WE do have young people who write creatively in English, even though much has been said about the national standard of the language.
English educator Prof Malachi Edwin Vethamani, who has been a prominent figure in the sector for over four decades, believes that there is a strong talent pool that needs to be groomed.
In an effort to instil the love of literature in the next generation, Prof Malachi’s projects often involve the young.
One example is Malaysian Millennial Voices, a poetry anthology which he edited, featuring poems by Malaysian poets, all aged below 35.
He urges teachers to take an interest in teaching English literature, despite the omission of the subject as a testing component under the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR).
“I used to tell my teacher trainees that they are the most important visual aid in the classroom. If they are enthusiastic, their students can see it. If they are not interested, it dampens the learning atmosphere, ” he shared.
He remembers the efforts made by his Form Four English literature teacher Siew Moo Lan at Methodist Boys’ Secondary School Kuala Lumpur.
“Miss Siew persevered to teach us despite having to deal with many uninterested students, ” he said.
Speaking to StarEdu on his recent appointment as University of Nottingham emeritus professor, the 66-year-old Kuala Lumpur native recalls how some 42 years ago, he packed his bags and headed for Mara Junior Science College (MRSM) Pengkalan Chepa, Kota Baru, Kelantan, where he started his career as an English language teacher.
Over the years, he has gone from that wide-eyed fresh graduate to a seasoned English literature professor, even becoming the founding dean of the school of education at two private universities.
“This (emeritus professorship award) is in recognition of my work in education and literature. I’m the first University of Nottingham emeritus professor from its Malaysia campus, ” he said with pride.
The illustrious academician was conferred the title upon his retirement as Professor of Modern English Literature and head at the School of English in the University of Nottingham Malaysia on Jan 4 this year.
“I’m very honoured to receive this title. I’m very glad to continue this close association with my alma mater, ” said the educationist who earned his doctorate in Literature in English from the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom.
Prof Malachi’s contribution to the education arena has stretched beyond the classroom. He is a trustee of the Malaysian English Language Teaching Association (Melta) and an advisor to the Asian Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language (Asia TEFL) – two organisations where he had served as president and vice president, respectively.
For someone with such deep-seated passion for education, particularly in the teaching of English language and English literature, one would think Prof Malachi was answering a vocation when he took up that first teaching job back in 1979.“I actually got into teaching by accident and stayed on because I loved it, ” he said, chuckling.
Starting out, the English literature graduate with a diploma in education took it upon himself to include literary texts in his lessons. Later, it was a subject he specialised as a lecturer and as a teacher trainer.
Having then developed an interest in Malaysian Literature in English, it became a subject matter that he worked on in all his papers and publications, he shared, adding that he was instrumental in developing the Malaysian Literature in English module which he taught until he retired from the University of Nottingham.
Among the accolades he has garnered for his efforts in teaching literature and his research work on Malaysian Literature in English are the University of Nottingham Malaysia Vice-Chancellor’s Achievement Medal in 2019, and the Asian Education Leadership Award conferred by the World Education Congress in Mumbai, India, in 2013.
In 2013, he was also a recipient of the Special Award by Melta, which has named an award after him. Dubbed The Malachi Edwin Vethamani Creative Teacher Showcase Award, it is bestowed on three teachers at the annual Melta International Conference.
Despite his professional pursuits, Prof Malachi has found time to make his mark in the local and international literary scene.
A poet, writer and bibliographer, he has authored two volumes of poems and a collection of short stories, and compiled the first bibliography of Malaysian Literature in English.
He has also edited two volumes of Malaysian literary works which cover a period of 60 years – Ronggeng-Ronggeng: Malaysian Short Stories and Malchin Testament: Malaysian Poems, the latter of which recently won the English Language Book category at the inaugural Anugerah Buku Malaysia 2020.
“They came out of my research in Malaysian literature, ” he said.
Last year, he started a new project that saw him taking on the mantle of founding editor of the Men Matters Online Journal.
“I felt there is a need for a journal that addresses men’s issues. It is a platform for both men and women to write about men and their concerns in the 21st century, ” he said of the journal whose inaugural issue was launched last December.
Post-retirement, Prof Malachi is keeping his hands full with several projects.
“I’m editing two books, and working on my next collection of poems and short stories.
“I’m also trying to get sponsorships to organise a national-level poetry competition, ” he added.
Looking back on the milestones he has achieved, Prof Malachi expresses his gratitude to the people who served as positive visual aids during his formative years – among them his eldest brother, Tharumaraj Joshua.
“I’ve always loved reading. It’s a habit I picked up from my brother, who read very widely and gave me access to his books, ” he said.
Prof Malachi has certainly come a long way from that English literature graduate who was unsure of what career path to take and got into the profession after chancing upon an MRSM advertisement for a teaching job.