BENTONG, PAHANG, 29 APRIL : Some 300 local students and their parents took part in “A Day with Malaysia’s First Astronaut”, a motivational programme organised by the East Coast Economic Region Development Council (ECERDC) for its empower ECER Academic Skills Training participants in Bentong. It was an experience of a lifetime for them, in the company of Malaysia’s first and only astronaut, Datuk Dr Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor, an inspiring role model.

The programme was officially launched by the Menteri Besar of Pahang, YAB Dato’ Sri DiRaja Haji Adnan bin Haji Yaakob, who is also the Barisan Nasional candidate for the state seat of Bentong.

In his address, Dato’ Sri DiRaja Haji Adnan congratulated the empower ECER Bentong participants for setting the benchmark for this programme, which has so far produced remarkable results. Bentong was the pilot location for the empower ECER programme, which has since been expanded to nine districts in the East Coast Economic Region (ECER).

This was reflected in the 100% passes rate in the previous UPSR, PMR and SPM examinations recorded by the participants of empower ECER’s Academic Skills Training programme in Bentong, as well as a 30 per cent improvement in academic performance. Even more remarkable, many participants who where once considered academically weak have scored distinctions in their respective national examinations.

He added that since the launch of empower ECER Bentong pilot project in 2010 until end-December 2012, some 2,300 local residents have benefitted from the programme. They consist of 1,200 participants of the Academic Skills Training, and another 1,100 participants of the Skills & Entrepreneurship Training under the empower ECER Bentong initiative.

Today’s programme is the fourth in a series of motivational sessions organised by ECERDC in collaboration with Datuk Dr Sheikh Muszaphar for the participants of empower ECER Academic Skills Training programme. Earlier this year, ECERDC organised for the astronaut to address empower ECER participants in the districts of Lipis, Temerloh and Cameron Highlands.

Chief Executive Officer of ECERDC, Dato’ Jebasingam Issace John said, “We firmly believe that students learn best from example. We also realise that rural and remote communities tend to be cut off from positive mainstream influences, and to address this, we decided to bring a towering Malaysian to them.”

“Datuk Dr Sheikh Muszaphar has proven that you can overcome the odds to realize your dreams. He encourages students to dream big, and to set their minds to realizing this dream, and strive to excel. It is an attitude and outlook we wish to instill and cultivate in young minds in ECER so that they can lead the region into a more dynamic and sustainable future.”

While Datuk Dr Sheikh Muszaphar’s appearance was undoubtedly the highlight of the day, students also participated in interactive activities and games conducted by a team of motivators led by Datuk Dr Sheikh Muszaphar himself.

Datuk Dr Sheikh Muszaphar shared his life experiences with the students and the difficult choices he had to make to achieve his ambition. It was motivating and meaningful, and the students were delighted with the chance to meet him face-to-face and hear first-hand accounts of his out-of-the-world experiences. They also had a chance to view the astronaut’s special space suit, gloves, parachute, the mini Qur’an and other personal effects that were part of the historic space mission.

empower ECER is a twin-pronged human capital development initiative of ECERDC that focuses on Academic Skills Training for examination-year students and Skills and Entrepreneurship Training for adults in the ECER. Human capital development is vital in supporting the progressive transformation of ECER’s economy and in this context, empower ECER targets academically weak students from disadvantaged backgrounds, while its adult reach is the unemployed or underemployed, single mothers, those in low-paying jobs and aspiring entrepreneurs. empower ECER aims to improve the academic performance of students and empower the adults with marketable skills which allows them to have better employment and business prospects.

First launched in Bentong in 2010, empower ECER is currently being implemented in nine districts in ECER namely, Bentong, Temerloh, Raub, Cameron Highland, Lipis, Kuala Pahang in Pahang; Bachok and Jeli in Kelantan; and Kemaman in Terengganu. As at end-2012, a total of 11,426 participants, comprising 6,776 students and 4,650 adults have benefitted from the empower ECER programme.