PETALING JAYA: When three fellows of Teach For Malaysia, an independent and not-for-profit organisation, were tasked with teaching English to Orang Asli kids in Perak’s rural settlements, they knew instinctively that conventional teaching methods would get them nowhere.
So, they put themselves in their students’ shoes and got the kids interested in the English language using fun and creative ways that were non-intimidating.
In conjunction with English Language Day, FMT caught up with Shawn Stanly Anthony Dass, Michael Hillary Louis, and Bernice Han to learn a little about their teaching experiences.
For Shawn, 26, whose students are primarily from the Temiar and Jehai tribes, the solution was easy. Since his batch of 13- to 15-year-olds had a high illiteracy rate, he put away the textbooks and pulled out his guitar instead.
Then he created a Spotify playlist of English songs since they liked dance, music, and the arts.
Singing and dancing worked like magic, and not before long the teens were singing their favourite songs in English and learning the meanings as they went along.
Next, he taught them basic phrases they could use every day and practised as often as he could with them.
Michael, on the other hand, introduced a sticker reward system based on attendance and class participation since absenteeism was a problem at his school. The 26-year-old of Dusun-Iban heritage teaches a group of Temiar students, aged 10 to 12.
He said that being rewarded with stickers every time they spoke in English gave the kids a sense of pride in themselves and before long, they were more confident and more willing to participate in the English classes.
Meanwhile, Han, 27, decided to do something truly out of the ordinary. She decided to learn the Temiar language herself so that she could be a more effective English teacher to her kids.
“I believe that if I want them to learn a language that is foreign in their environment, I must also learn their language. And when I started speaking Temiar, it made them feel safe, seen, and heard,” she said.
Keeping them going
These teaching methods, though simple, have made a positive difference in the lives of the kids. Not to mention the many heart-warming moments the teachers themselves experienced with their students.
For Shawn, a proud moment came after his students put up an English choral performance in their school last year – a first for them. “After that, many of them said that they would like to do it again and are not as afraid to perform and speak in English.”
“My students started to wish me ‘good morning’ and ‘thank you’ every day, which they never did before. It might be small to others, but to me, it’s an achievement worth celebrating,” Michael said, beaming with pride.
This year, Han taught her students to recite positive affirmations about themselves. She said these positive affirmations helped boost their self-esteem. Although initially shy, they did become more confident over time.
She said a particularly touching moment was when underperforming and special needs students stood up and shouted positive things about themselves.
Shawn, Michael and Han clearly remain committed towards making a difference – one student at a time.
“The conventional education pathway will not appeal to all, but what we can do as educators teaching marginalised children is to make them realise what they are capable of, build character, equip them with basic literacy and numeracy skills, and help them discover their interests,” Shawn said.
He added that he hoped this would create better opportunities for them and their families so they can break the cycle of poverty and protect themselves from exploitation.