The Malaysian education system might not be world-class, but look closer and you might find a sliver of hope in the form of world-class teachers like Cheryl Ann Fernando.

The former Teach for Malaysia (TFM) fellow – a non-governmental organisation that trains young professionals to become educators – is set to have a film based on herself and her students!

Watch the trailer below and see for yourself.

Set to be screened in 52 cinemas nationwide, the film is directed by Eric Ong, starring Sangeeta Krishnasamy, Xavier Fong, and features first time young actors; Adnin Zidane, Irdina Tasnim, Rizal Fahmi, Balqis Sani, Fara Safwan, and Wan Azlyn.

The awesome part is, all of the young actors are playing themselves!

See, in July 2015, Cheryl had played a pivotal role in inspiring her students from a rural school in Kedah to beat 20 elite schools to clinch the fifth place in a district-level choral speaking competition.

Sure, fifth place might not mean alot if you’re someone from an urban area. But for the students of SMK Pinang Tunggal – a school located in a tiny kampung in Kedah – it was a huge feat! Two-years on, the exact students have been cast as themselves in the film. Here’s their winning performance.

When I had finished watching Adiwiraku‘s trailer, my first impulse was to get in touch with Cheryl and find out more about her passion in teaching. To Eksentrika, teaching is an art form too!

Through a mutual friend who got us in touch, I discovered that Cheryl became a teacher because she wanted to understand what it feels like being a teacher in Malaysia.

“I wanted to be a teacher because I was so tired of complaining and being angry at our education system. I wanted to be part of it, to understand the problems and to find out ways we can help,” she tells me through Facebook message.

Cheryl began her career in teaching by starting off as an Assistant Teacher in an international school for a year before deciding to join TFM.

She taught English for three-years and today the Kuala Lumpur born works at a local non-profit, EduNation Malaysia, which provides free and quality education for all Malaysian through online learning videos.

Cheryl with her precious students. Image credit: Cheryl Ann Fernando

Infusing creativity in her teaching modules, Cheryl heavily relies on songs, games, acting and presentations to boost classroom engagement.

“I think this stems from the fact that I could hardly concentrate when I was a student because I would get easily bored.

“I hated copying notes and would often get lost in my own thoughts. Thus, I strive to make my classes as fun as possible, even if it means we’re going to be making a lot of noise,” she quips.

Always in pursuit of removing the stigma of learning English through fun methods, Cheryl firmly believes that when a language subject such as English is taught through song and dance, students wouldn’t realise that they’re learning.

And that’s an awesome thing!

Image credit: Cheryl Ann Fernando

However Cheryl feels that Malaysia still has a long way to go to have an ideal education system for all. But this is exactly what keeps her going.

“Just the thought that there are many kids in Malaysia who still need a good education, drives me to do better and continuously work for this mission.”

And then, ofcourse, there are days when she would feel down and out. Cheryl takes cues from her body to take a breather by curling up with a cup of green tea and binge watch TV shows.

“I give myself ‘down time’; days where it’s okay if I don’t do anything and just relax and recuperate. Working in education can get demotivating, especially when you don’t see instant results. I try not to be so hard on myself and just give myself a break from the things around me to reflect, pray and rest.”

(from left) Xavier Fong, Wan Azlyn, Sangeeta Krishnasamy, Farra Safwan and Adnin Zidane. Image credit: Adiwiraku

Watching Sangeeta portray all these emotions in the film was a surreal experience, Cheryl shares.

“Firstly, when I was on set and kept hearing ‘Camera on Teacher Cheryl’..I kept looking only to realize they weren’t talking about me. When I got to watch the first cut of the movie, it was weird to hear Sangeeta say her name is Teacher Cheryl Ann Fernando.

Cheryl and Cheryl.. eh! We mean Sangeeta! Image credit: Adiwiraku

“I almost wanted to cry out in protest.. “but, I’m Teacher Cheryl”. So yes, I don’t think I’ll ever get over how weird it is to have someone carry my name in a movie.”

Adnin Zidane was in total disbelief when he was cast to play himself in Eric Ong’s film.

“My first reaction was OH MY GUCCI! I’m acting in a movie! You got to be kidding me?!” the 18-year-old tells me via email.

The Sungai Petani born was the conductor for his choral speaking team. Basically, he tells us, it is his responsibility to teach movements to his peers and constantly remind them to make eye contact.

“When Ms Cheryl couldn’t join us during practice, she put me in charge along with Irdina. We had to teach our friends to pronounce the words in the script accurately.”

Adnin tells me majority of students in rural areas feel that English is a difficult language to learn. Much of it is due to the quality of the teacher.

“English is a challenging language at first but when we learn how to speak or to write it we can know that English is fun and interesting to learn.”

So a teacher should be determined to teach his or her students even when they are not interested in learning. They should also be caring and not boring.”

Both teacher and student tells us that almost all the events in the film are true with some events modified and exaggerated to add dramatic value.

Produced by Sol Pictures Sdn Bhd, the film is directed by Eric who had approached Cheryl after reading her post on Facebook. From the looks of the trailer and with what Cheryl has shared, the film is set to be fantastic.

I am personally ecstatic because learning about Cheryl’s experience and watching it turned into film, I can foresee many teachers being potentially inspired to be as determined as her. It does take a collective effort to improve the Malaysian education system after all.

Adiwiraku opens in Malaysian cinemas on March 9.

Excited for the movie? What do you feel makes a good teacher? Share your opinions below or email to us at editors@eksentrika.com