Dr. Putri Afzan Maria Zulkifli: This early childhood educationist proves that your heart ultimately holds the roadmap to your success
The spark that ignited Dr. Putri Afzan Maria Zulkifli’s rewarding journey into Early Childhood Education started when she decided to follow her heart.
The founder and co-principal of KinderKaizen, a preschool based on Pure Play learning, started on a very different path in life. Spurred on by her mother’s well-meaning and practical advice, Dr. Putri Afzan had initially enrolled for an Information Technology (IT) degree at Universiti Teknologi Petronas (UTP), as it came with a scholarship. Although she had little passion for the subject, she was determined to find a way to adjust and adapt at the university.
Close to her heart
As she explored the courses available in her IT degree, Dr Putri stumbled upon topics related to Multimedia. This piqued her interest as she was keen on subjects related to designing, and so it led her to learn about design courseware. For her first project, the inspiration came from an unexpected source that was close to her heart.
Dr Putri shared, “I chose to produce and design an interactive courseware for children, as I was motivated to do so by my youngest brother who was 18 years younger than me. From there, I discovered that I loved the processes involved; from creating the storyboard, to recording the voice overs and putting in the interactive feedback. This exciting experience kicked off my journey in Early Childhood Education. It was my watershed moment!”
Picking up multiple skills
Naturally, Dr Putri attributes a large part of the framework for her business to her experiences gained while exploring Multimedia in UTP. It was at the university that she learnt practical in-demand skills such as website and poster design, banner and book design, curriculum and content design, as well as event design.
Subsequently, Dr Putri won a competition for the best courseware design, and this boosted her confidence and self-esteem. This win gave her the motivation to take up the role of a Project Leader in building Multimedia Content, in which her team also won top prize. These experiences proved to her that she had the ability to lead, and it further deepened her self-belief.
“All these eventually culminated in my decision to pursue my Master’s Degree in Development of Global Societies involving Early Childhood Studies from Leeds Metropolitan University in the UK. I obtained my PhD. in Cognitive Science from the University of Sussex in Brighton in the UK,”she shared.
Live with a purpose
Dr Putri’s family lived in the UK for seven years while she completed her Master and PhD. In hindsight, she says that living abroad in a different system helped her to see life from a different perspective. “In the UK, people appreciate family time, value quality life and they set out to live with a purpose – and their system supports this. Back home, everything moves at warp speed. There is no time to slow down or take a breather to appreciate the moment. This can cause anxiety and the feeling of being suffocated”, Dr Putri explained.
She continued, “Upon our return to Malaysia, I sent my children to several local kindergartens but unfortunately, they were not happy here compared to their experiences in the UK. Most of the kindergartens here are academically inspired, and they force the children to do too much, too soon. This became the source of my motivation to open KinderKaizen.”
Play as a learning tool
Once again, Dr Putri followed her heart and created the very first KinderKaizen Module. This time, she took inspiration from her own children’s positive introduction to learning in British play-based nurseries and preschool.
Together with her husband, Mohd Faizul, they set out to create and replicate the stimulating environment here in Kuala Lumpur. The husband-and-wife team presented their proposal to the Ministry of Education (MoE) and much to their delight, successfully obtained their license. And so, KinderKaizen was born in 2014.
In KinderKaizen, play is advocated and used as a learning tool to help young children explore and develop their physical, mental, emotional and social components. The kindy also helps parents by giving them space to breathe while supporting their children’s growth at home via Parenting Circles.;
As a game changer in the early childhood education industry, Dr Putri discovered that it was initially not easy to get people to follow and accept her advocacy work. She had to remain persistent and consistent. On her low days, she had to practice self-care and remind herself of the reasons she started this movement, in order for her to remain grounded. Over time, her efforts and persistence finally paid off.
Nowadays, Dr Putri loves the fact that many in the education industry are now talking about play. She also takes pride in the knowledge that she was instrumental in universities revising their course content by appreciating the child first, through play.
Besides being part of the MQA Panel to help look into courses developed in universities in relation to Early Childhood, Dr Putri is also supervising eleven Postgraduate Students (Masters and PhDs). She was recently elected as the Vice President 1 of MIASA Malaysia, an NGO that advocates for Mental Health.
“I love to see how people are being empowered to help children. I am also touched to see how people are growing through my work, the books we published for parents and children, my KinderKaizen family of more than forty branches, my Sekolah Sri Aria family, my KinderBebe team and families that has just started last year for below 4s, my courses and workshops, my Sekolah AyahBunda members as well as the parents around me.”, Dr Putri enthused. “Of course, social media has also given me the freedom and space to advocate at my own pace. It’s also a good platform to spread love.”
A lifelong mission
Armed with the right intentions, Dr Putri firmly believes that everything is possible, including building and nurturing a team. Although this has not been easy and has taken time, she is thankful for the team that she has today.
Being a visionary by nature, Dr Putri does not plan to stop anytime soon as she views this journey as a lifelong mission. She hopes to keep inspiring more people out there but her biggest inspiration is very much closer to home. She attributes this to her own children as well as her husband, Mohd Faizul, whom she views as the backbone of her growth.
To sum it up, Dr Putri describes her mission in life as such, “It is hard work that is also heart work. I am not only passionate about this, but I have also dedicated my life for this.”
Published: 22 April 2022