Putting Keningau on the map

An inspiration: Engelbert was crowned overall champion of 2024 Cambridge Dedicated Teacher Awards, beating 14,800 nominees from 140 countries.

KOTA KINABALU: Sydney Engelbert’s efforts to expose her rural students to the outside world and improve their communication skills have been recognised with the top prize of the prestigious Cambridge Dedicated Teacher Awards.

The 30-year-old Sabahan, who teaches English at Keningau Vocational College, was named the world’s best educator in this year’s awards, triumphing over 14,800 nominees from 140 countries.

The Cambridge Dedicated Teacher Awards website, which called this year’s nominations “extraordinary”, highlighted Engelbert’s winning entry, which depicted her as an English teacher at a rural vocational school in Keningau, a landlocked valley some 110km from here.

In this remote area, her students rarely travel outside the district.

“In an effort to enrich her students’ learning experience, she kickstarted an online exchange class in 2022 with several vocational schools in Malaysia, the Philippines, Cambodia and Indonesia.

“The first cohort of the three-month exchange programme involved 112 students from the four countries with 45 students alone from her school. In 2023, the number increased to 252 students with 70 of them from her school,” it said.

The programme allowed her students to improve their English language and communication skills, cultural competence, and also learn about topics beyond their standard curriculum to complement their classroom learning.

Engelbert humbly attributed her success to the support from family and friends, as well as the trust of “my amazing colleagues and dear students”.

She previously won the 2024 Cambridge Dedicated Teachers Awards for the South-East Asia and Pacific region, qualifying her for the overall award.

“I am grateful for this award and recognition from Cambridge University Press and Assessment,” said Engelbert, who hails from Kampung Kiawan in Tambunan, a rural area in Sabah.

She said her passion for teaching came naturally as her parents, uncles, aunties, and cousins are all in the profession.

“Growing up, I witnessed my parents touch and inspire countless lives throughout their careers.

“Despite receiving numerous awards and recognition for their years of service, they often said that the proudest aspect of being a teacher is when former and current students remember and respect them.

“Many of their former students still recall them fondly. This is what inspired me to pursue this profession,” she said.

When she started her career in 2019, she learnt to tackle her students’ limited proficiency through a variety of language art activities.

Engelbert also plays an active role in other internationalisation programmes like hosting foreign students at her school.

Her most memorable teaching moment, Engelbert recalls, was when the Covid-19 pandemic struck, leading to the closure of schools nationwide.

“We had to transition to online classes, something that was new to both our students and teachers.

“It was a challenging learning experience for all of us, requiring us to abandon our usual teaching methods and fully embrace digital materials.”

Looking ahead, Engelbert, who is the head of Keningau Vocational College’s Internationalisation Unit, discussed their involvement in several exchange programmes, including the Global Online Classroom, AFS Intercultural Link Learning Programme, and the Gaja! Korea Autumn exchange programme.

“These projects are beneficial for both teachers and students, providing opportunities to broaden our horizons and make our mark internationally. I’m excited about these initiatives as they offer incredible opportunities for growth and learning,” she said.

Engelbert is the second Malaysian to win the prestigious award, following Khalifa Affnan, also a teacher from the same college.

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