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The Reward That’s Bigger Than The Award

You might have heard about him recently. Sharulnizam Zabor, better known as Sharul, made the news in Berita Harian for receiving the Mendaki Tutor Appreciation Award this year. Naturally, we got a little curious, so we had a chat with him to ask all about his role as a Tutor-Professional!

What’s the award all about?

To be specific, this is actually the 4th time that Sharul has taken the award home. So, what exactly is it all about?

The Mendaki Tuition Scheme (MTS) is a programme that aims to provide quality tuition at affordable rates, in order to help students attain better results at school and for their national examinations. This weekly programme is made possible with the help of volunteers comprising of active teachers and/or professionals, who take the time to tutor underprivileged students in the Muslim communityⁱ. Sharul has been volunteering with the MTS for an impressive 10 years now, and he doesn’t seem to be slowing down.

This appreciation award was given to him to recognise his unwavering efforts in impacting the lives of his students throughout the years.

Tutoring on the weekends (Pre-COVID photo)

What’s his motivation?

Sharul shared that there was no sudden ‘passion’ that drove him to begin this teaching journey. “It simply was a community-driven purpose,” he said.

He started volunteering back in his university days, where he could afford to dedicate more of his time to activities beyond schooling. A friend introduced him to MTS, and that was when he decided to apply to be a tutor there. Growing up, he shares that he wasn’t provided with much guidance on building a career pathway or navigating professional life. In fact, most students back then (and even possibly now) just knew that they had to score well in their examinations, and maintain good grades. 

In noticing that there was a general lack of perspective on life beyond schooling, he made it a point to share various skill sets, beyond academics, that can help students manoeuvre the twists and turns of adulthood. “I want to impart some life skills and hope that it will impact my students and improve the community — my community.”

There have also been times when he bumped into his former students, and found out that they had completed their mandatory National Service (NS), and were well on their way to university. He noted that some of them who came from particularly challenging backgrounds and environments have managed to break out of that cycle, which gives him a great sense of achievement to know that he had a part to play in creating a positive impact on their lives. 

“The sacrifice is worth it,” he quips.

What are some of the challenges he encountered?

The COVID–19 pandemic has brought about its fair share of changes in the way people work and lead their daily lives. Sharul was no exception; his classes had to be taken online. In the beginning, he heard a couple of teachers mentioning that they were not accustomed to conducting lessons using online tools. The distance, and the lack of face-to-face interaction with their students in a classroom setting, was new to all of them.

However, the interesting part about being a voluntary tutor with a full-fledged career is that he’s had ample experiences working with digital tools like Zoom, even before online communications became the new norm. At work, he participated in online conference calls, which gave him many opportunities to familiarise himself with the various tools. With that, he could then adapt to online teaching with more ease and familiarity.

Nonetheless, he did pick up some tips from the other teachers as well. For example, they informed him that during online classes, many students could become easily distracted by their phones. "When their eyes are not focused on the screen, I can already guess what they're doing..." he added. So he’s had to make some readjustments to his teaching style to tackle these new challenges.

What made him embark on this journey of personal development?

Sharul's dedication to his role as a tutor led him to attend the National Institute of Education (NIE)’s course for classroom management, lesson planning, and pedagogical teaching.

It turns out that the MTS is not only driven to help these students, but also serves as an enabler for tutors to upskill themselves and refine their teaching methods, so that they can become even more effective educators. For Sharul, joining this course was a personal investment to his development as a tutor, and as a professional in the workplace.

"The psychology behind management and communication in this course can also be applied to clients and the work environment in general, depending on the context,” he said.

A business hustler during the weekday (Pre-COVID photo)

How does he balance work and volunteering as a tutor in MTS?

For Sharul, it helps that the distinction between work and volunteering is clear. 

Mondays to Fridays are reserved for work, while Saturdays are reserved for tutoring students (don’t worry, you can catch up on sleep on Sundays!). In fact, in his opinion, volunteering provides a form of a balance. He cites a few of these benefits – "it keeps you sane as a human being, improves your mental health, and keeps you aware of what's happening in society at large."

He also believes that it’s important to always be conscious of the fabric of society; to keep it cohesive, without disruption. "Volunteering helps in a way. Even by changing the lives of one or two persons, there will be a ripple effect."

Needless to say, we're more than encouraged and energised by Sharul's heartwarming contributions to the community.

Inspired to give back too? Now’s your turn.

Here are some tips (from Sharul, of course) on how you can give back to your community.

  1. Having the genuine intention in wanting to give back is a great start. 
  2. Take some time to understand yourself. Set a realistic expectation of what you want out of the experience. 
  3. Identify your strengths and skill sets that you can impart to the community. 
  4. Look out for NGOs (non-governmental organisations) that align with your interests.
  5. Find the space and time slot that you can dedicate yourself to. If you see yourself giving back in that area in the long-term, even better!

ⁱ There are similar schemes like SINDA and CDAC for other ethnic communities in Singapore.

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