Primary school teacher Tessie Rijem's innovative ways of teaching English to rural students in Sarawak have earned her the Global Teacher Award (GTA) 2021.
Rijem, 30, who teaches at SK Sungai Buloh in Selangau, is the first Sarawakian to win the award, organised by New Delhi-based AKS Education Awards.
"I'm speechless and I never expected to win an international award. However, I'm honoured as this is the first time I'm being recognised for my contribution to teaching. Winning this award has inspired me to further contribute to students in rural villages," said an elated Rijem in a phone interview from Selangau, a town located 70km from Sibu.
On Oct 24, Rijem and seven other Malaysian educators emerged winners of the award.
Held since 2018, the award is given to dedicated teachers from over 100 countries across six continents. It highlights their contribution to community building and creating a better society through inspirational teaching.
Rijem uses creative ways to encourage students to master the English language. She’s turned to project-based learning methods like English singing competitions and outdoor activities, and encouraging students to communicate in English with each other.
During the pandemic, she transitioned to online teaching and recorded teaching modules for students who do not have laptops and access to the Internet. She also continued having virtual karaoke singing competitions as her students love to sing.
As a form of motivation, she posts their achievements on her Facebook page. In addition, she uploads her students' English essays on the school library's digital portal, Buloh Mini Digital News.
Rijem, a graduate of Penang's Institut Pendidikan Guru, has been attached to SK Sungai Buloh for six years.
The rural school has six classrooms and one preschool for 150 students. There are 10 wooden quarters for teachers. Rijem and the villagers have no treated water; they obtain water from the gravity feed system and rainwater. Their electricity supply comes from diesel-powered generator sets.
When Rijem first arrived at the school, she realised many students could not utter a word in English.
"My biggest challenge was teaching them to speak English. These children speak mainly Iban and Bahasa Melayu Sarawak in the longhouses. They also lack confidence and it took a lot of coaxing and encouragement to get them to pick up English," shared Rijem, who hails from Bau, Kuching.
The eldest of five siblings, she says her secret to teaching is understanding her students’ interests.
"We must know what our children like. Kids like to talk and share stories. With the right guidance, they can excel. If they have interest and love for a particular subject, they will be motivated to learn. I am glad I’ve managed to enhance their love for the English language," said Rijem, whose parents are teachers.
Winning the award has fuelled her passion for helping her community.
"Teaching is my life calling. I love teaching and I love children. It's a joy to see my students' progress and it's so nice to hear them communicating in English with confidence."