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Thursday, June 7, 2012

MPPM, Melaka: Life's lessons learned along the way

MPPM, Melaka: Life's lessons learned along the way
By Wan Chwee Seng

In the 1970s Maktab Perguruan Perempuan Melayu(MPPM), Melaka was one of the Teachers’ Training Colleges in Malaysia selected  to conduct holiday training courses for untrained temporary teachers(Kursus dalam cuti bagi guru sandaran yang tidak terlatih) who upon graduation were awarded the  Certificates of Education .
The writer with some of the KDC teachers 

 The teachers who attended theses courses came from various parts of  Malaysia and many had wealth of teaching experience behind them. For most of us teachers’ trainers who had been teaching student teachers fresh from schools, conducting courses for these temporary teachers provided us with  an entirely new experience.

 During the pedagogy lessons, I found out, with their maturity and vast experience  we were able to exchange ideas and engage in lively and meaningful discussions.
A pedagogy lesson in progress

  During their practical teaching we had to travel the length and breadth of the country to observe and evaluate these teachers. Here is an account of  our experiences during some of those trips.  

The car bounced and rattled along the  stretch of undulating bitumen road. At last a dirt road came into view and the driver angled onto it. The car was soon crunching its way along the pebbles-strewn road and sending clouds of fine brown dust in its wake. 
My two colleagues, Ng and Yap  from Maktab Perguruan Perempuan Melayu, Melaka  and I were  on our way to observe a teacher at a school located close to the Johore and Pahang border.
 “ You may find some difficulty in locating the school,” the headmaster from another school in Segamat had warned us earlier. Armed with the sketchy directions provided by the  headmaster we were confident of locating the school. 
 As the car made its way along the dirt road, tired eyes  peered  through the dust-covered windscreen for sign of  the school. Lulled by the rhythmic sway of the car, drowsiness was irresistibly overtaking us.           

“There, Chung Hwa!” 

 An excited voice  from the front seat jolted us from our near slumber.  We followed a finger which directed us to a   signboard located on a hill slope. ‘Aaah, no problem in finding the school' I thought to myself. As the car slowed down, we  stretched our aching backs, craned our necks and our bleary eyes scanned the hill for  sign of the school building. However, not a single building could be seen.   
 Then as the car rounded the hill, white stone structures  that glistened in the mid-morning sun caught our eyes.    
“Hey! I think it’s a Chinese cemetery,” a solemn voice whispered from the front passenger''s seat. 
White tombstones stippled the hill slope.
Our initial disappointment was followed by suppressed laughter and a faint chuckle. The car continued its crawl along the dirt road and after some time jolted to an abrupt halt. The road had ended  at the edge of a thick wood. Then  we noticed  faint tyre marks, flattened grasses and broken twigs on the ground before us,
“Let’s follow the trail,” someone suggested.
The jungle trail
The car ploughed  through overgrown grass and weaved its way between towering trees and dense undergrowth. Eyes searched the ground for tell-tale signs of a trail.
 After what seemed an eternity, we finally arrived at a jungle clearing. Down in the valley, against a backdrop of verdant vegetation, stood a low wooden building. Young, curious faces peered from the classroom open windows.  Somehow we had managed to locate the school.

After we had completed our observations we were invited to the headmaster’s office for a drink. He briefed us about the school and we learned that the majority of the   pupils were orang asli children from a nearby settlement. As we chatted, he was  stealing anxious glances at his wristwatch. I wondered if his uneasiness was due to a  prior engagement. 

Then he said, “Cikgu, I don’t mean to be rude, but I think it’s best you leave before evening.”

Then he told us a few Education Ministry officials had visited the school  and stayed on until late in the evening. On their way out they found  their path  blocked by a herd of wild elephants.
A herd of wild elephants

 Since that incident, the headmaster told us,  they did not have the privilege of another visit. We did not wait for further explanation. We quickly excused ourselves and scurried to the car.  We gave a huge sigh of relief the moment we emerged from the woods_ thankful that we were not accorded the mammoth send- off. 

