Friday, July 13, 2012
TERRA BACA: Many have benefited from programmes he initiated
AS the country is engaged in welcoming ideas for educational reform, we should also search for robust reform ideas from those who are no more. Salleh Omar is a poignant example of an educational thought leader.
Salleh trained at the Language Institute, beginning 1973 and specialising in English Language-History.
As their lecturer, the writer encouraged his cohort to be the best teacher educators they could be and to go on to any other fields they regarded as their calling, if teaching was their calling. Every member of that cohort excelled in their respective education or other fields.
Both Salleh and his wife went on to do Law. Salleh worked for various periods in University Malaya, Kuala Lumpur City Hall, and Utusan Melayu.
But he realised that his calling was the teaching profession, to which he returned. His last few years were as lecturer in Universiti Teknologi Mara, University Tun Abdul Razak and Universiti Malaysia Terengganu. The core of Salleh’s educational idea rests on reading literacy and other relevant and advanced literacies.
He related the past and the present, the ideas of ancient and contemporary scholars, global and local perspectives, the wisdom of the sages and the wisdom of the people.
For instance, an old man in a mosque, seeing the lack of civility to the point of rudeness even when dealing with religion says, “How can there be the real practice of religion when there is no adab (civility) in religious dialogue and practices.”
Also, Salleh quoted an elder: “In the past people learned religion from religious scholars, now there is a tendency to learn the fundamentals and the profound matters of religion from politicians who are not religious scholars”.
Salleh Omar was critical of what he perceived to be the deteriorating standards of education as well as the diminishing culture of caring in the country. Instead of blaming others, he took constructive actions to improve the situation whenever he could. With the help of education officials and the support of parents, hundreds of students have benefited from various programmes he initiated and the contributions he made selflessly.
On July 11, I was told of the passing away of Salleh at the Kubang Krian Hospital and the burial which was to be in Dungun at about 9pm. With my family, I drove from Kuala Lumpur to Dungun to the late Salleh’s house to pay the last respects to the family.
Then, with the eldest son we went to the graveyard to pay the last respects to Salleh. It was a first experience to be at the graveyard at midnight when prayers were offered for someone so dear.
I was with him as he trained to be an educator, and as he developed to be an exemplary teacher. I was with him during the transitions of his career. I went for his wedding and his children’s weddings. Now, we were at his funeral.
Two months ago, after checking with my secretary regarding my schedule, he came into my class at about 10pm. We engaged in impromptu collaborative teaching. It was a high-energy class because of his unique contributions. We engaged in great conversation into the wee hours of the morning.
On reflection, I realised the reason for the urgency of his wanting to meet: to reminisce and again share a last class together. He knew he had a terminal illness.
At the individual level, in the midst of our business we should make time to treasure those who are with us. At the community level, we should be supportive of those in our midst who reach out to contribute.
At the national and governmental level, there should be positive seeking out of those who have ideas for contributions to change and reform, and, to celebrate their ideas.
The story of Salleh is repeated everywhere in the sacred and noble relationship between teachers and students.
Salleh Omar had important ideas for professional practices and for policy reforms which he documented and wanted to share. His ideas should be seriously assessed, addressed, acknowledged and appropriately recognised.
His robust ideas are encapsulated in his passion for the Coach-a-Coach Programme and for Terra Baca. His Terra Baca Programme has been tried, tested and proven to be effective.
His ideas are not just for students beginning reading or remedial programmes but also for teachers — including in-service programmes for literacy enhancement, advancement plan. A national system must have a way of retrieving such ideas and crediting the formulators, originators and owners.
Writer is a deputy vice-chancellor, INTI Laureate International University