Datuk Yunus Raiss taught English and trained teachers of English as a foreign language. Pic source: Malaysian Institute of Translation and Books/Facebook

TANJUNG MALIM: Malaysian education icon and former London magistrate, the late Datuk Yunus Raiss, will be conferred a posthumous honorary doctorate by Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris (UPSI) during the university’s 21st convocation ceremony next week.

Born Mohamed Yunus Raiss Mohd Isah (1934-2019), the educationist, who was among six teachers selected to set up Sekolah Dato’ Abdul Razak or SDAR here in 1957, would be conferred the Honorary Doctorate in Education for his immense contributions towards the country’s education sector especially in the teaching of English.

SDAR is among the oldest fully residential boarding schools established just before the country gained independence, and it has taught children from disadvantage backgrounds.

Yunus’s son, Alex Swan, is expected to accept the honorary doctorate on behalf of his late father during the morning session on Tuesday, which is the first day of UPSI’s three-day convocation ceremonies.


Datuk Yunus Raiss died at the age of 84 at the University College Hospital London. -NSTP/Zaharah Othman

The New Straits Times learnt that Swan and his wife, Sherry, have arrived in the country to attend the ceremony that would be opened by Raja Permaisuri of Perak, Tuanku Zara Salim, who is UPSI’s Chancellor.

Yunus, known for his passion for lifelong learning, died at the age of 84 at the University College Hospital London on Hari Raya Aidiladha on Aug 11. He was laid to rest at the Brookwood Cemetery at the Shah Jahan Mosque in Woking, United Kingdom.

The Batu Gajah, Perak-born man was known for his journey in life apart from his kindness and generosity, which has inspired many people.

From being an illiterate 15-year-old, Yunus, who was an assistant tailor at the time, persevered and rose to become a magistrate at West London Court in 1991 as well as principal and proprietor of a college he founded in London.

He started going to evening classes in 1950 and eventually attended school in the mornings, while working as a tailor in the afternoons in Batu Gajah. He passed the Cambridge School Certificate examination in 1953 after attending three and a half years of schooling.


Datuk Yunus Raiss (second from right) with his fellow teacher trainees from Kirkby College in the United Kingdom. -NSTP/Zaharah Othman

In 1954, Yunus was awarded a teacher training scholarship to study in Kirkby near Liverpool. Popularly known as Kirkby College, it was set up in 1951 to address the shortage of teachers in Malaya and it trained some 1,500 teachers over a period of 10 years.

He returned to Malaya in 1956 and spent six months at Sultan Idris Training College the following year. In 1964, Yunus returned to England and sat for his Bar examinations.

In the same year, Yunus joined the late John Haycraft, who founded the International House World Organisation in 1953 and became a pioneer in a major initiative to teach English to the world. Yunus taught English and trained teachers of English as a foreign language. He also appeared in Haycraft’s autobiography titled Adventures of a Language Traveller.

In 1975, Yunus set up his own school of English known as Syed’s English Language School at Covent Garden, London. The school for adult students and professionals became a model institution that was accredited by British Council before it was closed in 2008.

In between 1963 and 2014, Yunus enrolled himself in several diploma and degrees courses, which included applied linguistic, critical legal practice as well as philosophy and human rights, at universities in the UK.

“I started writing when I was 20. I had an urge to write about love, injustice and loyalty. I love the theatre and opera,” Yunus once wrote in his blog at http://datoyunusraiss.blogspot.com.


Malaysian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom Datuk Mohamad Sadik Kethergany (left) with Datuk Yunus Raiss. - Pic source: Malaysian High Commission in London/Facebook

He wrote Answers in World History for the Eastern Universities Press, and about 90 poems which he described as being written in a quasi-traditional style.

One of those poems had been written and performed for Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, during the prime minister’s meeting with Malaysian diaspora in London in September last year.

“Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Tennyson, Rumi, Omar Khayam, Yeats, Thomas Hardy, W.H. Davies, Wendy Cope, my teachers and friends – have all had some influence on my work.

“I am a member of The Athenaeum Club, London, a teacher and barrister whose ambition is to meet interesting people, write poetry and teach English to the world,” Yunus had said.

He had also appeared on television programmes and newspapers both in the UK and Malaysia. Among the topics he often wrote and spoke about were education and English proficiency in Malaysia.

“You’re going to grow old, you’re going to make mistakes. And if you have the generosity of your Malay character, then live to your character,” said Yunus in one of his television interviews.

Meanwhile, UPSI registrar Dr Zainab Othman said the convocation ceremony will award degrees to 4,985 graduates comprised 108 Doctors of Philosophy (PhD) , 993 Masters degrees, 2,610 Bachelor’s degrees, 201 Postgraduate Education Diplomas and 1,073 diplomas with 22 awards to 51 outstanding graduates.