Retired principal gives back to society

Supplementary resource: Deputy Education Minister Datuk Dr Mah Hang Soon (left) and Kok at the book launch held at the Education Ministry recently.

HE may have retired from the government school scene some 20 years ago but life in the teaching profession still continues for veteran educator Thomas Kok.

Now 76, the former principal of four secondary schools teaches the English language at a learning and training institute in Ipoh, where he had served as principal until last June, since retiring from SMK Methodist ACS, Ipoh, in 2000.

His retirement years have also seen him produce seven English language resources, the latest of which is Newspaper Articles for English Practice Book 7 published last year. All the books in the series contain articles written by Kok which have been published in The Star newspaper. The subject matter encompasses a wide range of topics from education to sports.

In this final instalment, Kok offers a compilation of 125 articles focusing solely on educational matters. “The books are for use by teachers and students at the learning and training institute, as well as primary and secondary schools in Ipoh where we have handed out complimentary copies.

“Students have used the books to pick up new vocabulary, and improve their sentence structures and grammar. Form Six students have also used the articles for discussion, ” he said.An educationist since 1964, Kok has always believed in the use of newspaper materials in classroom teaching.

According to Kok, comprehension passages in textbooks don’t provide current topics and may not be relevant to students due to cultural differences.

“Current affairs never fail to interest students. They are motivated to pay attention as they can relate to these events, ” he said, adding that he had found The Star’s Newspaper-in-Education (NiE) pullout “very useful” as an English language resource at SMK Methodist ACS.

Kok, however, emphasised that there are many other avenues for teachers and students to turn to in their language acquisition – growing up, he himself had found his passion for the English language through the stories written by Enid Blyton and Agatha Christie.

However, he conceded that his English language learning journey had been made easier back then with the use of the language as the medium of instruction, as well as that of co-curricular activities.

“I hope teachers use materials that can motivate students, whatever those materials may be. It’s not easy to get students to focus in class as there are a lot of distractions these days, ” he said.

On what led him to writing those “letters to the editor” at The Star, he said he was compelled to contribute ideas as he had been “100% involved in education in many aspects” over a span of 20 years as a principal in government schools.

“Teachers and principals welcomed my feedback as a practising teacher and principal. They encouraged me to write issues related to current affairs, be it on education or social and economic events, ” he said.

Kok sees his post-retirement contribution as a part-time English language teacher and as the author of the resources as a way of giving back to society.

“I hope to carry on teaching. I believe I can help the students. I’ve been teaching Cambridge English at the highest level and the results have been good. I can see that the students are appreciative, ” he said. With the books as supplementary resources, Kok believes that teachers and students will be able to spice up their lessons.

“The ideas and viewpoints expressed in the articles offer materials for higher order thinking exercises, ” he said, adding that they are suitable for any level of student proficiency.

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Kok has had to impart his lessons virtually.

“Face-to-face lessons are definitely more effective. The problem with online learning is that it caters for students who are disciplined, ” he said.

He was, however, quick to point out that as a teacher, one must never give up on getting one’s students interested.

Apart from devoting his time to teaching, Kok keeps himself busy with sports. In fact, he has recently made it into the Malaysia Book of Records (MBR) for the most number of gold medals in masters athletics competitions.

“I’m serious about sports. I follow a training schedule and check my timing, ” said Kok, who has bagged 22 gold medals for race walking at various international and national events since 1986.

The YMCA Ipoh secretary also fills his time doing social work.

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