Teaching Across the Border

A few days ago (two days ago to be exact), my company, By Definition Pte Ltd had conducted a programme outside of Singapore. It was the first time that we have received such an invitation to run a programme that we normally conduct in Singapore, outside of the country.

Milestone for progress indeed for a company that only just recently turned 2 years old.

I’m not going to talk about how I think we can call ourselves, “Best in Singapore and JB!”, a line made famous by the comedic character, Phua Chu Kang but rather, I want to share the experience of teaching in a school in Johor Bahru, Malaysia.

Having studied and taught in Singapore schools all my life, this was a new experience for me and my company, By Definition Pte Ltd.

We received the request and invitation about a month ago through a fellow batchmate of mine from the Ship for South East Asian Youth Programme (SSEAYP) which I had been a Participating Youth in 2007 (This is why everyone should participate in an exchange programme!).

I didn’t have to think much and definitely would have taken up the invitation. It was an offer not to be missed!

Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Tanjung Datuk Pengerang, Johor

Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Tanjung Datuk Pengerang, Johor

The school was Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Tanjung Datuk Pengerang Johor Bahru (Tanjung Datuk National Secondary School, Johor Bahru).

First thing I did was to research on how to get to that school.

The fastest way to get there is to travel by either:

  1. Bum Boat from Changi Village or
  2. Ferry from Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal

BUT the bum boat will only leave if the maximum capacity of 12 passengers if filled up or as and when the boat pilot wants to leave. If there’s less than 12 passengers and you want to go, you’d have to pay for the remaining empty seats.

SO, that’s a NO-NO! Each person will cost you about $11. Cheap when you travel alone, but expensive when you have to pay for another 11 empty seats. 

Travel time is about 45mins – 1.5hrs by sea but it takes you directly to the Pengerang harbour, which is just minutes away from the school.

If you decide to take the ferry instead, there’s only TWO timings at which the ferry departs; 10:30hrs and 18:00hrs. 

My class is at 16:00hrs and I had a class earlier in the morning before that so there’s absolutely no way I could have gotten on the ferry.

Last thing for me to do is I could either ride my bike in and get myself lost and stranded for hours or call a cab OR if you were from SSEAYP, call your friend to help, which is why I’m ever so thankful I have met so many friends from this exchange programme.

The journey from the Malaysian Customs to the school via the fastest route takes you through 2 tolls and covers a distance of about 120-130km. Total time travelled is about 1.5hrs on a beautiful empty road.

I dare not think about how long it would have taken if there was heavy traffic.

Alternatively, one could also travel by bus to Kota Tinggi before switching to another bus to take you to Pengerang. The whole time travelled would take you about 4-5hrs.

So, let’s skip the journey and get to the class.

I was conducting a session to prepare the Debate team, Drama team and Public Speaker for a competition that they were taking part in, in ENGLISH! I thought I was going to teach them in Malay actually!

Teaching Malaysian Students!

Teaching Malaysian Students!

My friend cautioned and told me that I shouldn’t be too strict with them or they will be scared of me. I’m hardly scary and I’m hardly strict. Anyone who has seen me teach would probably say I’m very patient and extremely lenient, but I get the job done, and I get it done with happy faces (this is also probably why I was invited to give a talk on “Engaging Your Child, Successfully!” by a school that I taught at)

The students at this school were VERY DIFFERENT from students I’ve taught and classmates I grew up with in Secondary School.

They were extremely OBEDIENT, COOPERATIVE and PARTICIPATIVE and they were also pretty much very very silent. Didn’t talk that much and for any teacher teaching them, I think you’d probably agree to say that this is YOUR DREAM CLASS compared to the classes you teach in Singapore whereby your students will probably be talking so much, you end up trying to discipline them more than trying to teach. (Of course there are exceptions! Some teachers love noisy classes. I like it somewhat!)

The condition of the school is also very different from the schools we see in Singapore.

Buildings don’t look like it’s been maintained and the facilities would be best described as below-standard and probably wouldn’t pass the mark in Singapore BUT even with such amenities and facilities, this school was awarded ‘Best Secondary School outside of Johor Bahru town’!

It’s not the condition of the school and equipments that matter but the quality of the students that was developed and I would attribute the success of the school to the entire environment.

  1. Student:Teacher ratio per class (It was definitely less than 30!)
  2. Relaxed atmosphere (good view facing the sea)
  3. Natural environment surroundings (loads of trees)

I’m sure there’d be more things to attribute to like the type of occupation the parents are in. Either children of Towkays or Fishermen meaning that the students are able to relate what they learn in school in the textbooks to real life. 

What's not to love?

What’s not to love?

These are all important towards the development of a student because the personal experiences one is more often than not, the teacher. 

At the end of the day, I’m just glad that I was given this opportunity to teach outside of Singapore and I definitely look forward to more of such invitations.

Perhaps friends from Brunei, Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam, Myanmar, Laos and Japan would like to extend an invitation to By Definition or Singa-sports Academy to conduct a programme in your school?

Let me know!