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Great teachers are game-changers

By incorporating arts performances in lessons, students can express their creativity and find their voice.

EDUCATORS are the nation’s game-changers ― playing the critical role in building, developing and shaping the future generation. They have the opportunity to mould students into lifelong learners, which will help them succeed beyond school life.

Dr Swaroop Rawal, a 2019 Global Teacher Prize finalist, said it was important to note that a teacher’s role is not only confined to teaching, but also a mover and a shaker.

Speaking in Kuala Lumpur recently, Swaroop revealed that becoming a teacher was never in her plans. When she became a mother, the former Miss India Universe, model and Hindi movie actress decided to leave her glam career and go into teaching.

She wanted to help children to be more resilient by equipping them with life skills and introducing new methods of teaching. According to Swaroop, teachers could build their students’ confidence by learning through play.

“This is because through play, they are not looked down by anybody and they feel they can do the tasks. So, how can we present our lessons in a way that’s fun for kids?

“For me, drama is the way,” she said, adding that incorporating drama and storytelling in the classroom came naturally for her.

2019 Global Teacher Prize Finalist, Swaroop Rawal

“It is something that my students enjoy a lot and the methods work really well,” she said, adding that she was always engaging ministers and bureaucrats in her country to bring about change in the education system.

“I am fighting to bring life skills education into classrooms because I want my children to be equipped with those skills that not only make them resilient, but emotionally empowered,” she said.

Educationist, consultant and trainer Puan Sri Sherina Leong-Aris said teaching is a calling and teachers should return to the basics of education to find inspiration and motivation.

Coming from a family of seven and growing up in a small room above a coffeeshop in Ipoh, Perak, Sherina was determined to break out of her family’s poverty and pursue a meaningful cause.

“I came from a poor family where we did not have much to eat. Life wasn’t great but we were happy.

“At that time, my parents only wanted me to finish school and get a job to support the family as I am the eldest daughter. Pursuing further studies was not an option.

“As fate would have it, my teacher put in the application for me to enrol in Form Six and I took the entrance exam. I was the only one who passed in the whole school. I started being a teacher at age 17, where I taught tuition to support myself through Form Six.

“Sharing a tiny room with other siblings, I did not have a proper place to study. My teacher was kind enough to invite me to study at her home. Every weekend, I would ride my bicycle to her house where I could eat good food,” she said.

Another unforgettable memory was the kindness and care shown to her by a teacher.

“I had another teacher who was concerned if I had tuberculosis because I was so thin. So, he took me to a doctor and found out that I was malnourished, which was a socioeconomic problem.

“That teacher told other teachers about my plight and they were all ready to help. Every month, they would send all sorts of groceries, such as milk, eggs and vitamin supplements to my household,” she said.

Sherina added that the sacrifices and deeds of her teachers had inspired her to become an educator herself.

“One of the main reasons why I teach is because I love kids. For me, the biggest reward for a teacher is when you see the light in the students’ eyes when they understand what you teach. I’m sure all teachers can relate to this.

“Teaching means you’re dealing with hundreds of young lives. We take responsibility for our students’ future,” she said.

Puan Sri Sherina Leong-Aris (right) with YTL Foundation programme director Datin Kathleen Chew during the keynote session at Leaps of Knowledge Conference.

Teach For Malaysia (TFM) English teacher Soonufat Supramaniam is advocating new initiatives by teachers for the future of education in Malaysia, no matter what constraints they face.

Having worked as a performance artiste, producer and movie director in Brisbane, Australia, Soonufat realised something about arts education that Malaysians should treasure.

Upon returning to Malaysia, he joined TFM and was posted to a rural school in Kedah.

While teaching English there, he explored how to combine language learning and performing arts.

He gathered 45 students from five rural schools to stage a play.

“The project discovered so much potential and talent. Even students from the most challenging areas could express themselves creatively and find their voice.

“I always believe that education should not be confined within the four walls of the classroom. It extends beyond that,” he said.

Swaroop, Sherina and Soonufat were sharing their experiences in the latest edition of the Leaps of Knowledge Conference organised by FrogAsia and YTL Foundation last year.

Themed HEART, the sessions were aimed at addressing issues, trends and initiatives in the education landscape.

The Global Teacher Prize is a US$1 million (RM4.09 million) award established by the Varkey Foundation to recognise exceptional teachers around the world, who made outstanding contributions to the profession.


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YTL Foundation was founded in 1997 on the belief that education is the basis on which every society progresses. By improving education, empowering future generations and building tomorrow’s leaders, YTL Foundation aims to empower individuals and communities to be catalysts of change.

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