Teachers at the Heart winner - Sirhajwan Idek

Mr Sirhajwan Idek teaches at the Keningau Vocational College in rural Malaysia, Borneo, where he plays an influential role in driving success.

Since we announced his win, Sirhajwan has become something of a media sensation in Malaysia: appearing on national TV and radio as well as across various newspapers and websites.

He has also been successful in his application to be one of 80 academics speaking at the Asia Pacific Week 2016, a major annual event held at the Australian National University, which this year will explore the theme of ‘Forward Thinking’.

Here he tells us more about his award-winning 'HIVE' project and the benefits it has brought to his students and school.     

What was the goal of your project?

"My goal was to develop learners' ability to express and present their ideas in English in front of everyone. My students’ levels of critical thinking skills and English language skills were really low and they had little exposure to the outside world. By helping them to speak in public in English and by integrating thinking tools in their learning I aimed to help them develop effective presentation skills which are essential in preparing them for the real world.

I wanted them to feel that they could do what everyone else could, even though they were from rural areas and lacked the resources that students in urban areas have. In order to achieve this, they needed to feel confident with their own abilities and ideas. They also needed to learn to remain optimistic, open-minded and focused. Hence, familiarizing them with thinking tools and speaking techniques was necessary."

What did the 'HIVE' project involve?

"The 'HIVE' project started with a workshop for teachers and students on the application of thinking tools which included thinking maps and six thinking hats. The teachers and students were required to do group and individual presentations using different types of tools. I continued to implement these in my class where I included more thinking tools such as thinkers’ keys and SOLO taxonomy as a way of constructing prompts and questions for my students.  

I also utilized these strategies in extra-curricular activities where I coached some of my students for various competitions and programs which involved speaking and thinking skills, namely, public speaking, debate, mooting, model United Nations, public policy challenge and pitching contest for district, state, national and international levels. 

We also pitched our ideas in a national competition and were one of the top five finalists to receive mentoring and sponsorship from few organizations in order to carry out a workshop on pitching skills in our schools."

How did it benefit your students?

"The key benefits of the project were: 

• Students expanded their creative and critical thinking skills and felt free to produce their own ideas and present them to others.

• Students were no longer confined to mere regurgitation of facts or information transfer skills as they developed confidence and skills in exploring their own ideas.

• The activities helped boost the morale among the students and they discovered that delivering a presentation or a speech in English was highly achievable and exciting - especially when they were able to express their own ideas.

• Students were able to ask questions and provide feedback to their peers during whole-class presentation. Prior to this project, my students were very timid to come to the front and present their ideas especially when they were required to use English. They were not able to ask any question and comment on their classmates’ ideas."

Did it benefit other teachers?

"The project benefited other teachers by equipping them with new ways of how to facilitate the development of students’ thinking skills with thinking tools especially when the students had also been introduced with these tools at the beginning of the year. Thus, teachers could exploit these tools and consolidate the students’ application of these strategies by integrating them into their lessons. Thinking tools and strategies can be applied in any subject for students of every level of academic performance and proficiency.

In addition, since the goal of this project was to improve students’ ability to express their ideas orally in front of others, this made it easier for other teachers to conduct interactive and student-centered activities on their students and enabled them to evaluate their performance better. The project benefited teachers in implementing school activities which required active speaking roles such as emcees, chairs, and hosts where students could efficiently perform these roles. Their abilities to speak in public allowed them to assist several school programs such as outreach programs, open days and exhibitions where students were required to orally explain and respond well to visitors."

How were the results measured?

"Students’ written responses and oral presentation were evaluated and marked against a rubric developed, based on SOLO taxonomy, which consisted of five main levels: pre-structural, unistructural, multistructural, relational and extended abstract. The application of thinking tools and questioning strategies showed students’ improvement in their abilities to link ideas and apply these ideas in a different context. Interviews were also conducted to elicit the opinions of some of the students about the usage of thinking skills and public speaking skills.

The school's unprecedented participation and achievement in English speaking competitions in recent years which involved both thinking skills and speaking skills showed the progress made by the students. This included the school's victory in debate, public speaking and pitching contests and active participations in various competitions and activities. Collaborations were formed by the school with several institutions, for their annual participation in competitions, such as Bond University (mooting), UMS and UITM (inter-varsity debate), MIDP (National Academic Decathlon), ESU (public speaking), SATA ( elevator pitch contest), HELP International School ( Models United Nations) and ESL tournaments with some schools such as SM All Saints and SMK Majakir for debate, public speaking and poetry recitations were the outcomes of this initiative too."

Finally, how do you feel about winning the scholarship?

“Winning this contest justifies the reasons why I need to keep doing what I am doing, in fact, it shows me that I have to work harder, remain positive, persistent and ambitious for my school and my students no matter what challenges I might face.”

They said:

Sirhajwan was nominated by Mr. Johari, Principle of Keningau Vocational College who praised his attitude and commitment to teaching:

“Mr. Sirhajwan is a dedicated teacher who has taken lots of initiatives for the school especially in helping to realize projects and achievements which this school never had before. He is very persistent in achieving his goals for the school and he also regularly participates in online courses, conference presentations and publishes academic papers in order to expand and maintain his professionalism in the teaching field. He also had managed to obtain his master’s degree in research and is currently taking a PHD study: all while working as a full-time committed teacher.” 

Our judges verdict:

“An interesting project to help learners in rural areas of Malaysia, Borneo, to improve their presentation skills and their critical thinking skills. The project increased learners’ motivation and confidence and the project has clearly helped other teachers in the school.

Mr. Sirhajwan is clearly a teacher who recognises the importance of developing thinking skills and presentation skills and who demonstrates leadership in providing his students with opportunities to use their skills outside the classroom context.”

What's next for Sirhajwan Idek?

As part of their scholarship prize, Sirhajwan will be attending a two-week training course at the NILE teacher training institute in Norwich this summer.  Find out more about the courses available and how Macmillan Education is working in partnership with NILE.

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