Why does the Community Centre programme exist? Why do we give free English, IT and Motivation classes? Because we believe that education is the way out of poverty. Poverty does terrible things to a person, because it is not only a lack of resources. Poverty is also a particular mindset. It is not only a state of being, but also a way of thinking.
These beliefs are so powerful, that children brought up in this environment are systematically indoctrinated into thinking in the same way. This is how the cycle of poverty perpetuates from generation to generation.
Cycle of Poverty
Fighting poverty is fighting to break this cycle by changing the mindset of poverty. The best way to change a mindset is through Education. This is the purpose of the Community Centre programme. Not only to provide hard skills such as English and IT, but also to change their approach to life, allowing them to recognize their possibilities as individuals and achieve a better future.
What are Community Centres?
The Community Centre programme is the core programme of SOLS 24/7.
Open to all, regardless of age, gender, race or religion, our Community Centres provides free English, IT, and Motivation education. The combination of hard skills with right attitude and mindset ensures that each student not only has the knowledge to succeed but is ready to embrace opportunity when it appears.
Thus far, we have trained 30,310 students in Malaysia and won numerous awards for our efforts in the sector.
What do we teach?
- Proven Innovative English Method
- Speak English in 60 hours of classes
- Guarantees a job
- Emails and word processing.
- Digital literacy is the literacy of the 21st century
- Computers supplied by SOLS Tech.
- The class breaks the cycle of poverty.
- Help them see human potential.
- Teaches the value of education.
- Provide a productive activity for the community.
- Aims to teach social awareness
How do we set up a Community Centre?
The Importance of English
English began it’s life as the language of Anglo-Saxons: a series of Germanic tribes that migrated to the British Islands in the 5th century. Today, 1,400 years later, English has transformed from a tribal dialect into the first truly global language.
But what does a “global language” mean? English is not the most widely spoken language in the world. That position goes to Mandarin, followed by Spanish. English comes third place. What makes English a global language is not the number of its speakers, but rather, who are its speakers.
In 2010, Hiroshi Mikitani, the CEO of Rakuten — Japan’s largest online marketplace — mandated that English would be the company’s official language of business. The company’s goal was to be the number one internet services company in the world. Mikitani stated that employees had to demonstrate competence on an international English scoring system within two years or risk demotion or dismissal. The policy drew a fair amount of criticism from his fellow Japanese, whose conservative island nation conducted law, business and entertainment entirely in the national Japanese language.
Today, Rakuten’s expansion plans are focused outside of Japan. The company’s workforce is now remarkably diverse, powerful and fully equipped with an expanded worldview. Rakuten aggressively seeks the best talent of not only Japan, but of the entire globe. Half of Rakuten’s employees even engage internal communications in English!
Why such severe policies? Is English even worth such a risk? Why enforce English proficiency in a Japanese-speaking workforce to begin with?
Adopting a language change policy is not easy, but the same scenario that occurred at Rakuten has occurred at hundreds of non-English-speaking multinationals all across Asia, including gigantic technology firms like Lenovo and Huawei, as well as colossal players in the automaking industry like Honda and Bridgestone.
This “Englishification” is not only constrained to Asia. We aren’t alone. The proud nations of Europe, with rich, illustrious histories in their national languages, now use English in board meetings and official documents. Christoph Franz made English the official language of the German airline Lufthansa in 2011, even though almost all 50 senior managers were German.
English is today the most widely learned second language in the world. Linguist David Crystal estimates that non-native English speakers outnumber native speakers by a ratio of 3 to 1.
Gradually, although there was a lot of expectation that Mandarin would be the global business language of the new millennium, it became clear that it was one of the most difficult languages to master, and the least computer-friendly. As corporate English invades more and more difficult territory, including the conservative corporate cultures of the Orient, we start seeing a trend: if an organisation wanted to be a part of global business, English was the key.
Most remarkably, this line of inquiry can be applied to any field. If international business and trade is broad enough, imagine the arena of global scientific publishing. Decades ago, English used to have a parity with French and German in scientific research, but now, it completely dominates the field. In 1998 (almost 20 years ago!), 90% of all scientific journals in natural science publications were in English, as were 80% of all journals in chemistry publications, and 82% in all humanities publications.
Consider the arena of international relations and diplomacy. English is the official language of the United Nations, the world’s largest inter-governmental organisation. The European Union and NATO, NAFTA, the International Olympic Committee and yes, even ASEAN uses English as the official working language, even though most member countries are non-native English speakers.
English is the main language used for international treaties. It is the international language of seafaring and aviation, and the professional requirement of occupations such as law, medicine and computing. English makes up 52% of all Internet content.
