International award-winning English teacher wants to empower rural Sabah students

Avila Geraldine

KOTA KINABALU: Mention Mohd Sirhajwan Sidek and many may not know the name or his contribution to the country.

Born and bred in Kota Belud, the 31-year-old Bajau lad however has won many awards in the past three years.

His achievement in the education field is tremendous, making Malaysia proud in the eyes of the world.

Most of his awards are centred around his creative initiatives in the teaching of English as well as encouraging rural students to apply and master the language in their everyday lives.

The English teacher, who is attached to the Keningau Vocational College, said most of his students are from the interior, where they have limited experience and exposure to learning materials.

He noted these students are aware of the significance of learning and mastering English, and that they possess the capacity to learn and use the language.

“They are familiar with it and display positive attitude towards learning it. Therefore, they need support and encouragement, so they can feel comfortable in practising the language.

“My first initiative - HIVE (Highly Intellectual and Valiant Enthusiasts) - started as an effort in training my students for English language competitions, particularly public speaking and debate.

“The goal is to utilize thinking tools as a strategy in getting them to develop their ideas and express them, orally, in a convincing manner. I decided to adapt the strategy, so it became part of my classroom teaching practise,” he said.

Sirhajwan’s HIVE initiative won the 2016 Macmillan Teacher at My Hearts competition in the United Kingdom, pushing him to further explore and venture into innovation as well as entrepreneurship.

Realising his students had the skills and creativity, he then came up with the “Ideatrix” approach to assist these students to express their innovative ideas and pitch them in competitions.

It became the most successful approach as it was recognised with two global awards – the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Excellence in Teaching Award 2017 in Paris and the Community Award for Citizenship 2018 in Dubai.

“Another award-winning project is the Wonder Zone. It is a community based programme, where my students would develop their own projects by visiting primary schools in the Keningau district.

“Through this initiative, it encourages them to carry out engaging and creative educational activities with school children. Throughout the activities, they are required to use English to communicate with the pupils.

“All these initiatives and approaches have enabled my students to gain experience and accomplishments not only at the state and national levels but internationally. This is very meaningful for my students, who mostly come from the interior,” said Sirhajwan.

The Wonder Zone initiative has earned Sirhajwan the Express Publishing International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language (IATEFL) Scholarship in the United Kingdom, early this year.

Speaking on his interest in the English language, Sirhajwan said he was inspired to become an English language teacher after realizing that the language can help empower individuals.

Growing up, he noted the biggest challenge in learning the language was having to be brave enough to do what one wants regardless of how people might react to it.

“I have always been aware that learning English requires me to speak the language and use it to communicate with others, especially my friends. However, it takes a certain level of courage to be able to do so especially for novice learners.

“During my school years, I used to take part in public speaking and debate. My English wasn’t really good in those days, but I believe I have improved over time as I continue practising it,” he said. © New Straits Times Press (M) Bhd