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This article first appeared in Options, The Edge Malaysia Weekly on November 30, 2020 - December 6, 2020

English teacher Samuel Isaiah made Malaysians proud when he was named among the shortlisted candidates for the prestigious Global Teacher Prize 2020. Ahead of the winner being announced on Dec 3, he talks to Petrina Fernandez about his unorthodox methods to engage with his Orang Asli students and the challenges he faced in giving them a solid education.

Samuel Isaiah is no stranger to being in the hot seat. In recent days, he has been contacted by many reporters for comment on his making it into the shortlist for the Global Teacher Prize 2020, dubbed the Nobel Prize of the teaching fraternity. The prestigious US$1 million (RM4.4 million) reward by The Varkey Foundation is presented annually to an exceptional teacher who has made an outstanding contribution to his or her profession.

This is not the first time Samuel is fielding questions from reporters, or receiving recognition. There had been a small but steady stream of coverage on his work at SK Runchang in Muadzam Shah, Pahang, where the Kuantan-born teacher was using unorthodox teaching methods that seemed to pay off. His dedication was equally admired and reciprocated — just as he drove 200km each weekday to get to the school, more than 100 of his students traversed that distance to witness and perform at his wedding in 2017. And last year, his efforts gained national appreciation when he was among the recipients of the Ministry of Education’s Superhero Teachers Award.

But the teacher is now a student again. Currently on sabbatical to pursue a two-year Master of Science in Educational Policy and Leadership at the State University of New York in Albany on a Fulbright scholarship, the 33-year-old flew back to Malaysia in June when Covid-19 reared its head and showed no signs of abating.

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