Higher Education Minister Datuk MustapaMohamed turns tuition teacher on weekends tohelp his constituents in Jeli master English,reports KAREN CHAPMAN.
IT WAS his concern for the pupils' lack of English proficiency in the 27 schools around Jeli, Kelantan, that led Higher Education Minister Datuk Mustapa Mohamed to set up a tuition centre 10 years ago.
The tuition centre known as Darul Falah or House of Success, and located within the minister's residence originally catered to pupils in Year Six.
A year later, classes were started for those taking PMR and SPM.
“In the first eight years, we helped pupils to prepare for their UPSR because we found they were doing quite well in most subjects except for English.
A real need
“But what the teacher found was that their foundation was so weak in English that it was better to accept them from the time they were in Year Five so there was more time to work on improving their grasp of the language,” says Mustapa at his home in Bukit Tunku after hosting a thank you dinner for a group of Alice Smith School staff and students who had helped the pupils in Jeli.
To date, the tuition centre has helped over 3,000 pupils since its inception in 1996. Pupils are also taught Science and Mathematics at the tuition centre, originally in Bahasa Malaysia but now in English.
“One of the original pupils in 1996 is now an undergraduate in Universiti Malaya,” adds Mustapa who is also Jeli MP.
The classes which are provided free of charge, are held on Friday and Saturday (the Kelantan weekend) in two sessions, morning and afternoon and pupils are provided with breakfast, lunch and tea.
The tuition centre is run on donations and the minister’s allowance as MP.
Calling it his “flagship project”, Mustapa said he and his wife Datin Khamarzan Ahmed Meah, also teach at the tuition centre.
“We have simple conversations in English with the pupils to give them a chance to use and interact in the language,” he says.
Thanking the Alice Smith School delegation for spending time with the pupils in Jeli in late April, Mustapa said it was the first time they were meeting a “Mat Salleh” as many do not have the opportunity to interact with foreigners.
“The pupils enjoyed spending time getting to know everyone and participating in all the different games,” says Mustapa whose caring nature has been evident from his schooldays – he was the Interact Club president when he was in Upper Six.
From KL to Kelantan
Alice Smith School vice principal Michael Welland says 14 students from the Interact Club and three staff comprising head of the sixth form, Helen Evans, office manager Shamala Dharan and himself made the trip to Jeli.
“We worked with the Interact Club group to prepare them for the trip. The students organised tasks for the pupils to complete that were significantly different from their current learning experiences, exposing them to a new variety of teaching and learning styles and experiences,” he says.
Welland says there was a range of activities including ice-breakers, reading groups, word games, role play exercises, learning and singing songs. Students made their own teaching resources before leaving for Jeli.
“We plan to have at least one and probably two trips up to Jeli from now on. The Interact Club members are looking for sponsors at the moment and the next group will be getting their ideas together in September for an Autumn trip,” he says.
Welland adds that the school also sourced for books for the new library set up at the tuition centre from people within and outside the school.
“We managed to get 1,511 books ranging from infant first readers to classical novels – a full range of literature but focusing on children's books from authors such as Enid Blyton.
“We also provided bookshelves and put together a library for the children at the tuition centre,” he says.
A helping hand
Alice Smith School student and Interact Club president Tim Kong says the team had been planning for the trip over a few months.
“As the trip drew closer we saw our ideas develop and were able to come up with a final schedule of activities for the pupils.
“We developed the activities through group meetings and brainstorming among ourselves,” adds Kong who was born in Perth, Australia. Sharing his experience further, he says the pupils were very cooperative and willing to participate in the games.
Tim did have to translate some words for several nervous pupils in the activities, but adds that the level of English was better than what he expected.
“I know it can be scary to be asked to answer a question in front of everyone. We tried to avoid any translation into Bahasa Malaysia as it was an English programme.
“I remember one kid who could not pronounce the word 'potato' and kept saying 'toc-tac'. This was a very funny moment for everyone in the activity and also for him but what was memorable about it was on the last day he said 'potato' correctly.”
Fellow Interactor Hannah Wratten who is from New Plymouth in New Zealand, says it was the first time she had been to Kelantan.
“The journey took about nine hours each way.”
Wratten says they helped the pupils read by using several games that tested different skills.
“The most popular book was Harry Potter. We had the children read the books to the group.
“We also had anagrams where the letters in the words are jumbled up and the pupils had to guess what the word was. They were so good at this game and we couldn’t even get half of them,” she says.
On his advice for those making future trips, Tim says: “Remember that you are trying to educate these kids in English and try to go about
it in the most fun way possible.”
Wratten says to be prepared for when plans do not work and having to adapt on the spot which can be very difficult and frustrating.
Kong summed up the trip best by saying the most rewarding part of the experience was knowing they had given the pupils the opportunity to learn with a smile on their faces!