Educationist with a passion for reading

Educationist Marcus Raja showing the Hyacinth Gaudart Award. - ZULAZHAR SHEBLEE / THE STAR

LONG-SERVING Sarawakian educationist Marcus Raja has been honoured by the Malaysian English Language Teaching Association (Melta) for serving the profession in an outstanding manner.

He received the Hyacinth Gaudart English Language Teacher Award at the 23rd Melta International Conference in Kuching last week.

But more than doing the state and his profession proud, Marcus should be an inspiration to teachers everywhere for his passion, not only for teaching but for students as well.

In particular, he is a passionate advocate of reading and how it can help students to learn English better.

To him, teaching children to read is one of the best gifts a teacher can give them.

“I believe in reading and that students have to read. Through reading they will be able to go further and soar higher. When they are able to read, they can actually do more,” Marcus said.

The 58-year-old has put reading as a priority in every school he has been posted to.

In his last school, for instance, he set aside the first period every Tuesday for the whole school to read for 40 minutes.

He also initiated a project to help dyslexic children learn to read, something that remains dear to him even after he left the school.

“We had a special project teaching children who came to us in Form One and could not even read. All my teachers took turns to teach them every day and many of them were able to pick up the reading habit.

“We used the Ladybird books and found that the children improved their reading in English faster than in Bahasa Malaysia. Now I’m no longer at the school but the project is still going on.

“It’s one of those things that I’m very proud I did, helping disadvantaged children and teaching them so that they can start to read.”

Marcus, who comes from Bario, added that students from rural areas needed more exposure to English in order to learn and improve their mastery of the language.

“They hear a lot of vernacular, their own language, so as a principal you need to speak more English to them. They need extra exposure,” he explained.

Marcus began his teaching career in 1980 as a teacher of English and Geography, but later on he taught only English.

Although his career has covered a wide range of positions, his involvement in teaching English remained consistent.

Among others, he was an English language officer in the state Education Department from 1982 to 1984 before serving 10 years as a trainer preparing English teachers for primary schools.

He also served as the principal of SMK Long Lama, SMK Bakong and SMK Lopeng Tengah in Miri division, besides taking up administrative positions in the divisional education office and as a school inspector.

He is currently a School Improvement Partner Plus at the Miri district education office, a new position he was appointed to in March this year. In this role, he mentors primary and secondary school heads in administering their schools.

A man of many talents, he also writes short stories, conducts workshops and training for teachers and presents papers in conferences.

Throughout his different career positions, his love for teaching remains undiminished.

“I was still teaching as a principal because that’s one thing that I really like to do. Teaching is something that is in those of us who are trained to teach,” he said.

When asked what advice he would give to new teachers starting out in their careers, he did not hesitate. “They must love children and be passionate about what they are doing.

“They must know why they are teachers, especially in rural settings. The children really need them and they are the key to the children’s success in the world.”

His example should be emulated by those in the teaching profession, especially getting children to read and enjoy it.

This is all the more pertinent following the announcement by Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin that university students will have to pass English in order to graduate.

This new policy is meant to ensure that graduates can communicate in English, thereby becoming more employable.

If we want this to succeed, we must lay the right foundations and that means teaching children to be conversant in English from a young age. English must be properly taught at preschool, primary school and secondary school level so that by the time students enter university, they will have a good grasp of the language.

There’s very little point in making it compulsory for undergraduates to pass English if the subject is not given due attention in schools.

As Marcus has shown, reading is a good way of helping students to improve their English, so teachers and schools should seriously consider incorporating this in their lessons.

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