School cooperatives: insights from Malaysia!

In this blog post we analyze student cooperatives with a specific case study: the MRSM Kepala Batas Kooperasi.

After four case studies in rural areas, discovering how cooperatives contribute to sustainable development, exploring co-operatives in urban spaces has been exciting.  So we are happy to bring you with us to Malaysia, a fantastic country with an astonishing cooperative movement!

School cooperatives in Malaysia: Let’s start with some figures!

Out of a population of over 32 million people, nearly 7 million are members of any of the 14,000 existing cooperatives, which generate around RM 22.5 billion (more than USD 5 billion) in revenue… impressive, isn’t it?

However, something even more impressive is a very visionary model of cooperatives that has been developed in the education sector across Malaysia since 1968. We are talking about school cooperatives: a cooperative formed by a high school. There are nearly 2,400 of these examples in the country.

Members are teachers, students (aged between 13 and 17 years old) and school staff. Their main activity is to provide services for the school, ranging from the laundry, the cafeteria, the internal school shop, to name just a few. All secondary schools are called by the Ministry of Education to form a cooperative. Such an organized and systematic approach has caught the attention of other countries abroad, and we are definitely no exception… 

We learnt about all this during a great meeting with Angkasa, the Malaysian cooperative representative organization, who warmly welcomed us in Kuala Lumpur.

Documenting school cooperatives: the MRSM Kepala Batas Kooperasi

Curious about how a school cooperative works? Then follow us to learn about the MRSM Kepala Batas Kooperasi located in the Penang district, almost 350 km away from the capital city, Kuala Lumpur.

We must say, it has been a great experience documenting this coop, for many reasons. First of all, it was our first time collaborating with teenagers in the project.  This required us to adapt our methodology, which was a very stimulating process for Andrea and myself, as you will see.

In addition, it was our first time we had explored such an interesting model, and no need to say, it stimulated our imagination about how this model could be adapted in other contexts, in particular in those countries where cuts to public expenditure seriously damage the quality of services in the education sector. 

As usual, before starting to film, we carried out focus group discussions. This time we carried out one with teachers and staff and another one with students.

The two groups worked around the following key question: how has your life improved by being in the cooperative? 

Some very interesting insights emerged out of the discussions:

  • Surely the coop is key for the provision of services in the school, from the cafeteria to the laundry, from the shop to the van, to the kindergarten for teachers’ and staff’s kids. The coop provides all these services, which are cheap and of very good quality. Interestingly, profits generated through these services are then reinvested in activities for the students. 
  • Food sold at the cafeteria and at the shop comes from local producers. In addition, people working at the coop comes from the same community where the school operates. In such a way, the coop plays a role in promoting local development. 
  • By actively participating in the coop, students develop hard and soft skills. As they stated, they learn how to manage their time, how to do accounting and how to communicate with customers. More importantly, they learn to have a say in decision-making; to increase their self-confidence; and to work together and create a sense of community.
  • By working together in the cooperative, teachers and students have also the opportunity to develop cooperative relations outside the classroom, which is also beneficial to build a healthy environment within the school. 

Curious to learn more about how a cooperative is set up by a school? Watch the video to learn more… and please, make sure you watch it until the very end, as you will discover part of our methodology!

Food for thought?

Did you watch until the end? So, you have just discovered that we made this video together with the students! It’s been so much fun! And it has been incredibly interesting… Not all the students were very talkative during the focus group, but once we asked them to go around and film what they liked about their coop, everyone really engaged and became an explosion of creativity! Surely, nothing  new for those who usually work with teenagers, but it was a great experience for us!

So… what can we take with us out of this experience and put in our luggage? 

  • Surely, the model. We are not talking about a coop school, that is to say a school set up as a cooperative. This is a normal school, but teachers, staff and students come together to form a coop that provide the services they need. This is a brilliant idea, that can at the same time provide good services where they are not available, create a sense of community and teach cooperative principles to minors in a very proactive way;
  • Then, the supporting environment. This model is very effective in the country because it is highly promoted by public policies. Instead of looking at this coop model as a way to solve problems in the educational sector that the State cannot handle, in Malaysia the State considers this coop model as an ally to be supported in order to provide students with a cooperative extra-curricular experience and at the same time provide more effective services within schools.

If your mind is now over excited thinking about how such a model could be implemented in your country… well, you are not alone!

school cooperatives

The event organized with Angkasa and the Embassies of Italy and Morocco

We are happy to conclude this post by sharing with you the amazing event hold in Kuala Lumpur on April 29 of 2019 at the presence of 500 students and teachers, the management of Angkasa, the Ambassadors of Italy and of Morocco in Malaysia, and the Director of ICA Asia-Pacific. During the event, we projected three of our videos, namely the one about Italy, the one about Morocco and the one about Malaysia. We could also count on the kind message by the president of Legacoop, one of the Italian cooperative representative organizations. It’s been a fantastic and very rewarding experience that we will never forget!

We’d like to thank everyone at the MRSM Kepala Batas Kooperasi, at Angkasa and at the Italian Embassy in Malaysia for their kind and warm support during our stay! Finally yet importantly, a big thank to the International Cooperative Alliance (ICA) and its Asia – Pacific office!  

Interested in our work?

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