Making waves in Land below the Wind

Mohd Sirhajwan (centre) in discussion with his students on practical innovations. — MOHD SIRHAJWAN IDEK

ONE step at a time – that has been Dr Mohd Sirhajwan Idek’s approach to empowering his students in English language learning, and innovation and entrepreneurship ever since he started his teaching career at Keningau Vocational College (KVC), Sabah, in 2012.

Over the years, the multi-award-winning English language teacher has gone on to empower his fellow teachers through continuing professional development in his aim to ensure they “live up to their full potential”. Having played a vital role in bringing the college from the interior region of Sabah to the global stage through the participation of his students and peers in various international events besides his own, he now plans to mobilise them to reach out to the community in Sabah to help carry out their innovation and social projects, and enhance their livelihoods.


Named the National Charismatic Youth Icon by the Youth and Sports Ministry last year, Mohd Sirhajwan said his team has acquired basic skills in ideation and entrepreneurship, and emerging technologies such as three-dimensional printing and drone piloting.

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“Due to our consistent achievements in innovation competitions, the Science, Technology and Innovation Ministry financed the construction of an innovation and design hub at our college, which is well-equipped with tech-based resources.

“This hub, known as ‘Ruang Daya Cipta’, is meant for the community,” he said, adding that he is seeking to maximise his team’s bolstered capacity to help the community.

The Sabahan also plans to get his team to collaborate with the community in language education, as well as art projects such as theatre adaptations.

From leading students to stamp their mark in various competitions nationally and internationally to conducting webinars and masterclasses to aid in his colleagues’ professional development – even co-founding the “Highly Intellectual Valiant Enthusiasts (Hive)” teacher association – the 36-year-old has made it his life’s work to empower his students and fellow teachers so that they can pay it forward by lifting the community.

“There is a need for us to empower each other for the greater good. Only by being the best versions of ourselves can we give our best to others.

“Teachers must acquire fundamental skills that they can transfer to their students and collectively expand the impact of good practices on more students,” he said.

Encouraging students to take part in competitions, he added, helps foster their communication, creativity and leadership skills.

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He has also taken it upon himself to provide his students, most of whom come from low socio-economic backgrounds, with avenues to champion the causes that they believe in.

“Youth advocacy must be cultivated among the young generation in order to foster proactive and compassionate youth,” he said.

Having worked with special needs learners at KVC and seen them win recognition for their artistic works in the form of performance videos, as well as literary and visual pieces, Mohd Sirhajwan firmly believes that they are “just as capable as the rest”.

“They just need proper and adequate support to take part in activities. This also requires existing opportunities to be more inclusive by widening the means of participation, such as allowing sign language presentations.

“If we adapt and cater to the different needs of students based on their abilities, we will be able to assist them in discovering and developing their talents and skills in a way that we would not be able to, if we restricted ourselves to just a one-size-fits-all approach,” he said.

Mohd Sirhajwan also believes in integrating global citizenship education in his college.

To help teachers and students develop an awareness of global issues and see themselves as part of a global community that can contribute towards alleviating global crises, he has been spearheading an internationalisation effort since last year, which saw exchange classes being conducted with South-East Asian technical and vocational education and training (TVET) schools, and a masterclass series being conducted by teachers from other countries.

“This can improve their sociocultural competence in a way that they learn more about other cultures and interact with people from different backgrounds and origins in a respectful manner,” he said.

A Top 50 Global Teacher Prize finalist in 2017, Mohd Sirhajwan urged other educators to take a leaf out of his “one step at a time” approach.

“This is a marathon. You don’t need to sprint and pressure or push yourself too hard and become extremely drained. You just need to keep taking one step further at a time because each step will take you closer to your aim,” he said.

Mohd Sirhajwan enrolled at the Institute of Teacher Education (IPG) Gaya Campus, Sabah, when he was 18. He pursued a joint degree programme in Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL) at IPG Gaya-Universiti Teknologi Mara in 2011 and a master’s degree in research at the same university in 2014. Dedicated mentor inspires change

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