When Evon Tan (photo) first joined the Closing the Gap (CTG) in January 2019, she was unsure how it would benefit her. But just after 12 months in the programme, the 18-year old student already has a better grasp on her options when she completes her secondary education.
She feels confident about her choice, and has even discovered a passion for Philosophy.
“Closing the Gap opened the door in my mind to see possibilities and the outside world,” she said.
CTG is a social initiative which started in 2017 to help bright students from low-income backgrounds overcome hurdles to quality higher education. Selected students go through a two- to three-year programme, during which they receive support on post-schooling options, personalised mentoring and career guidance as they set ambitious goals to achieve their potentials.
Before CTG, Evon didn’t really quite know what she wanted to do after completing her high school education. She was interested in issues related to the environment, but considered pursuing Chemical Engineering as she liked subjects such as Mathematics, Chemistry and Physics.
But she is now hooked on Philosophy after getting a taste of the subject through camps and talks organised by CTG, and talks excitedly about the famous philosophical thought experiment, The Trolley Problem. She hopes to take up a degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics.
A key component of this CTG programme is the mentoring process. Working professionals and graduates from diverse backgrounds sign up as volunteers, undergo a selection process and are matched to students in the programme.
Evon values this vast network of highly-educated professionals with real-life work experience. “This is the best part of CTG because we get to tap into their experiences,” she said. More than half of the 105 mentors are scholarship holders themselves.
Asrif Yusoff, who currently works at national oil company Petronas, joined as a mentor in 2018. He describes CTG as an excellent opportunity for people to give back to society. “Mentorship is a two-way street and never a solitary journey,’ he said at the launch of CTG 2020 in January. “Please reach out, work together and you will see that the sky is the limit.”
Asrif’s mentee, Rahman, completed his SPM with straight As. He was later offered several scholarships and eventually accepted one from Khazanah Watan to pursue Foundation in Engineering at University of Malaya.
ECM Libra Foundation believes that education can be the engine for social mobility among the poor, and is happy that the CTG programme seeks to make quality education more accessible to the underserved.
Based on a research by Khazanah Research Institute, students from B40 households who secure a degree qualification are 4.6 times more likely to be upwardly mobile. In contrast, only nine percent of youths from low-income communities have the chance to pursue tertiary education. Part of the problem faced by these youths is the lack of opportunities and social support.
CTG’s programme, which includes talks, workshops, and residential camps, helps the selected students understand themselves, draws out a roadmap of the various tertiary education options, and gives them support to reach their educational goals.
CTG was borne out of the passion of Brian Geh, Cheah Kok Hin, Ida Thien and Connie Foong who met through Teach For Malaysia, a non-profit organisation that works towards ending education inequity in the country.
Since 2017, CTG has reached out to 175 students, of which some 80 percent come from households with an average monthly income of less than RM4,000. Some of these students will be the first in their families to knock on university doors. Todate, CTG has managed to unlock RM1.5 million worth of financial aid in the forms of scholarships and loans for them to pursue their higher education goals.
In January 2020, CTG launched its fourth cohort comprising 71 students.