Co-founder & CEO of Edvolution Enterprise
Melissa Tanya Gomes was a management consultant at a global firm who harboured an ambition to contribute to marginalised communities ever since her university days. Buried away due to societal views of social work at the time, Melissa never acted upon her impulses until years later when she heard an advertisement beseeching young Malaysians to solve education inequity aired on the radio.
Posted to a high-need national school, her passion for education grew stronger, knowing the full benefits education can bring. “The biggest challenge for girls from the B40 communities is the lack of role modelling of how powerful women can be,” Melissa opens up on her first-hand account of the perils confronting the less privileged.
“Many times, girls from these communities look for love and think that marriage is the ultimate aim in life. I have had many students who stopped schooling before completing SPM to get married and getting impregnated at the age of 14 years old.”
Over time Melissa developed a special bond with her students and their families, so much so that she made a pledge “to fight for this group of the community through education using the knowledge and experience she gained as a consultant.” The seeds of Edvolution Enterprise, a not-for-profit social enterprise she co-founded with her bestie, Janice Chong, who also taught at the same school, were sown.
Recognising an absence of empowerment given to educators to drive change in the classroom and a lack of a coherent support system between state, districts and schools to support teachers and school leaders – many of whom are women – Melissa set out to fundamentally transform the way the system functions.
Since its inception in 2017, Edvolution has achieved impressive results with its flagship programme, Teacher Empowerment for School Transformation (TEST), significantly reducing teacher absenteeism and reinforcing students’ emotional learning. TEST was ranked among the top 150 innovations in education by HundrEd Global, a global not-for-profit organisation seeking inspiring education innovations.
Melissa shares her vision for Edvolution is to cultivate exceptional leaders in every level of the education ecosystem regardless of gender or socio-economic backgrounds, by adopting a non-bias framework to develop leadership. In reality, however, women comprise about 80% of the participants in their programmes. It means they have to fine tune on-ground strategies commensurate with the needs of their beneficiaries. And because these women perpetually juggle various commitments, between work and family, flexibility thus constitutes a key feature of their programmes in order to drive participation.
“These include having short and effective sessions right after school, creating various platforms for them to access learning and a ‘hotline’ group via Telegram for them to reach out to the team any time of the day,” says Melissa.
Clothe yourself with strength and dignity for that is the greatest commodity you have to succeed.Melissa Tanya Gomes
Being a mother, wife, former teacher and Teach for Malaysia alumna, Melissa has experienced the same hurdles faced by today’s working women as well as women educators. “I definitely empathise with women who struggle to manage family and work,” she says, revealing that she partakes in support groups for mothers to assist full-time working mothers in their kids’ learning.
“In my personal reflection when I was a new mother and a new teacher at the same time, my greatest challenge was breastfeeding due to the lack of a proper breastfeeding facility in school,” she continues.
While women make great teachers, as Melissa lists qualities such as intuition and high emotional strength, greater patience and empathy when dealing with difficult students, she feels the perception of female teachers being more meticulous, hardworking and reliable than their male counterparts results in unfair treatment. Already coping with a strenuous workload, female teachers have to put up with extra responsibilities deemed suitable to their gender identity.
Female students aren’t spared stereotyping either. Girls are frequently pressured into prioritising their physical appearances without realising the true meaning of beauty. “This is true for female students from all socio-economic backgrounds who tend to succumb themselves to the ideals of looking good but not knowing that beauty outweighs physical appearances,” Melissa says, pointing out that she has had female students suffering from bulimia – an eating disorder – and spend excessively in the name of vanity.
While the Prestige Malaysia 40 Under 40 alumna acknowledges that education is key to unlocking a woman’s potential, she doesn’t think that alone is enough. She says educating the general public about the role of women and setting up strong governance in policies to allow participation of women leaders in key decision-making positions are equally as important.
A firm believer in inner beauty and wisdom, her message to all women for this International Women’s Day is “clothe yourself with strength and dignity for that is the greatest commodity you have to succeed.”
To all young girls, Melissa urges them not to be concerned about the outward beauty of fancy hairstyles, expensive jewellery or beautiful clothes. “You should clothe yourselves instead with the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit,” she asserts.