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Sunday September 7, 2003

Mission accomplished

After over three decades in education, retired IPBA director R. Ganasa Murthi talks to SIMRIT KAUR about the challenges he faced setting up the country's first English language institute. 

THROUGHOUT his career, R. Ganasa Murthi has abided by two guiding principles: work is worship and service is prayer. 

The former director of the International Languages Teacher Training Institute (IPBA), who retired last month, says that as a follower of the Bahai faith, these values are ingrained in him.  

“As such, whatever I did never seemed like work but part of my basic belief, which I did to the best of my ability.” Another Bahai doctrine that influenced him when dealing with people is that everyone is equal. 

“I interact with all races without any feelings of prejudice as in my religion there is no discrimination, since all people originate from one God.”

GANASA: Satisfied IPBA was up and running.

Ganasa, 56, began his teaching career in his home state of Kedah, at SM Pendang, in 1971 after graduating with a Bachelor of Arts and Diploma in Education from Universiti Malaya. 

Tragedy struck early in his teaching career. Ganasa's father, a Tamil school headmaster, died of a heart attack when he was in Pendang. 

“I had to take an advance on my first salary to pay for the funeral expenses and had to look after my siblings, all of whom were still schooling, the youngest was only four years old at the time,” recalls Ganasa, the eldest of 10 siblings. 

He had stints in both schools and teacher training colleges throughout his career. In 1979 he moved to Maktab Perguruan Seri Kota from Kajang High School. 

From 1980 he was senior assistant of Maxwell Secondary School in Kuala Lumpur, until he left for Britain to do his Masters in Education at Bristol University. 

On his return, he was appointed senior assistant of SM Datuk Lokman in Kuala Lumpur. His apprenticeship at both schools prepared him well for his next big challenge, heading the “notorious” SM San Peng in 1992, a school with a reputation for gangsterism.  

It was a struggle, he says, to ensure that “outside problems” did not spill into the school. The first thing he did was to secure the premises. “We had to build a wall around the school as gang members were sitting in the canteen to extort money.” 

Nevertheless, Ganasa looks back on his time at the school with fondness. “I have a soft spot for San Peng. Although it had a reputation, I found that there were two extremes of students I had to deal with some were brilliant while others had no interest in learning at all.” 

He recalls that when he organised a jogathon to raise funds to build the school wall, the students, many of whom were from lower-income backgrounds, managed to raise RM125,000.  

“Everyday was a crisis situation. We had to be on our feet all the time. Being a principal of an urban school with over 2,000 students is a real challenge. I feel all parties should be more considerate and not jump on the principal's head whenever they make a slip,” says Ganasa. 

In 1996, he was made head of Maktab Perguruan Teruntum in Kuantan, Pahang, where he stayed until 1999 when he was asked to oversee the closing down of Seri Kota.

The Teacher Training Division (BPG) had made a decision to close down smaller colleges, and Seri Kota was one of those affected. At the same time, the International Islamic University Malaysia was closing down its matriculation centre in Lembah Pantai, Kuala Lumpur.  

The campus was handed back to BPG, and earmarked for IPBA. Renovation work, costing RM32mil, had to be done on the sprawling campus which housed 32 buildings, and was only completed last year. 

“The establishment of IPBA was my biggest challenge. The buildings were in a state of disrepair and there were no programmes. We had to start from scratch and develop IPBA's vision and mission.” 

Ganasa was present at the official opening of IPBA in June by Education Minister Tan Sri Musa Mohamad. 

“I personally feel a sense of satisfaction that IPBA is up and running although much more can be done,'' says Ganasa.  

Set up primarily to train teachers in English, IPBA also offers short courses to government servants and outsiders in four other languages German, French and Japanese. Spanish is due to be offered next year. 

Ganasa says that IPBA's core programme is the six-year Bachelor of Education in the Teaching of English as a Second Language or B Ed (TESL) degree. 

SPM holders do two years' foundation followed by the first year of the degree course at IPBA. After three years in Malaysia, the students transfer to one of five universities in three countries. 

They are Queensland University of Technology and MacQuarie University in Australia, the University of Auckland and Victoria University, Wellington, in New Zealand, and the University of Exeter in Britain before returning to Malaysia to complete the final year of the degree (teaching practice). 

“We took in 125 students for the first batch and will continue with this programme for another 10 years. A six-year period is necessary, as we need English teachers who are really proficient in the language.” 

Low proficiency teachers who then teach students English create a vicious cycle which must be stopped, adds Ganasa. 

He is also proud that IPBA is involved in the Malaysian Technical Cooperation Programme. 

“Students from Third World countries come to IPBA under sponsorship from the Malaysian Government to learn English. Twenty-two agencies are involved in the programme but IPBA is the only Education Ministry body involved.” 

On his immediate plans, Ganasa says that the only thing on his mind is to “take a break” and visit his three grandchildren later in Fiji. His wife, S. Panjawarnam, is a retired court interpreter. He has three children, two of whom are involved in education. Shanthini is as an early childhood educator and Sheila is a teacher in Sabah, while son Rajmilan is a choreographer. 

On the future of English in the country, Ganasa commends Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad for having the courage to bring back the language in the teaching of Mathematics and Science in schools. 

“If we look at Vision 2020, we can see that we are already behind. Without a good command of English we will not be able to progress in any field, be it economic, scientific or business.”  

©Copyright 2003, The Star (Malaysia)

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