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.
|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|
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.