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Sunday September 29, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Tuesday October 1, 2013 MYT 11:31:45 AM
by royce t.g. tan
All for English: Tan believes that the language is essential for business and paves the way for a better future.
A former lawyer believes that English being a universal language must be embraced to the fullest by all Malaysians.
HER parents were both educators and Tan Siew Bee’s older siblings followed in their footsteps knowing that they would find it truly rewarding to be in the noble profession.
Her father was a teacher at the Methodist Secondary School Sungai Siput, Perak, and although Tan herself did not get into the profession, part of her work as a senior lawyer was to an extent, associated with teaching for she had to mentor chambering students.
Tan studied at the Methodist Girls’ School (MGS) Ipoh, and later at MGS Kuala Lumpur.
“Everyone in my family is passionate about education.
“My parents and siblings inculcated the spirit of excellence in me by encouraging me to keep pushing myself,” shares Tan who is the youngest in her family.
She is thankful for the benefits of an English-medium education, which she believes has helped her family in all aspects of life.
Tan a lawyer by training, was a senior partner at a legal firm in 1993. She later became the head of its finance and property department before leaving the firm in May 2007.
Her drive and desire to give back to society, echoes that of her own former school principal, whom she described as “the teacher who changed my life significantly”.
“As a student, the person who had the biggest influence on me was the school head Mrs Rasammah Bhupalan.
“She was a renowned activist in Malaysia. She was also the first Asian representative of the World Confederation of Organisations of the Teaching Profession, adding to her formidable reputation.
“I remember how during the school assembly, Mrs Bhupalan would give inspiring talks that were often interspersed with English proverbs and sayings.”
She had foresight and would tell us to be the very best and not aspire to be “just a stenographer or a typist” as women in those days were stereotyped for certain jobs,” Tan said.
Bhupalan, being past president of the Women Teacher’s Union, also fought for equal pay for female teachers and tried to bring all teachers’ unions under one umbrella body.
“My principal was insistent on preserving racial harmony (muhibbah) and would ensure that each project would have a Chinese, Malay and Indian girl,” shared Tan.
During her career that spanned over two decades until 2007, Tan was primarily involved in capital markets and the corporate banking sector of legal practice.
“In my career, when I drafted documents, I had to deal with local and international clients, as well as foreign partner firms.
“The common medium of communication was always English, no matter where our clients were.
“It is critical that you understand the precise meaning of every word in order to amend documents; even your grammar and vocabulary needs to be top-notch.
“I consider language as a tool of my trade, especially when so much of legal history and resources are in English,” she said.
When asked about her opinions on the language proficiency of graduates today, Tan expressed her disappointment.
“In the course of over 20 years of my career, I can see the degradation of language and knowledge skills.
“As a lawyer, you have to take on trainees in a nine-month apprenticeship before they are called to the Bar. Through years of dealing with chambering students, I have noticed that standards are deteriorating,” she said.
“We have to realise that Malaysia today is very different from the Malaysia of the 1970s.
“We can no longer afford to be the katak di bawah tempurung (living a sheltered or protected life) if we are to compete globally.
“For me, I strongly believe in an egalitarian education system, this has always been my passion.
“I believe the missionaries came here to provide opportunities so that those who were underprivileged would be able to better their lives and move up.
“That’s the heritage of these mission schools, we try to level the playing field by getting students to improve their English,” she said.
Tan has been the school’s Board of Governors chairman since 2010 and is also its alumni association’s current chairman.
Tan’s passion and commitment to improve the lives of others has seen her carrying out various projects at her alma mater
“We help out students who don’t have computers at home ... this we do by ensuring that they have equal access to resources.”
With tablets being used as a learning tool, Tan said that it was necessary to expose students to these new learning devices.
There was a student who was so thankful to the alumni for its funding.
“ It felt so good to know that we made a difference; even if it was just one life, it is one life that has changed for the better.”
“Similarly, if you can inspire just one teacher, that teacher can in turn, inspire many generations of students to be better.
“I feel that only with education can one move up and attain a better life ... education is the right of every Malaysian and the key to change,” added Tan.
“In life, we can choose to either be a thermometer or a thermostat; a thermometer can only state the temperature of its environment, but a thermostat has the power to adjust the environment to itself.
“We must learn to adapt and affect change in our environment rather than sit back and complain.
“Everyone needs to stay empowered through education and improving language skills in English would be to one’s advantage,” she said.
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Education, education, english medium school
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