1 Aug 2015

everything is possible

When a ‘sekolah kampung’ did well in an English competition
Cheryl Ann Fernando


Cheryl Ann Fernando graduated with a degree in Mass Communication, Masters in Management and a Post Graduate Diploma in Education. Cheryl worked as a public relations consultant for four years before deciding to become a secondary school teacher. She is currently teaching in a rural school in Kedah whilst pursuing a doctorate in Education.

30 July 2015

In almost any district level competition, the odds are never in our favour. We are a sekolah kampung with a reputation of sitting comfortable in the bottom of the ranks. We cannot afford fancy sports attires or have the luxury of hiring trainers, we have to do make do with what we have. Many times, we are discouraged from entering any competitions because it seems a little inane to compete for something where defeat is almost guaranteed.

This year, for the third time in our school history, we entered the choral speaking competition. My students knew who they were going to go against – the big guns – the convents, cluster schools, maktabs and sekolah berprestasi tinggi. We didn’t stand a chance. We are called a “hotspot” school for our low English proficiency and many students could barely string a decent sentence together. It was unthinkable to imagine them memorising and then reciting three pages of text in English.

But, they wanted to enter. We started training from March, all through the fasting month. We knew the odds are never in our favour so we only trained harder. My students went through word by word, memorising everything in the paper. We did our best to polish up our pronunciation and focused on enunciation. We put emotions into our speaking and wanted to do the best.

Half way through training, I saw the kids looking tired. They wanted to give up. It was too hard to carry on for something that seemed quite hopeless. See, my students never won many competitions so it was difficult to articulate the joy and ecstasy that follows after winning. We were no match for the other schools, after all and we’re probably only going to enter for the experience.

I watched their spirit dwindle and I reminded them of one important thing. We are a sekolah kampung. When they see us walking up on stage with our off-coloured uniforms and old shoes, they are not even going to look up at us. When they hear our school name, many might choose to leave the hall at that time to take a break. They would laugh and jeer at us, wondering what do we have against all the other prestigious schools in the district. It was now all up to my students to prove everyone wrong.

When we competed on Tuesday, my students were a nervous wreck. Hidayah asked me if she could leave before it all started. Zidane was close to tears because he was sure he was going to mess up his text. Alif was walking around nervously repeating “Teacher… saya takut” every chance he got. My fellow teacher and I reminded our students that we are already so proud of them. Participating in this is an achievement. Memorising the entire text is an achievement. Standing up and speaking in English is an achievement. Win or lose, in our eyes, they were already champions.

They performed exceptionally well, making both the judges and the audience laugh for all the right reasons. They stood there in their old uniforms but with an unmistakable confidence in their eyes and voice. They stood there, saying line after line as if they had been speaking English all their lives. They stood there and took me by surprise.

When they announced the results, I still didn’t think we would win. The usual procedure is that they’ll invite all the schools up to receive their certificate of appreciation. All except the top five winning schools. I urged my team leader to stand in front and take the certificates because I was sure, all we’ll be walking home with is a certificate of appreciation. They announced 20 schools and somehow, our school name never came up. I figured it had to be a mistake. Until I realised that we were announced as one of the top five winners. Our tiny kampong school managed to emerge as the 5th place winner! Our reactions went from disbelief to screams and hugs and high fives all around.

What are the odds that a sekolah kampung would beat 20 other schools to gain a place in the top 5 amidst the cluster schools and convents? My students often walk around with these pre-conceived notions in their head that they’ll never be good enough. But on Tuesday, they proved to themselves that they are capable of so much. They proved that their economic backgrounds or social standings only mean so little when they can stand with the giants and shine. My students proved to the entire district that they could do it, with a little hard work. They went home that day with more than just a certificate but with the newfound confidence that maybe, just maybe, everything is possible. – July 30, 2015.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider .

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