KUALA LUMPUR: Six years ago, science teacher Abdul Muiz Hussin, 31, watched a villager haggling with a Chinese national over the price of fish.
"It was like a duck talking to a chicken with a calculator. The villager spoke only Malay and a smattering of English, while the Chinese guy spoke only in Mandarin," Muiz said about the event in Pendas Laut in Gelang Patah, Johor.
It sparked an idea for him to teach Mandarin in the fishing village of 250 people, who were beginning to mix with more foreigners due to Pendas Laut's proximity to the Forest City mega project in Johor.
"I had no formal training in Mandarin, save for lessons on conversational basics that my friend, Hii Chiang Teck, gave me while we were at the teacher training college in Perlis," Muiz said.
He saved for four years, went to classes and obtained translated Romanised modules for Mandarin-language learning.
He started his Mandarin classes in January 2019 at the Pendas Laut community hall on Mondays and Thursdays.
Today, despite still being unable to read and write in Mandarin, he teaches 30 students comprising children aged 12 to five, as well as one or two adults. His oldest student is a 65-year-old grandmother.
He roped in students from a nearby Chinese vernacular school to moderate some classes.
Since the Covid-19 pandemic, he and his students have switched to a Google online platform.
It was challenging at first as only two students had laptops, while the other 28 used their parents' smartphones.
Muiz will hand over the Mandarin class to the community in five years and hopes the community hall will be refurbished.
"I bought the microphone and PA system we use for the class, but the fan is so old it could break down anytime.
"Part of the hall's roof caved through the ceiling in October. The class moved to a kindergarten when face-to-face lessons were allowed for a while in November."
He was recently transferred from SK Kompleks Sultan Abu Bakar, near the village, to a school in Batu Pahat two hours away.
"For Teachers Day this year, I pray we can be the best teachers we can be, with or without the pandemic.
"The government can help us with more resources, such as computers and tablets, WiFi coverage and possibly free Internet for B40 kids."
He was among five finallists for Taylor's College's RISE Educator of the Year Award.
With 3,000 votes, he earned third place among five teachers who were nominated.
The award's winner, English teacher Muhammad Nazmi Rosli, who earned 12,000 votes, transformed his classroom at SK Long Sukang, Lawas, into a practical learning space depicting interesting situations.
His students enjoyed learning via CSI (Crime Scene Investigation, a TV series) scenarios in the classroom and built swimming pools out of plastic bags.
Nazmi said children attending SK Long Sukang were usually prepared to work on their parents' farms as early as age 11.
The community deep in Sarawak's interior is not exposed to the outside world, with Internet coverage being almost non-existent.
During the first Movement Control Order, he and SK Long Sukang's headmaster came up with an idea of delivering learning materials and homework to 111 students, who lived in 13 villages scattered around the school.
Both of them set up seven learning stations at various spots to allow the students to catch up on lessons, which have been recognised and adopted by the Education Ministry for rural and urban poor students.
One of his student's mothers, Jenny Bulan Gelawat, travelled for more than three hours from Kampung Long Sukang to the nearest town to get Internet connection to nominate Nazmi for the award.
Nazmi won RM2,000, while Jenny, who nominated him, took home a RM500 prize.
The other three teachers who won top prizes were Hairul Azuan, who helped collect funds for needy folk in a Felda settlement; Law Yee Chen, who helped poor students get access to devices and Internet data for online learning; and Teo Yuang Teck, who saw the potential in differently abled students and taught them computer programming.