JOHOR BARU, Dec 16 — Muhamad Khairul Anuar Hussin was only in primary school when he contracted an ear infection that rendered him partially deaf for a year.
The challenges he faced when just in Standard Two ultimately led him to his vocation as a teacher.
“At that time it was frustrating for me as an eight-year-old boy as I had trouble hearing in my left ear.
“But it was that experience that cemented me to pursue a career in special needs education,” Malaysia’s sole hopeful for the 2019 Varkey Foundation Global Teacher Prize (GTP) 2019 told Malay Mail in an exclusive interview here last Friday.
The 40-year-old specialist who teaches at SMK Taman Universiti 2 was recently announced as one of 50 educators to make the list, chosen from 10,000 nominations in 179 countries.
Muhamad Khairul, who is well versed in Braille and learnt basic sign language, is credited with developing a learning model for special needs students that has been recognised by the Education Ministry to guide other teachers.
The proactive teacher had also coordinated a special education forum and represented Malaysia at the 2011 JENESYS East Asia Future Leaders Program Social Welfare Group in Japan.
Muhamad Khairul said his greatest wish is to be able to help children born physically impaired and those with learning difficulties integrate into mainstream society from a young age.
“Based on my experience, this is the most effective way for them to learn communication, speech, language, self confidence and independence,” he said, adding that the journey has not been an easy one.
However, his perseverance has paid off. Muhamad Khairul said he is thankful to be shortlisted for the prestigious GTP and hopes to be able to use the platform to increase public awareness of children with special needs and how they can contribute to society in diverse jobs just like everyone else.
“For me, it is important that the educator or teacher needs to also ensure that special needs students must be prepared for a meaningful life and at the same time transition to a career.
“At the same time, the society’s narrow perception of those with special needs have to also change as the typical stereotype that ‘the blind can only work as a masseur without proper education or as a lecturer with higher education’ is not applicable anymore,” he said.
He noted that some of his former students have furthered their education in vocational training and started working as skilled workers in various industries.
Muhamad Khairul, who holds a Doctor of Philosophy in curriculum and teaching, said today’s special needs educator needs to have a keen interest in their field of specialisation as their work is unlike regular teachers.
“That’s why special needs teachers are a different breed as they need to have commitment and also an open mind to accept changes,” he said.
Not one to rest on his laurels, Muhamad Khairul is looking further ahead and hopes to be provide more focused assistance for children with learning disabilities (LD).
He said this is a much bigger challenge for him compared to children with hearing or visual disabilities, as they are mainly children suffering from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Down’s syndrome and autism.
“LD should not be confused with learning problems which are primarily the result of visual, hearing, or physical disabilities.
“The challenge of LD in special needs education is that these children have individual needs and not all are the same,” explained Khairul Anuar.
His ultimate dream is to have a special needs learning centre catering to those with LD.
Last Thursday, the Varkey Foundation commended Muhamad Khairul for going the extra mile to help his special needs students cope with daily lessons.
It noted his initiative to introduce Braille textbooks and embossing diagrams for children with visual impairments at different schools he has been assigned to in Johor.
The foundation also noted Khairul Anuar’s zeal to teach his young charges life lessons beyond the classroom, and coming up with an inclusive education model to help them develop their social integration skills that will allow them to enter mainstream schools.
The Varkey Foundation Global Teacher Prize award carries a US$1million (RM4.3 million) prize money, and is presented annually to an exceptional teacher who has made an outstanding contribution to the profession.