen in a 16-year-old. He gave an impromptu speech at the closing ceremony of the programme, where he shared how he was greatly impacted by the Fellows who taught him, his belief in the mission, and his desire to use education to transform the world. (Here's a video of the speech -->

The following year, TFM staff visited Shashi’s school to explore what it means to be student-centred in our approach to solving education inequity in Malaysia. He facilitated a group discussion and, once again, he impressed. He argued for a freer Malaysian education system where students have the room to develop as thinkers by asking questions and sharing ideas.

Upon completing Form 5 (Year 11) earlier this year, Shashi was offered a paid position at our main office in KL. My teaching Fellowship had just ended and I was appointed his line manager. I have since been supporting him in his capacity as editor and have directly witnessed additional examples of his leadership qualities.

His intelligence is always on display in our meetings, and he often leads them himself with minimal prompting from me. Strategic thinking comes to him naturally, which has allowed him to establish his own vision for his work. For example, he is already thinking of ways to bring together students and officials from the Ministry of Education to discuss ideas found in the book. He is also quick to come up with creative solutions whenever we hit roadblocks, and his resourcefulness ensures that the solutions are often viable. He is independent but is also unafraid to seek help from those more experienced than he is. His requests for assistance and collaboration are rarely turned down, and I believe that his affable personality and interminable optimism have something to do with that. All of these traits are anchored by a work ethic bettering most adults’, and a hunger for societal improvement unlike most humans’.

Through Shashi’s leadership, the book is on course to be published. Financial sponsors are buying into his vision. Once it is released, we anticipate Ministry officials will have an equally positive response, and change will have been catalysed.

What role did you play in supporting your students’ leadership?

As Shashi’s line manager, I’ve given him guidance on how to manage and execute a project, and to solve problems as they pop up.

I’ve also provided general mentorship throughout. For example, I often advise Shashi on how he can use the skills he has developed during the project to better position himself for future opportunities that will aid the achievement of his goals of becoming a TFM Fellow and education policymaker.

What did you and your students learn in this activity that will endure beyond today?

By viewing the material Shashi has curated, I've learned a lot about the students of Malaysia. They want history to be taught better. They want teachers who listen to them. They hate wearing ties. But by working with Shashi, I’ve also learned that our students are truly capable of doing great things. They just lack the opportunities.

As for Shashi, I’ll leave it to him.

“I’ve learned to work as a team and to lead people to achieve their objectives. But I don't value achieving objectives at the expense of camaraderie. I value people's happiness and support when they work with me. There is no point achieving objectives if the process kills people's emotions.

Above all, I have learned that true leaders create other leaders. I thank TFM for giving me this opportunity. I need to do the same for other students. That is why I am planning to join the Fellowship. The most valuable gems in life are not always visible. I have managed to find a lot of gems who submitted work for the book. I believe that I will soon discover a lot more who are craving for help to shine.”