Take the best to teach the rest

teach.jpgOn the Volume of Interactions, i’ve advocated over the years a key principle that will improve the quality of the education we give our youth: take the best talent in the market, and make them our teachers.

So it gave me massive satisfaction to hear that this exact idea has been implemented in UK over the last 8 years with incredibly positive results.

This is what “Teach First” does:

    1. take the best graduates of the country, the creme of Oxford and Cambridge (by 2010, 8% of Oxbridge‘s graduates actually work under the Teach First program)
    2. give them professional training into how to become teachers
    3. send them to under-performing schools with difficult or under-privileged students
    4. get them to teach
    5. watch as the students and the schools transform themselves into top performers

This is the key: if your teachers are the best, smartest and brightest, then your students will become the same too.


Teach First taps onto a very interesting phenomenon — the best graduates (as in high scorers and high achievers) also tend to be good leaders. And, good leaders actually make good teachers. Education is about the ability to lead a student to an education, rather than forcing him to learn, or making him learn. That’s a new relationship to me, but it makes sense now once i think about it.

All the best teachers i’ve had in my life were good leaders. They were role models firsts, educators second. I wanted to be like them, and to be like them i needed to learn what they knew. This motivation helped immensely.

The same thing is probably happening in these classrooms all across Britain. You’ve got these incredible young adults, honour graduates from the best universities in the country (and the world), come into common classrooms and teach these kids. Not only do these kids get the trickle down benefit of the best university education in their country, but they also get ready-made role models to emulate. It’s so simple, it’s brilliant.

Of course, there are many things to this that make it work. For example, Teach First has partnerships with the leaders of the corporate world, the Accentures, McKinsey’s, PWCs. These organizations offer to train Teach First teachers, even give them internships, and many Teach First alumni, after their 2-year stint as a teacher, go on to work for these giants of the industry. It’s a huge win-win situation for everyone.

Students win — they get top class teachers.The graduates win — they get first class training and opportunities with top class companies.The companies win — they are given time to evaluate, train and develop potential new recruits.

Whether or not this arrangement will work in Malaysia is debatable. But what is proven to work is the fact that when you take the best graduates and make them teachers, you are likely to receive results that are above and beyond what you normally would expect to achieve.

It’s been said time and time again — the foundation of a powerful economy is it’s human capital. Without an education system that takes the young and puts them on that right path, Malaysia is never going to be able to create that critical mass of thinking minds that we need to catapult us ahead. You have a lousy education system today, you have teachers who are there mostly because they can’t get a job anywhere else, and you have a student base that is largely unmotivated because your teachers are not leaders.

Why can’t we take a couple of billion ringgit and change all of this? PNB wants something worthwhile to invest in? Take the money for that silly 100-storey tower, and put it here instead. 5 billion will fuel this initiative for years.

Headhunt the best graduates of our nation, give them high paying teaching positions; create a new wage structure for these teachers if you have to. Make the salaries competitive to whatever they would normally be expected to receive if they went out there into private industry. Train them to teach, then unleash them into the school system. Make it a 2 or 3 year contract, with the option to make it permanent if they desire. This will ensure that no one feels “locked in for life”.

A few thousand teachers in the system every year will make a huge difference. You only need maybe 1-2 such teachers per school at any given time. The Teach First experience shows that the presence of these teachers even improves the quality of the other teachers — they are refreshed and energized by the presence of someone who has ability, is talented, and can be a leader in these schools. 

It’s a brilliant program, and one that we could make work here with very little effort. All it takes is a bit of money, and by the looks of how we seem to be throwing it away on stupid projects, Malaysia has enough of that too. Why not actually spend it on something that can make a real difference for a change?

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