There are 1.2 billion Mandarin speakers in the world, but it is English that dominates international business, international trade, diplomacy, science, media, entertainment and publishing.
What does this mean? This means that if an individual wanted to understand where our world is headed; if an individual wanted to gain the global perspective of human development; if an individual wanted to be a part of the ongoing adventure of humanity; that individual has to learn English.
English in Malaysia
English has always had a special place in the minds of us Malaysians. The linguistic influence of our British colonisers has left it’s mark since the 18th century. An array of opinions across the spectrum surround the language, ranging from those who believe English to be an important part of Malaysian identity and colonial history, to those who see it as a threat to the status of Bahasa Malaysia as the national language.
But are English and Bahasa Malaysia mutually exclusive? What gave us the idea that we must choose one over the other? The greatest leaders, scientists and thinkers in the world have been bilingual or even multilingual. Mahatma Gandhi grew up speaking Gujarati, but later in life, he spoke impeccable English, Urdu and Hindi. Mother Teresa spoke fluent Albanian, English, Serbo-Croatian, Bengali and Hindi. The trend continues to this day. In 2014, Mark Zuckerberg impressed the world when he conducted a Q&A in Beijing completely in Mandarin.
Where is it written that human beings are capable of speaking only one language? All evidence of human potential show us that we need not choose only one. We Malaysians give our abilities too little credit. In fact, Malaysia is in a unique position to take advantage of bilingualism, more so than most other countries. We can speak both languages. We can master both languages. So why not?
At SOLS 24/7 Malaysia, as much as the power of English, we believe in the power of bilingualism. We believe in the potential of Malaysians to master two languages, and to enjoy the benefits of both. This is why we emphasize teaching English as a second language, not as the language.
It is difficult to exclude the role and importance of English if we are concerned with equipping Malaysians with an expanded worldview and high-quality education. Being proficient in English empowers the next generation to access broader opportunities in the job market and be better able to compete on the global stage. It increases confidence, and prepares one to become a true citizen of the world. From the economic standpoint, it is one of the most important prerequisites for enhancing Malaysian competitiveness in the technology-driven, globalized arena of this age.
But ask any employer today, and they will tell you that communication in English is the first critical challenge of the Malaysian labor force. A Thornton International Business Report discovered that 62% of businesses in Malaysia found it difficult to source skilled workers, citing the lack of soft skills, particularly communication in English. A 2016 Salary Survey by the Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF) found that more than 90% of respondents indicated the need for graduates to improve their English proficiency to become more employable.
And yet, these very employees that need to improve their English have studied 11 years of it in our national schools. They enter university and undergo lectures and assignments in English, they write their dissertations and take exams in English. They graduate from their English courses, but to what result? They are criticized by employers, and they struggle to get a decent job. Is this fair? All Malaysians deserve good jobs, and we want to help.
We understand that this is less of a Malaysian problem than a global problem. Recently, Malaysia’s neighbouring countries are witnessing an alarming decline in English proficiency, despite the best efforts. An official survey demonstrated that nearly half of Filipino high school graduates could not speak English at all. In Hong Kong, although high school students study English for several hours a day, just like Malaysian students, only half of the youths could pass English language exams. This problem is not confined to just us. We are not the only ones.
The government has realized this, and they have put up a valiant effort through the Dual Language Programme, intending to roll it out to 841 schools in 2017. But there is always more to be done. We intend to join the movement towards better English and help improve the lives of Malaysians in any way we can. We dream of a Malaysia where everyone is bilingual, has a good job, and is a citizen of the world.
The SOLS English Methodology
SOLS 24/7 Malaysia uses a unique, self-developed teaching methodology to deliver English training. The method was born 17 years ago in Cambodia, and it focuses on speaking and communication over listening, reading and writing, though these are emphasised as well. In Malaysia, what most students struggle with is speaking confidently and fluently. Fear of failure, language anxiety and the lack of confidence contribute to a barrier that prevents one from practicing the language to fluency.
The SOLS English Methodology is built upon the science of learning and countless field trials. It is simple, powerful, and formula-based, helping people break the fear of speaking English.
English as a Second Language
The first thing that the SOLS method acknowledges is the fact that acquiring a first language and learning a second language uses inherently different processes, and therefore, require different methods of delivery.
A first language is acquired subconsciously, with very little effort. Learning it is natural because a brain usually begins grasping it’s first language when it is young and neuroplastic, enabling easy and organic learning.
A second language on the other hand, has to be consciously learnt, and with developed adult brains constantly interpreting everything from the context of a first language, learning is difficult and unnatural. This is the reason why picking up a second or third language is challenging in a way few other challenges are.
