We Need Solution-Driven Children for a 21st Century Society
15 May 2019 - kualalumpur

“One of the biggest highlights of my career is being able to change the mindsets of the most challenging students, transforming them from being shy, negative and extremely disruptive to children who are caring, sensitive and able to contribute in building a better society,” Soonufat Supramaniam, better known as Soon, recalled some of the moments of his five-year teaching career in Malaysia.

Soon is currently teaching English at SMK Lubok Buntar, a school located in a small town of Kedah. He is also the founder of Leadspire Academy in Perak.

Academic performance aside, Soon pays considerable attention on the holistic development of his students. He often looks beyond the traditional school system to find creative ways to help his students learn better.

Designing Solutions

One of the many methodologies Soon adopted is Design for Change’s four-step design thinking model for children — Feel-Imagine-Do-Share (FIDS). “We are living in a century where we are faced with many problems and crises. Unfortunately, we have too many people talking and complaining, perpetuating the cycle of problem, rather than taking actions to make the situations better,” Soon expressed, “Design thinking is proven to be a successful problem-solving model. It is extremely helpful in educating more people to be solution designers and equipping them with the necessary mindset to create sound measures to make the world a better place.”

In 2018, Soon introduced the FIDS model to five of his students. Based on the step by step guide and Soon’s experience in arts education and theatrical production, the students created a monumental anti-bullying play called “Singing to the Lions” to raise awareness and help reduce bullying cases in school. The play was staged at George Town Festival in August last year, involving 45 students from five secondary schools in rural Kedah.

School bullying was affecting the students on a daily basis. Through the project, they were able to bring together those who bully and those being bullied to work collaboratively in addressing the issues. It helped them become more empathetic, creative, proactive, and responsible citizens.

Subsequently, in December 2018, Soon’s five students — Ain, Aishah, Syahirah, Anusha and Nurazlina — had the opportunity to travel abroad for the first time to Taiwan and showcase their work at the Be the Change Festival, which was a global gathering of 1,000 children from more than 40 countries, organised by Design for Change Global.

Ain, Aishah, Syahirah, Anusha and Nurazlina arriving in Taipei, Taiwan

The students at the Be the Change Festival held in Taipei, Taiwan in December 2019

The students with the Founder of Design for Change, Kiran Sethi in Taipei, Taiwan

Spreading Hope

Soon observed a notable change in his students’ attitudes after the entire experience. “They are more self-driven, taking a lot more initiative in organising gatherings in school to share their learning and the FIDS model with other students,” He said, “They recently started a project called ‘One Step Forward’, which uses the FIDS model to conduct a series of gatherings for their peers to open up more discussions and opportunities for them to address the issues they face in school. It is entirely student-driven. It is really amazing to see students being able to do this on their own.”

Rethinking Education 

21st century is a century with unprecedented developments. Societies today works differently from the century before. In that regard, Soon firmly believes that we need to overhaul the education system in order to keep up with the changes and ensure that it is capable of producing children with mindsets and skills that can contribute to the new reality.

One of the immediate action step can be taken is changing teachers’ mindset and exposing them to innovative teaching methods, such as Design for Change’s FIDS model. “I really enjoyed learning the framework and how it is helping students to think outside the box,” Soon expressed. He had also recently conducted a Design for Change Workshop for Educators in Kedah itself, allowing more teachers to benefit from the programme.

Soon led a Design for Change Workshop for Educators in Kedah

A teacher presenting during the Design for Change Workshop

Preliminary plan of a social project created using the FIDS model

Soon opined that the education system requires a paradigm shift from academic-based to values-based. He is optimistic about the recent initiatives taken by the Education Ministry of Malaysia to revisit the foundation of our education system. He certainly looks forward to see all parties coming together to create a concerted effort that will bring about positive development of education in Malaysia. 

In the meantime, Soon has set up Leadspire Academy in Parit Buntar, Perak with an aim to inspire students and teachers to become globally competitive by fearlessly pursuing their passion, creativity and innovation. “To ensure the sustainability of students’ holistic development, I set up the academy to share my methodology and continue to create impact as an educator,” Soon concluded.