Guiding lights


Imparting knowledge: Husband-and- wife team Cheli and Kong started The Reading Bus Club while they were still teachers in Sarawak.

Great teachers never retire; they continue to use their skills and expertise honed over years to help others. To mark Teachers Day, StarMetro features former educators whose passion to contribute has not dimmed.

MANY teachers do not let retirement stop them from contributing to society.

They continue to display the nurturing quality inherent in their profession by spending their time and effort to help others.

Cheli Tamilselvam Nadarajah, 61, and wife Kong Lai Mei, 60, are founders of The Reading Bus Club.

They started the venture before retirement and it is still going strong.

The couple were inspired to improve children’s learning outcomes from their early days as teachers in Sarawak in the 1980s.

“There is no better way to do this than by ensuring children can read from an early age, ” said Cheli.

The couple, who graduated from Kota Baru Teachers Training College, Kelantan in 1982, were sent to Kapit, Sarawak for their first posting.

They realised that there was a need to bridge the education gap to ensure all children had an equal opportunity.

In 2002, they set up a free homework centre and rented a double- storey house in Kapit for that purpose.

Some of the weaker students who were selected for extra coaching, scored well and had gone to university and subsequently found employment.

“We saw phenomenal growth in these children and this spurred us to continue our efforts.

“We saw how our reading approach could ensure their success in studies, ” said Cheli.

Since the club’s formation in 2005, he and Kong --- together with other volunteers --- have reached out to children in 100 villages and schools all over Malaysia.

“We would go in four-wheel- drive vehicles with books to remote villages in Sarawak and the children would call the vehicle a bus.

“That’s when we decided to call the project The Reading Bus Club, ” said Cheli, who taught in the Land of the Hornbills for over 20 years.

Last year, during the first movement control order imposed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the couple helped distribute activity books in Sekinchan, Segambut, Lembah Pantai, Kampung Pandan and Putrajaya.

“About 5,000 books were distributed during this period and we welcome donations of new books, ” said Cheli, who had received the Education Ministry’s excellent service award five times as well as an innovative teacher award.

Prior to the MCO, they conducted a six-week course in both rural and urban areas where children from the age of five were taught to read.

“We use a lot of Ladybird Books, which are expensive.

“About 100 keywords are introduced and we focus on fluency and comprehension.

“At this stage, pronunciation is not as important.

“In Malaysia, reading is mostly for academic purposes.

“We need to read for leisure and pleasure too.

“Fake news thrives when people do not have enough information.

“People must learn how to question what they read, ” said Cheli.

He advised teachers to use school textbooks if they had limited resources.

“In places where connectivity is an issue, teachers can ask students to read certain topics from the textbook, give exercises and discuss the answers, ” he said.

The couple, who have two sons, plan to set up a reading academy in the future.

“A child who can read well will become an independent learner, ” Cheli added.

Still helping others

Former English teacher Datin Salbiah Abdul Aziz, 67, is heading the Trefoil Guild movement in Malaysia.“Trefoil Guild is basically for senior women who were once Girl Guides, ” she said.

The mother of six said she wanted to contribute to society and keep busy during her golden years.

During the MCO, Salbiah did her part to ensure the underprivileged was not forgotten.

She also roped in her friends and acquaintances to render aid.

“I was an active Girl Guide even as a teacher and helping others has always been a part of me.

“During the first MCO, thanks to the generosity of my friends, we donated necessities such as face masks and gloves to quarantine centres.

“We also extended aid to old folks homes and orphanages, as well as supported others in need.

“I have kind neighbours in Putrajaya who are always generous when I conduct a donation drive.

“After the floods in Temerloh, Pahang earlier this year, we sent a three-tonne lorry full of aid to the victims, ” said Salbiah who always wears her Girl Guide uniform whenever she is helping others.

She was the Girl Guide Malaysia chief commissioner from 2003 to 2008.

“The children will call me ‘cikgu’ (teacher) and this makes me happy.

“I know they are showing their respect for the Girl Guide movement and teachers, ” she said.

During the movement restriction, she also organises online sessions for her peers.

“We should make use of the technology we have to stay connected.

“We exchange ideas on cooking and also do religious recitations, ” said Salbiah, who plans to carry out house visits once the MCO is lifted.

She said many plans such as high tea and potluck sessions had to be put on hold because of the pandemic.

To this end, she encourages other senior citizens to register for the Covid-19 immunisation.

“The government has spent a lot of money to buy these vaccines and it is safe.

“We should not be swayed by sceptics and instead, we should get vaccinated, ” said Salbiah, who has received both doses of the vaccine.

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