A common method is for English teachers to ban students from speaking any other language in class. From the context of the SOLS English Methodology, we view this as a severe impediment to picking up a second language, especially in Malaysia, where there is more than one native language. When a second language is learnt, it is impossible to stop the student from attempting to interpret it through the first language. How does stopping your student from speaking in their native language aid in stamping out them interpreting English using their native language? What’s important is that this interpretation is guided by a method – something the SOLS English Methodology provides.
Using Bahasa Malaysia to teach English
In this very spirit, we have innovated a method that uses a student’s native language as a tool to teach English. The entire SOLS Methodology is built upon a student’s understanding of his or her first language. For example, one of the core techniques taught is called the LDC Method. This stands for: Local, Direct, Correct.
Essentially, the LDC Method provides a formula for students to translate their native language into English through three steps. (1) Local: where the student writes down word-for-word a sentence in the native language. (2) Direct: where the student then translate directly word-for-word that sentence that was written down, and finally (3) Correct: where the student corrects the direct translation just performed into the proper English form.
This method is drilled through practice until it is eventually internalized by students, facilitating instinctual translation from the native language into English. Ultimately, the result is that the formula becomes second nature, and the student’s English transforms from halting and unsure, to confident and fluent.
The LDC method was found to work when it was first implemented in Cambodia, where students spoke Khmer. It worked in Timor Leste with Tetum, and it works in Malaysia with Bahasa Malaysia. These features grant the method significant potential, due to its adaptability and potential to scale.
The Science of Attention
During an average length 90 minute lecture, a student’s mind wanders within 10 minutes. The maximum attention span is then reached at 20 minutes, and for the remaining hour, the brain pays better attention to people than to ideas or things. With the SOLS English Methodology, how attention works is carefully considered when lessons are being planned.
Classroom delivery is distributed with the limits of attention in mind. Each lesson starts with a severe 5 minutes of explanation, 15-20 minutes of “warm up”, which consist of revision or games, 15-20 minutes of written practice, followed by up to 50-60 minutes of “Interactive Learning”, where activities are organized and conducted, creating a space for students to practice English.
One of the most important and challenging elements to speaking is to speak in the correct form. The SOLS Methodology considers this and take this into account. While most other methods of teaching English focus on vocabulary, and “teaching” is considered synonymous with throwing as many vocabulary words as students can swallow, the SOLS Method concentrates instead on the self-termed “system words”.
According to the method, all words in the English language can be split into two groups. Vocabulary words, of which there are thousands and thousands, and System Words, of which there are only 150 that we have identified. Despite the disparity in number, 60% to 70% of words used in daily conversation are System Words. They are the words we use to link vocabulary words together to form sentences.
One way to understand this system better is through the analogy of the Truck. Communication is about transmitting a message from point A to point B. In this same way, imagine that we have to move cargo from point A to point B. We can move this cargo in a couple of ways. At first glance, it would make the most sense to move the cargo one by one. In other words, to learn vocabulary words and their meanings one by one, leading to a slower, more gradual learning curve that becomes increasingly complex.
The alternative would be to get a Truck, load all the cargo on it, and just travel the distance. It is simpler, cleaner and less messy. The Truck in this analogy are the 150 System Words. The System Words act like a foundation or skeleton, upon which vocabulary words can be loaded without effort, in order to transmit a message and communicate.
This is the manifestation of the SOLS Method’s commitment to structure over vocabulary. Instead of approaching English training through the thousands and thousands of vocabulary words, we aim instead to master correct English form through the 150 System Words. The SOLS Method teaches students not “what” to speak, but “how” to speak.
The benefit of this is profound. Once System Words are internalized, correct form no longer becomes a problem. Teaching English in this way facilitates student self-sufficiency in learning. Once a student has achieved the correct form, learning new words become a simple matter of learning the meaning of new vocabulary words.
The SOLS Phonics System
The incredible similarity in the phonetics of English and Bahasa Malaysia allow for a system that facilitates easy conversion of Bahasa phonetics to English phonetics, training students to accurately pronounce English using Bahasa Malaysia.
As an example, the Bahasa Malaysia “e” is phonetically identical to the English “a”. The same is true between the Bahasa “i” and the English “e”, and countless other similarities. Once again, by using the local language and furnishing formulas for the mind to internalize, students attain confidence in practicing and pronouncing English rapidly, eventually developing a separate sense of it.
The Map of a Language
The SOLS Method has identified 8 aspects of life around which all common daily conversation revolves. One thing to understand is that all conversations consist of questions followed by answers, followed by more questions. What people actually speak when they speak a language, is just a series of questions and answers.
