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Extraordinary Teachers of Anugerah Guru Inspirasi McDonald’s: Passion for Quality Education in Rural Communities

Teachers play a pivotal role in a child’s education journey. They are the ones who lay the building blocks of our nation and shape the future leaders of our country. Teachers have the opportunity to be role models who help students make sense of the world by exposing them to constructive discussions and help them discover their highest potential by exploring their talent and limitless creativity.

However, many still do not have the privilege to have access to quality education. There remains the challenge of education disparity between urban and rural areas, which is still very much prevalent in Malaysia. Education is comparatively more accessible in urban areas than that of rural or remote locations. The education inequality is accentuated by significant difficulties such as lack of educational facilities, resources and qualified teachers in remote locations.

Credit: Freepik

For that very reason, teachers who are stationed in rural and remote communities are all the more important as the onus would fall on them to provide equal educational opportunities as well as experiences that urban city students would receive. It is also no surprise that most teachers would opt to be assigned in urban and semi-urban areas compared to rural areas.

These two teachers, Puan Eva binti Lahi and Madam Lian Fee Choo are the epitome of commitment and hard work for the pure love of teaching, a reflection of the kind of educators who are celebrated by the annual Anugerah Guru Inspirasi McDonald’s.

Puan Eva binti Lahi is an English teacher at SK Sipinong who was one of the finalists of the Anugerah Guru Inspirasi McDonald’s 2021. Puan Eva wanted better opportunities for students in the island school and actually decided to teach there because she wanted to challenge herself and to prove that teaching at an island school can be as fulfilling as you make it to be.

The daily journey to school is certainly an interesting one for Puan Eva. She commutes everyday from the mainland to the island and would even have to jump off a bridge onto the boat that would take her to the school she teaches. Weathering through heavy rain and storms has also become a norm for her. Her determination and dedication to travel from the mainland by boat to the school of SK Sipinong is one of the countless efforts she has made to ensure that her motto of “no one gets left behind in education” is fulfilled.

The excitement and initiative that her students display when they are provided access to education is what drives her to do what she does. The sense of encouragement and fulfilment she feels from her students is evident through future plans and programmes she is looking to implement to further enhance her students’ access to education.

One of the programmes include bridging the education gap by introducing the teaching of Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics (STEM) subjects in English as well as building a STEM station for her students to explore these subjects in a more in-depth manner. The world is evolving rapidly and Puan Eva’s objective is to create equal chances in education for her students and guide them to pursue a successful career as well as to own a promising future of their own.

Another teacher whose passion in delivering quality education to rural communities is unparalleled, is Madam Lian Fee Choo, who was one of the winners of Anugerah Guru Inspirasi McDonald’s 2021. Madam Lian Fee Choo was the 13th principal of SMK Kemabong, Sabah and the first female principal the school has seen in its 47 years of establishment. Also located in a remote location, the school is situated approximately 200 km or a 4-hour drive from Kota Kinabalu.

Originally from Perak, Madam Lian has been an educator for 30 years and out of these three decades of service, she has served as a school principal for 17 years. Throughout her teaching career, she had been stationed at schools in rural areas. She chose to be stationed at SMK Kemabong in 2011 and served as the school’s principal until July 2020. During her tenure at SMK Kemabong, she contributed greatly to improving the school’s attendance rate, bringing down the drop-out rates, increasing parents’ confidence in the school and raising awareness on education within the parents in the community, producing the school’s first Straight A’s student in 2017 and more thereafter.

But the one thing that sets Madam Lian apart from others is the fact that she managed to revive the school’s academic excellence and removed SMK Kemabong from the list of “sinking schools” in Malaysia. A “sinking school” refers to a school that is behind on academic achievements in Malaysia.

Under the stewardship of Madam Lian, SMK Kemabong went from being a “sinking school” to being recognised as one of the best high schools in the district of Tenom in 2014. It was a gargantuan task, one that Madam Lian took on with resolve and confidence.

Wanting the best education opportunities for her students, Madam Lian has always been steadfast in her encouragement of students to pursue their tertiary education. She had three mentees while serving at SMK Kemabong. Due to financial constraints, one of these mentees nearly gave up on the offer to continue her studies at IPGM Kuala Lumpur. Determined to see her student succeed, Madam Lian sponsored the student’s flight ticket and provided some financial assistance to ensure that her student took up the offer.

On a separate occasion, Madam Lian also bought two of the other mentees additional books to ensure they produce good results in their Form 6 studies. Both these students have gone on to secure places in local universities.

Madam Lian has since left SMK Kemabong in July 2020, as she was asked to extend her service at the Tenom Education District Office as a School Improvement Partners+ Officer, with the main responsibility of coaching and mentoring school leaders and senior leader teams. Though she no longer teaches at the school, Madam Lian’s name has been engraved in the hearts of all SMK Kemabong students as she has brought about a magnitude of positive impact and change to the school and community as a whole.

A quality education is the cornerstone in growing and improving a community. It is the very essence that shapes the perspective of young minds and propels the next generation forward. Learning prepares communities of all groups and ages to find solutions to the challenges of today and the future. Access to education has become a necessity to develop communities and provide a sustainable future for all.

As the driving force of education in their respective communities, Puan Eva and Madam Lian are two of the many extraordinary teachers who have continuously inspired students to grow as individuals as well as provide them the opportunity to thrive and succeed. McDonald’s Malaysia’s annual Anugerah Guru Inspirasi initiative aims to bring to light extraordinary educators like Puan Eva and Madam Lian, who go beyond the call of duty to touch lives and bring positive impact through their work.

Education enables growth and advancement, just like one of the former students at SMK Kemabong, who graduated in Civil Engineering and who is now back as an engineer working on road construction in his hometown of Ulu Tomani. He is the first-ever engineer from the Murut tribes in the Kemabong District.

Changes as such do not happen overnight. Stories like this are truly inspirational, but they can only be told because of the hard work and relentless pursuit towards change and excellence by teachers such as Puan Eva and Madam Lian. Extraordinary stories are only made possible by extraordinary beings, regardless of which remote town they are placed in to make a difference.
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