by datuk seri idris jusoh
Small talk: The writer breaks the ice and engages with a student, an approach used by his former teachers, during an English lesson at the SMK Seri Desa, Selangor.
THE year was 1968. I had just enrolled into Sekolah Tuanku Abdul Rahman (STAR), an all-boys boarding school in Ipoh, Perak.
The journey from my hometown of Besut, Terengganu was long, but it would be one of the most memorable experiences of my life.
Thanks to the visionary leadership of the late Tun Dr Hamdan Tahir, the first STAR principal and later on Director-General of Education, many Malay boys from kampungs all over Malaysia had the opportunity to learn in a school with many great Chinese teachers.
One of them was Mr Lau Hut Yee, fondly known as Pak Lau. We usually called our teachers “sir” or “Mr” but Pak Lau was special. Though he was the warden of the Yellow house, he was a fatherly figure to most of the boys, including myself from the Green House. He ensured we kept our rooms clean, ironed our shirts and kept them white (like his), and that we observed our manners at all times.
Pak Lau was also our science teacher. Back then, it was known as Nuffield Science. This is because the approach was more practical than theoretical. We would each have a workbook, written by him, which would set out goals for us to achieve through lab experiments.
The key words were “look, observe, explain”. It didn’t matter if we were wrong or right. Science, after all, was about the process of discovery.
Pak Lau made learning science fun and easy — he would use simple language. This was a plus point for me and many of my friends such as Malaysian Ambassador to the United States Datuk Dr Awang Adek Hussin and Mara chairman Tan Sri Annuar Musa, who had come from kampungs in the east coast, like myself.
Pak Lau has written nearly 200 school books and continues to do so post-retirement. Having just turned 80, he recently published a science book emphasising Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS).
Pak Lau wasn’t the biggest person physically but despite his small frame, had a giant personality. He served STAR from 1956/57 until his retirement in 1980. He was a lifelong bachelor, “married” to his profession.
At his 80th birthday celebrations recently, he told the STAR alumni that there were many lessons he learnt from his students.
Then there was Mr Tan Teng Leong, our English and History teacher. Mr Tan’s English was impeccable. He emphasised every syllable, which came with a generous sprinkling of saliva. When we had to speak to him, we maintained a safe distance just to stay dry!
Mr Tan was strict. He would pinch our tummy when we were naughty or unable to correctly answer questions pertaining to his lessons. But he was also funny and enjoyed word play.
We also had nicknames for some of our friends. Ismail Jumlah was called “Total”. As teenagers, we found the simple things amusing.
A teacher whom I dearly miss is the late Mr Ng Swee Ching. He was our volleyball master. I was keen a volleyball player and represented the school. Every evening, he would put us through various drills, emphasising discipline and sportsmanship.
Eventually, we became one of the better teams in Ipoh, beating more established schools such as SMJK Sam Tet and SMJK Yuk Choy.
Imagine, a bunch of Malay boys from rural areas excelling in volleyball. That was truly a sweet memory.
There were many other good Chinese teachers in STAR. There was Mr Ong Bee Jeng, the physics teacher who walked like a pendulum. (Prof Datuk Dr) Hassan Said, who went on to study mathematics in university and was the former Higher Education Department director-general, was one of his favourite students.
Our Remove class teacher Mr Chan Teck Hong, often held daily English spelling tests and quizzes. It was scary but it worked!
I am grateful to all these teachers. They taught me many lessons in life that I hold dear until today. We were a big family, we were united. We lived the 1Malaysia spirit, which was already embedded in our education system, and will continue to be.
I wish all of them a happy, healthy and prosperous Chinese New Year.
The writer, Datuk Seri Idris Jusoh is Second Education Minister. Connect with him via Twitter @idrisjusoh, www.facebook.com/datoseriidrisjusoh/datoseriidrisjusoh or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. This is one in a series of articles for this column which appears every fortnight. It also see the contributions of Deputy Education Ministers Datuk Mary Yap and P. Kamalanathan who will share their views on various education-related issues.