The method carries out speaking practice with this in mind. Students are made to practice with something they would most likely use in an actual situation, styled in a question-answer format, and often in tandem with another student. What these practice sessions do is that it prepares the student for a real conversation, and without realizing, when that real conversation comes upon them, students that have gone through this kind of speaking practice tend to be able to respond with much less fear or anxiety, and much more confidence, than before.
Interactive Learning is a segment included in the lesson planning of each SOLS class. This segment is planned and facilitated by a teacher trained in our method. After the explanation, warm up and writing practice segments, the Interactive Learning segment takes over, and it is 50-60 minutes long.
During this part of the lesson, ideally the teacher is relegated to a satellite role. Instead of taking the centre stage as an active instructor, the teacher conducts an activity that gets the students to participate and be involved, while the teacher becomes more of a passive facilitator and observer, praising, encouraging, and correcting mistakes.
Interactive Learning sessions are highly hands-on and activity-based. If these activities are conducted in a normal classroom setting, it would represent a significant amount of speaking practice, but because of the engaging quality of Interactive Learning sessions, most students don’t actually realize how much practice they are putting in.
Situational Spoken Practice
Part of the reason why the SOLS Method is so successful is because of the many, many occasions when students are made to practice and repeat. These practice session are designed to be as comfortable and as natural to students as possible, to facilitate organic learning.
For example, when conducting speaking practice, exercises are even tailored to target groups. Small business owners, housewives and youth have dramatically different vocabularies, and so, when conducting speaking practice sessions between small business owners let’s say, sessions that consist of communication exchanges and vocabulary that would commonly be exercised over everyday transactions will be covered.
One thing to note about why we do this is that Bahasa Malaysia is a highly contextual language, as with most Asian languages. This results in the highly contextual Asian culture that we are all familiar with, when contrasted with the West. What follows is that when teaching in a high context culture, text without context rarely contribute to good learning.
Contextual learning gives the chance for a student to frame the time and place for a particular given topic, and situational spoken practice allows for students to have valuable, productive and relevant practice.
Positive Learning Environment
There are plenty of barriers to learning another language, but the chief of all the barriers are the barriers to speaking. Communication apprehension, foreign language anxiety, the fear of negative evaluation and failure all make it difficult for students to practice English in their daily lives.
With Malaysia being Malaysia, bringing the wealth of a multicultural society with it, it is monstrously easy for an individual to cut himself or herself completely off from the exposure of another language.
A person versed with mandarin can choose to immerse fully in the mandarin-speaking world, by watching mandarin-speaking TV shows, speaking mandarin to family and friends, and browsing the Internet in mandarin. This proliferation of entertainment and internet culture contributing to the spread of language is profound, and this can be observed with the advent of Korean Pop and Korean dramas, correlated to the subsequent rise in Korean words being used in everyday conversation. Another example is Japanese anime cartoons resulting in the viewer becoming familiar with the Japanese language.
These factors combined together create an environment where a student who wants to learn English has zero space in the 24 hours of his or her day to actually practice the language, and a terrible fear of practicing the language emerges because of embarrassment or anxiety.
SOLS Teachers are trained to create a safe space in which students feel comfortable to make mistakes and practice. The SOLS classes also act as a two-hour buffer in the day that allows students to speak and practice English. These two elements alone can result in dramatic improvement in students. The Positive Learning Space is also filled with colorful beanbags, carpets and bookshelves to create a comfortable and bright learning atmosphere that immediately puts students at ease.
One of the very special things that we’ve been able to do with the SOLS Method is give students some measure of exposure. The students we target often do not only need hard skills like English or IT training. Our target group also require some form of character development, some sort of intervention that allows them to see beyond their circumstances; beyond the veil that poverty puts over them.
Sometimes what a student needs is just a little time outside of their zone of familiarity. There are cases of students from our target group where the student has not left more than 50km from their home, and some students have not even visited Kuala Lumpur or any other city. They know very little of the wider world, and the possibilities and opportunities open to them. What they need, especially the youth, is just a little opportunity to see what is different, what is possible. For them to understand potential. A little bit of that can go a long way.
We are in a unique position to provide this exposure to them because of the operations of our other initiatives. Through our Community Library programme managed by NGOHub, we build a library and fill it with hundreds of donated books in the local Community Centre. Through SOLS Tech, we install laptops or desktops for free in these centres, providing students exposure to technology and the transforming power of the Internet.
Lastly, SOLS’ international volunteers are often the centre of attention in our communities. We emphasize international volunteers because of the exposure factor it provides our target students. The inevitable and rich cultural exchanges that occur between the international and the community exposes students to history, geography and culture, giving them the impression of an infinite, limitless, wider world to explore outside of their local reality.