A teacher who made the difference

PETALING JAYA: It all started in 1983 when he was a temporary teacher but realised something must be done to encourage children to attend school.

Back then, Sangga Sinnayah said pupils had always been his inspiration and passion and that they should be provided quality education.

The SJK (T) Bayan Lepas Penang headmaster said it has been his teaching philosophy to not only focus on examinations but fun and enjoyable learning experiences as the key to knowledge and wisdom.

“I believe in holistic development. That is why I introduced different learning and teaching methods.

“Pupils should be happy to attend school and they are the ones who inspire me to do more, ” he said in an interview.

Sangga said he was not aware that his efforts were related to the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).

The blueprint, consisting of 17 goals, was introduced in 2015 for a better and sustainable future generation.

“I only knew that the UN is advocating similar causes when my school’s achievements gained public attention.

“In 1983, I came up with ideas to make learning experience more meaningful and fun as the students were not happy to come to school due to pressure to excel in exams.

Addressing environmental issues: Sangga and his students posing for a photograph during an awareness campaign to save Malayan tigers.Addressing environmental issues: Sangga and his students posing for a photograph during an awareness campaign to save Malayan tigers.

“It was only in 2009 when I was the SJK (T) Sungai Ara headmaster that I managed to implement my sustainability ideas and teaching methods.

“Before that, I would organise my activities outside school hours, ” the 59-year-old said.

Among the out-of-class activities that invoked the importance of sustainability were urban farming, trash management through recycling and hiking and picnic outings.

There were mixed reactions, especially from parents, when he started to introduce unconventional teaching methods.

“Initially, some parents were so focused on grades that they labelled me as a ‘mad HM’.

“But the pupils enjoyed school so much due to these activities, ” he said.

Parents later accepted his unique teaching style to transform the school into a fun place where pupils were allowed to play games outside classroom with no homework or extra classes.

“Teachers were also having a hard time to adapt to my methods but later they understood and gave me full support, ” Sangga related.

He said through these activities, pupils were empowered to express their opinions.

Last year, a group of his pupils captured the limelight when they rallied on the streets in Penang.

“We realised climate change is a serious issue and there is a need to call for an action plan.

“The children will take over and they need the right support from various levels of the society, including policy-makers, ” he said.

His efforts have been recognised through several awards, including the South-East Asian Ministers of Education Organisation and Japan Education for Sustainable Development awards.

He also bagged awards from the Penang Green Council, namely Penang Environmental Stewardship 2019 and Penang Green Kindy Incentive 2019.

Sangga’s efforts were not limited as neighbouring schools and communities have been interested to learn from him.

“We have been working with non-governmental organisations, companies, universities and colleges to address climate change and environmental issues.

“My pupils also went to beaches and parks around Penang to advocate zero trash and cleaning up activities, as well as inter-cultural activities, ” he said.

He noted that SJK (T) Sungai Ara was the only school invited to participate in the UN SDG Summit in Kuala Lumpur last November.

“It was a very proud moment for me, seeing my pupils presenting in front of the leaders about their SDG efforts, ” Sangga said, adding that

11 out of the 17 goals have been implemented when he left the school.

The headmaster also said he has plans to start his own foundation to continue his efforts in sustaining education after retirement.

“I also intend to start virtual schools to benefit Orang Asli children and others, ” he said.

For his efforts, Sangga is recognised as one of the 10 winners of Star Golden Hearts Award 2020, an annual award that celebrates everyday Malaysian unsung heroes.

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