Interminable teaching and learning process

Teaching is not a lost art, but the regard for it is a lost tradition.  

– Jacques Barzun, American historian

In my Senior Cambridge exam for English Language, I just managed a mediocre credit, but that was well balanced by my three distinctions in English Literature, Art and History.

My ‘C’ in English wasn’t because our teacher, Encharang Agas, wasn’t a good educationist.

In fact, he scored 9 out of 10 according to our class consensus.

However, our grades mediocrity was due to Iban being the school’s lingua franca, not English.

Who could blame our revered teacher, who was also the school principal, explaining many English words and sentences in Iban?

Two years later when we sat for HSC, all did well in English Language and GP, thanks to English being the spoken communication at Methodist, Sibu, a town school.

Fast forward to 1976, for our teaching practice in Penang (after completing my First Year as USM education undergraduate), I was sent to St Xavier Primary School for four weeks to teach English to Primary Five pupils but can’t remember the syllabus — at the varsity, we did pedagogical approaches for early secondary classes. 

It was an awesome experience and I learnt a lot after getting constructive comments from our lecturers, one of whom was Dr Koh Tsu Koon (later Tan Sri and Penang CM, federal minister) who was slightly older and was friendly to the two sole Sarawakians in our Education class, namely yours truly and Carter Ballang Kapong.

However, in our subsequent two teaching practices (in 1977 and 1978), I was assigned to teach other subjects, especially Art and History, my major and minor.

One of the schools was the Abdullah Munshi Secondary, then full of children whose parents were police and army personnel.

Upon graduation in March 1979, I was jobless but three weeks later met Encharang, who attended a church wedding of my cousin — tying the knot with his relative — in Saratok.

“Cut your hair and report to me at RTC (Rejang Teachers College in Binatang — later Bintangor) this April 26,” he said.

On that date, I went to see him and was hired. It wasn’t surprising that I was not given English classes as RTC already had a strong team of lecturers for the subject. Neither was I given Art, my preferred subject and specialised field. 

Instead, RTC assigned me subjects including Philosophy, Psychology, Sociology and Civics. I only taught Art in my fifth year there but in May 1983, I was transferred to Kanowit’s SMK Sedaya (Sekolah Datuk Abdul Rahman Yaakub).

So, it was at this school that I first taught English to Form Five students sitting for Malaysian Certificate of Education (MCE). It was done using English Language Syllabus 121 but later changed to 122 when SPM commenced in 1987.

From 1988 until 1993, I taught English to secondary students (Form 5) using syllabi 122 and 1320.

Later from 1994 until 1997 while teaching in some tuition schools in Kuching, there were various syllabi used, including the IT interactive US syllabus as well as the 1119 that prepared students to sit for their studies overseas.

While teaching Business English to engineering students at a local college in 1996 and 1997, the syllabus used was taken from Ipoh-based Kota College, an engineering college.

Parents in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei asked for my help to give tuition to their kids (F4), numbering eight, using the British ‘O’ Level syllabus. This was in 1999.

Back in the state three years later, I taught English at Akademi ITC in Kuching using the MLVK (Malaysian Vocational) syllabus.

From 2003 until 2005, the iSystem College offered me contracts to teach unemployed graduates taking English Language Course (ELC) under the Graduate Training Scheme. This scheme was to retrain graduates, especially in the language, for better marketability.

Within the three years, I taught five groups of these graduates, including three from Sabah and one from Melaka.

These unemployed graduates really had poor command of the language despite being degree holders in various fields, including International Relations.

One lady from Kapit said: “We school jungle deep.” But nobody laughed and readers can guess why.

Six months later, she improved a lot and was the first to be hired as she was an IT graduate. 

While teaching them, I had to revise my grammar and other aspects too. Teaching and learning are an endless process.