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SchoolAdvisor’s Exclusive Interview With The Reputable Rhodes Scholarship Winner From Malaysia, Nurul Ezzaty Hasbullah

Published by SchoolAdvisor on Jan 09, 2020, 08:49 AM

There is no dearth of Malaysians who have made the country proud by reaching amazing heights in their respective fields, be it education, sports, arts or business. These are talents who have put Malaysia at the spotlight in the world’s stage and a recent name to join this list is Nurul Ezzaty Hasbullah. She received the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship to study at the University of Oxford, making her one of the five Malaysians who have received it thus far.

But what makes this lively youngster most inspiring is not her Rhodes Scholarship but what she aspires to do in future. Ezzaty wishes to work towards improving Malaysia’s public policy mechanisms. She specifically hopes to bring equality in education within Malaysia and believes that her dual master’s in Social Data Science and Public Policies will equip her with the necessary skills.

Having worked as a volunteer with The Kalsom Movement and The Charisma Movement, whereby she taught younger economically disadvantaged students in Malaysia, she realised the gap in the availability of education in Malaysia and it prompted her to take up this pathway. She was also involved in refugee crisis movements in Warsaw.

SchoolAdvisor had an exclusive interview with Ezzaty to talk about her life, achievements and future aspirations. Here are some excerpts of it.

SA: Can you share your education background, staring from primary till now?

Ezzaty: I grew up in Selangor, Malaysia. My primary schooling was in an Integrated Islamic School near my house in Kota Damansara, where I grew up. Then after my UPSR examination in Standard 6, I went to a local secondary school (SMK) for Form 1 till Form 3.I went off to Kuala Terengganu after that, where I obtained the Khazanah Scholarship after my Form 5 and it covered the cost of my A-Levels at Kolej Yayasan UEM (KYUEM).

With the scholarship, I applied to universities in the United Kingdom (UK) and the United States (US) at the same time. While I received offers from universities in both countries, I chose to continue with my degree at the University of Pennsylvania in the US.

SA: What are some of the struggles/ challenges you faced during this journey?

Ezzaty: I was bullied growing up. I had trouble making friends since primary school and I think the reason is that I was outspoken, which rubbed people the wrong way. I remember once, my own Sports Housemates at school surrounded me and called me things like ‘show-off’ and ‘teacher’s pet’ and claimed I was trying to outshine everybody. I was very active and was just such a go-getter and I liked putting my name to things, so I guess my fellow students saw it as showing off.

SA: So how did you manage to overcome these hurdles?

Ezzaty: I invested my energy into my studies and co-curricular activities. I channelled it all towards doing even better. I participated in debates, sports and various other activities. I tried my best to channel all the energy positively because I knew that there was no way I could please everyone. I also knew that I would gain nothing from pleasing them because all they wanted to do was complain about the fact that I was trying too hard. So, I told myself that instead of worrying about that, I would use my time for my own personal growth.

SA: Do you think having counsellors at schools can help in such situations?

Ezzaty: If they are well trained, they can have a great impact. I personally have a good experience with the counsellors of my own school. I believe if the counsellors are really there and understand that kids are not just feeling sad because they are acting up, they can have a huge impact in the lives of such students who are having issues.

Having said that, for me, I was struggling mostly when I was in middle school and a bit during primary school, but I did not know how to speak about it, so I did not share with anyone, not even my parents. I assumed this was normal, everyone goes through this but in retrospect, it was not the healthiest thing to do.

Nowadays the issue of mental health is talked about much more, which I feel is amazing. The fact that people are talking about it more now makes you feel like you can reach out if you are struggling and you would get the support you need. I think this is something that could have been helpful when I was going through it previously.

SA: You have been involved in a lot of extracurricular activities since primary school. What would you say as some of the benefits of being involved in such activities?

Ezzaty: Extracurricular activities not only taught me how to think and act, but it also taught me how to solve problems, how to engage with and influence others, and made me aware of the fact that as a person, I have the ability to make an impact.

I remember the time when I took part in a debate in middle school and won the best speaker. I was initially so nervous, but once I got into it, it taught me all kinds of skills like how to research and present my thoughts effectively, things I doubt I would have learned otherwise. 

So, I believe extracurricular activities have a very important role to play in the development of soft skills and provide a platform to distinguish yourself from others.

SA: What are your plans after graduating from university?

Ezzaty: I wish to come back to Malaysia and become a state representative or ‘Wakil Rakyat’, and eventually join the Cabinet of Malaysia. It is the people of Malaysia who gave me the opportunity to pursue my undergraduate education through Yayasan Khazanah, and it is my responsibility to give back to them. I don’t take this kind of responsibility lightly and so I want to return to my country and truly serve my people.

SA: What is your opinion on the present education system in Malaysia?

Ezzaty: I think the government is doing an amazing job but there are other things that we should focus on too, for example, the training and the compensation of teachers. To have a quality education system, you need quality teachers. I have come across teachers, when I was volunteering, who have to spend much of their time doing paperwork when they don’t even have time to teach kids. This needs to be addressed.

We also need to realize that equality isn’t the same as equity because there are some schools in Malaysia in certain regions that need more attention than others. For example, when I was in Setapak and volunteering there for 2 weeks, I realised that they do not have enough teachers. And so, standard 6 students could not do even basic Mathematics. I believe we should focus on these kinds of small pocket communities in Malaysia that need extra support and provide them with the extra help they need.

SA: Lastly, any advice for students?

Ezzaty: To those who feel like the odds are against them or that school doesn’t matter, I implore you to really take a second to think about what you want your future to look like. Look around you right now and ask yourself, is this where you see yourself in 20 years? If not, then where do you see yourself? I promise you that no matter what dreams you have, education will help you get there. I understand it can be hard, sometimes, especially when you feel like the world is against you and you are not getting the support that you need, but don’t belittle your capabilities. It’s not like you are bad in school, sometimes you don’t have the support that you need, so reach out for it. Reach out to people, teachers, friends, classmates, ask them for help because education is the most important thing for you to change your future.

Ezzaty is an inspiration to everyone, not only for her achievements but her dreams of working for the country and giving back to society. SchoolAdvisor wishes her all the best for her future and hope that students will be motivated by her journey to spread their wings and fly high.  

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