Activism in the 21st Century: In Conversation with Rifqi Faisal from the MYER Movement

TLMUN Herald
8 min readFeb 17, 2021


Education in the 21st century has changed greatly. These changes were accelerated by the pandemic with the implementation of Zoom classes. However, these revolutionizing changes only benefit a specific group of people — the rich and privileged. Hence, this is creating a huge gap between diverse socioeconomic groups globally. Recently, I had an opportunity to interview Rifqi Faisal from the MYER Movement on the Malaysian education system and student activism in Malaysia.

What was the inspiration behind the establishment of the MYER Movement?

Source: MYER Movement

The MYER Movement was founded by my friend Izanna Azuddin and I because we felt that we needed to give a platform to student voices in Malaysia and the issues they faced. The story on how and why it was created varies according to the person because there were a lot of reasons why MYER was created. If you ask me, I’d say MYER was created because I realized there were a lot of gaps in the Malaysian education system, and there needs to be a youth/student front pushing for it to be better.

Being a youth organization in Malaysia, what were the challenges faced by the MYER Movement, especially in the midst of the pandemic? And how were these challenges addressed by the MYER team?

The challenges we faced definitely came from people who were a lot older. Whilst not spoken about, the activism scene in Malaysia does comprise of some individuals who tend to look down on younger activists. Another challenge we faced was the barrage of questions that we didn’t have answers to yet. Not a lot of people understand this but being an activist and subsequently leading an organization doesn’t mean we have all the answers to fix the world’s problems.

In our pursuit of change, we will find those answers. It just cannot be an instant reward given to us. During the pandemic, there were a lot of issues and challenges that were going on simultaneously. The pandemic halted our ability to do any real life events and major ground work so we shifted most of what we can do online. Since then, we’ve been working to produce content and run interactive projects in the name of change. In the future, we’ve got a few projects within our pipeline that are still in development stages. We hope to be launching these projects soon that will hopefully positively impact its target communities and ensure that the change is one that is sustainable.

Since the MYER Movement advocates for educational reformation in Malaysian schools, what are the main issues that need to be tackled within the Malaysian education system?

Source: The Star

The issues within the school system and school environment are vast and multifaceted. First and foremost, MYER believes in pushing for change in the school to counsel their students. Coming from personal experiences, many counselors tend to use religion as a basis to antagonize students for experiencing the issues they face. Moreover, it is also about the ungiving of professional and constructive advice. Students need to be able to have an avenue to tell someone their issues and get appropriate counseling for it. Another issue we hope to tackle in schools in the main syllabus itself. This is one of our bigger goals. We hope to change the content students are fed in school in hopes of tailoring it to what the student needs realistically (i.e. taxes, mental health development, critical thinking skills).

The implementation of online distance learning in educational institutions nationwide has widened the gap between the impoverished and the privileged — with the impoverished being left out due to internet connectivity issues and lack of access to digital resources and devices. What are your thoughts on this and how could this issue be solved?

Blended learning in a Malaysian public school. Source: Christensen Institute

MYER believes that the federal government has all the resources needed to mitigate or even solve this issue. With MPs like Syed Saddiq fundraising for laptops, the capacity to get the job done is not in question. It is whether or not there is enough political will to ensure our students have all the resources they need to be the future leaders of this country and to contribute to it someday. However, this is not the only alternative. There are a lot of errors in the way education is being organized in the pandemic especially when it comes to rules and terms for students to return back to campus if they need resources. In this pandemic, there needs to be an adequate and systematic solution to ensuring our students’ education continues despite the challenges.

The government’s decision to go ahead with the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) examinations has incited mixed reactions within the student community with a large majority pushing for the postponement or cancellation of the exams. This indefinitely shows the government’s focus on standardized examinations leaving little to no space for holistic learning. Countries such as the United States of America and the United Kingdom have cancelled their high school exams too such as the GCE-A Levels, GCE-O Levels and SATs.

MYER understandably and unarguably sides with students. There are two important entities at risk; their education and their safety. With SPM continuing alongside the number of cases skyrocketing in Malaysia, going along with SPM threatens the lives of students. This needs to be considered by the government. We cannot put the lives of students at risk, no matter the situation. If anything were to happen, the government must bear the cost. Alternatives exist. Holistic learning, online examinations, postponement, cancellation are all alternatives that have not yet been explored or not explored enough.

SPM and STPM students in Sabah. Source: Free Malaysia Today

What could be the possible causes of the Malaysian government’s decision to continue with the SPM exams?

I think there is a worry that, if postponed, the batch of 03’ will only be able to take their SPM in late 2021 or by 2022. This, however, is dismissive of the fact that examinations can be conducted online, cancelled, or even take an alternative assessment.

What are your thoughts on this issue (should it be cancelled and replaced with an alternative assessment or should the government go ahead with it)?

Personally, I believe SPM should be replaced with an alternative assessment that is conducted online. This way, students are still able to receive their education as well removing the threat towards their safety.

Is the education system being too exam-oriented until they defy the actual purpose of going to school?

Most definitely. When an education is extremely exam oriented, students lose the intrinsic value of education — understanding and practicing. An exam oriented system deters students from actually caring about what they learn and moving towards only caring about how much they can remember to get the highest grade.

Is mental health awareness in schools nationwide being taken lightly and what are the possible reasons for it?

Source: The Pitt News

Mental health awareness is definitely being taken lightly, no doubt. This issue has a lot to do with stigma and the refusal to accept it for what it is. Often using religion, or the lack thereof, as an excuse by authority to dismiss students, mental health issues in schools run rampant silently. When it happens silently, it is a lot harder to target and offer these students help. Schools need to do better to remove this culture of dismissing and discounting mental health issues. It does not make the learning environment more conducive and the advice given is in no way constructive, legitimate, and factually correct.

Is there a possibility that student activism in Malaysia would be on par with our South East Asian counterparts (Thailand, Myanmar etc.) in the years to come?

Possibly. I have no doubt that student activism in Malaysia is able to reach a peak and grant them the ability to move mountains but the only factor prohibiting this is the law and academic threats.

Student activism cannot bolster itself if laws like the Universities and University Colleges Act 1971 is still put into place. The suppression of student voices in Malaysia is a problem that needs to be rectified.

Thai students protesting against King Vajiralongkorn. Source: Al Jazeera

What are the current challenges faced by student activists in Malaysia?

Definitely academic threats of being expelled, punished and demerits as well as enforcement threats by policing bodies like PDRM. The issue has never really been the lack of platform, the lack of voices or anything but the fact that students have always been suppressed because they fear for their safety and their education. A conversation needs to be ignited once again in Malaysian discourse.

What would your advice be for potential student activists who would want to set up their own organization/movement?

The advice I would give to potential student activists would be to just go ahead and do it. The only barrier that exists between you and creating change is fear. Do not be fearful to use your voice and amplify the voices of others. You may not have all the answers on how to fix the issues in this world but that does not mean you cannot seek for it by starting a platform, organization, or anything else of the sort. In the realm of activism, there will be a lot of individuals that will attempt to intimidate you, treat you poorly and disrespect the work you have done but that does not invalidate your work or anything else you wish to accomplish in the name of change.

The best kinds of activism are ones that are robust, loud, and consistent. There must never be a limit to how one can access activism, there will always be an opportunity.

[Written by: Preevena Jayabalan]



TLMUN Herald

A not-for-profit publication under the Taylor’s Lakeside Model United Nations Club which focuses on amplifying the voices of the youth of today.