16 Feb Educator’s Take: Educating the Hearts and Minds of our Young
Educating the Hearts and Minds of Our Young
At the age of 15, Mr Mohan Dallumal taught his first student. Fifty years later, this industry stalwart is still at it. Mohan has taught in government schools and at Maktab Rendah Sains Mara (MRSM). He has served as a principal of private schools and lectured at institutions of higher learning. His longest stint by far is with Dika College.
In this candid interview, Mohan shares what inspires him as an educator, the motivation for his unwavering passion for early childhood education (ECE) and his innermost thoughts, as well as hope for the nation’s education landscape.
1. Q: Dika turns 18 this year. You joined Dika College on 2 August 2004, making your tenure as old as the college itself. Why is Dika College so close to your heart?
A: When I look at children, I see the hope and future of a nation. I believe that we can change a nation through a child. Let me share with you an example. After the Second World War, Italy was left ravaged and lagging. Loris Malaguzzi, a primary school teacher, saw that the future of the nation lay with its young. If he could build the personality and self-esteem of children, they would grow up to be decisive and proactive citizens that would change a passive country into a powerful one. Malaguzzi started Reggio Emilia which is renowned for its early childhood education approach. Today, Italy is the world’s ninth biggest economy.
Between the ages of zero to seven, we can do great things with children. But children are also very vulnerable to the forces around them, and therefore, it is easy to build or break a child. Well-qualified and well-trained early childhood educators can help create a learning experience that instils independence and builds the self-esteem of children. As educators, we must honour this responsibility and guard it with our hearts, which is why educating ECE educators is something that I am extremely passionate about.
2. Q: Alongside teaching, you speak regularly at schools, conventions and online engagements. Why do you continue to champion the conversations and discussions on ECE and Special Education (SE)?
Teacher Training Workshop at Tadika Sri Madu in Johor Baharu, Johor
A: As educators, we are in the position to help children build their personalities, establish a robust belief system, and develop a moral compass that will help them navigate a fulfilling and joyful life. I tell would-be educators, “Your actions are never forgotten. If you treat a child right, he will remember you for life. If you treat a child wrong, he remembers you for life too.” Therefore, ECE educators are the catalyst of a transformative early childhood education sector that nurtures children to become competent, caring and compassionate citizens of the world.
I am especially fond of SE because there are an estimated 1 million children in Malaysia who have special needs. Only 92,000 are in school and there is a constant struggle to train teachers and ensure that facilities are adequate. We must not forget children with special needs because they are every bit as capable as their counterparts, and it is their right to access equal education opportunities. Speaking on these topics gives me a chance to share my thoughts and experience, and it is something I enjoy doing when given the opportunity to do so.
3. Q: When the Malaysian Education Blueprint (MEB) was being discussed, you provided feedback, especially in areas that pertained to ECE and Special Education (SE). Please share with us your thoughts on the Malaysian Education landscape.
A: The older among us may recall with fondness our teachers who taught us in the 60s and 70s. In the 80s and 90s, I observed less than desirable changes surfacing in the education system. As we entered the millennium, the situation did not change very much. As a teacher myself, I am aware of the challenges we face – flip-flopping curricula, teacher training conundrums, shifting political circumstances.
The Malaysian Education Blueprint 2013-2025 was highly anticipated. Undeniably, there are attempts made, but collectively, we are still in want of a competitive education blueprint that would endure in its implementation. I would have liked to have seen a more cohesive and concerted focus on early childhood education and special education, specifically strategic plans for more teachers to be trained and better remuneration to encourage more young men and women to be educators in this field.
4. Q: You have always regarded your work with children as your life’s calling. What is your hope for the future of education in Malaysia?
A: The first seven years of a child lays the foundation of a nation; and if we truly believe in this, we will find solutions to our personal, social and economic issues.Let us put the future of our children first. The education that they receive must enable them to go anywhere, adapt and do well.
We must put people with the right mindset and the right ‘heartset’ in the right place, and they must walk the talk. I have seen quite a fair bit in my lifetime. It would not be far-fetched to insist that education is far too important to be monopolised for personal reasons or gains. So, let’s leave politics out of education.
I hope that we can all work together to bring back the joy of learning and teaching in our schools. Together, we will win for all children. Together, we will grow as a nation.
About Mohan Dallumal
Mr Mohan Dallumal was born in Kluang, Johor and raised in Seremban, Negeri Sembilan. In addition to being a teacher, principal and later, lecturer, Mohan served as an executive member for the Early Childhood Care and Education Council of Malaysia. He has also authored a research study on neglected and abused children in Malaysia. Mohan is the writer of “Memoirs of an Educator’, a labour of love that features 169 stories detailing his life experiences. His thoughts and expressions have been expressed verbatim in this article.