Later, back in the warmth and comfort of the College staff room I listened intently as others recounted their own experiences during their visits to the other schools. A lady colleague told us how she had been assigned to observe a student at  a school located in the middle of a vast oil palm  plantation. With proper direction provided by the guard at the toll gate she was able to locate the school without much difficulty. On her way out, however, she suddenly found herself at a cross-road right in the middle of the plantation, hemmed in all sides by  palm trees that looked like ghostly sentinels. 
Hemmed in by palm trees

 Not knowing which road to take, she decided to stay put in the car and  wait for  passers-by. She waited and waited, but not a soul could be seen. The evening light  was beginning to fail and she could feel the deepening gloom closing on her. A rising panic gripped her and tears began to well up in her eyes. Then in the dimming light of dusk she  caught sight of a lone cyclist. She stopped him and in an emotional voice   asked him for direction.
“Aiyoh, lain kali ikut itu letrik post, mesti boleh keluar”(  Next time, just follow the electric posts and you’re certain to find your way out)  he explained to her in his colloquial Malay. The moment she emerged from the plantation she heaved a sigh of relief and said a silent prayer of thanks.
Another colleague, K.L. Lim, told me about an incident in another rural school. He was in the midst of an observation when he heard a flutter of wings behind him and from the corner of his eyes he noticed a rooster had alighted on a window's ledge and was perched precariously above him. It parachuted onto the cement floor  and strutting  between the rows of desks, made an unsolicited inspection of the classroom, before making its silent exit. Meanwhile, the class lesson proceeded without interruption as it was perhaps a common occurrence and the pupils were obviously disinterested in the fowl's play.   
As I listened to the incidents, I began to reflect about the other schools that I had visited.
I thought about the small, dilapidated Tamil School located among rubber trees in a rubber plantation in Chaah. I remembered sitting at the back of the classroom listening to a lady teacher teaching a combined class of less than ten pupils. From the next class the voice of another teacher was clearly audible as only two wooden cupboards  partially partitioned the classrooms.
Later as the pupils trooped excitedly out of their classroom  for their physical education lesson I decided to  follow them to their school field. They headed toward the fringe of a rubber plantation. We arrived at a small clearing on a gentle slope. My eyes scanned the surrounding in search of the school field. None was in sight. Then behind me I heard a sudden clap and a voice called out ’lari bebas’ ( free running). A small boy scuttled past me and I looked back in time to catch a few pupils darting and vanishing among the shadowed trees. I then realised I was standing on the ‘school field’. 
Part of the 'school field'

Then I recalled another trip to a small town in Johore after a heavy downpour. A temporary teacher, with trousers rolled up to his knees, was waiting patiently astride  his motorcycle under the shade of a makeshift stall. 
The moment he spotted me, he approached the car and said, “Cikgu, the road to the school is not passable by car, but you can hitch a ride on my bike.”
I noticed the knee-deep, swirling water and I told him politely, “I think I’ll visit you another time.”
 During our visits to the different schools we noticed how most of the teachers had to work under unfavorable conditions and with inadequate educational facilities, but despite   the physical constraints and shortcomings  they were highly motivated and fully committed to their work. 
Today, in quiet moment of reflection, I  reminisce about those trips with their unexpected twists and turns, the trauma and light moment, and of  life's lessons learned along the way. 

Writers Notes: This piece is dedicated to my ex-colleagues, the ex-student teachers, and  the ex- KDC teachers at MPPM and especially to the unsung heroes of the teaching profession - those dedicated teachers who have served and currently serving in the interior areas of Malaysia.



  1. I remembered I was to go to some Felda school, again in Pahang and a colleague giving directions said, "... keep driving until you suddenly don't see the sky, yes, you are on the right route there!!!"

  2. Yes, I remembered another colleague who asked a FELDA worker for directions to a FELDA school and this guy told him,'Oh,dekat saja, belakang bukit itu'(Oh, very near, just over the hills). He found out that the words 'very near' meant a few kilometers away.

  3. Makes us appreciate the value of education...