Sunday, May 17, 2015

They messed with wrong guy, says sacked activist-teacher


Teacher Mohd Nor Izzat Mohd Johari says he lost his job because he was too vocal about problems plaguing the school-based assessment system. – The Malaysian Insider pic by Seth Akmal, May 17, 2015.
Teacher Mohd Nor Izzat Mohd Johari says he lost his job because he was too vocal about problems plaguing the school-based assessment system. – The Malaysian Insider pic by Seth Akmal, May 17, 2015.

Mohd Nor Izzat Mohd Johari, who made headlines last year when he led a campaign to change the school-based assessment (SBA) system, did not celebrate Teachers Day yesterday, following his sacking by the Education Ministry two months ago.
But despite losing his job, Nor Izzat is not sad. Neither is he angry although he has every right to be, for he highlighted weaknesses in SBA that the ministry eventually admitted and fixed.
“I’ve tried to feel sad but I just can’t… I don’t even hold any grudges but I do feel more fired up.
“I feel like they messed with the wrong guy. They made a big mistake,” Nor Izzat said of the bureaucrats who sacked him via a letter dated March 30.
“I don’t feel angry but I am disappointed with their attitude as I spoke the truth,” the 29-year-old former Arts teacher from Kuala Lumpur told The Malaysian Insider recently.
Like other individuals who are used to speaking the truth and paying the price for it, Nor Izzat is not letting his dismissal get him down.
He pledged to continue highlighting issues plaguing teachers and the education system through his new association, the Malaysian Education and Intellect Club (KIPM).
A teachers’ movement
Nor Izzat made headlines last year for being that rare, active civil servant who criticised a system that had put been in place by his superiors.
He was the face of a national teachers’ movement critical of weaknesses in the SBA system which was jeopardising the education of thousands of secondary school students.
The ministry’s haphazard implementation of the system is evident in the wide dissatisfaction with last year’s Form Three assessment tests (PT3).
Through relentless pressure, Nor Izzat and his colleagues in the Suara Guru-Masyarakat Malaysia (SGMM) group eventually managed to get the ministry to fix weaknesses in the SBA.
Nor Izzat paid a price for leading the campaign. He believes it was the reason he was transferred to another school some 200km away from his family. He was teaching in SMK Damak in Jerantut, Pahang, where he lives with his wife and two children, but after SGMM made headlines, he was transferred to SMK Triang in Bera.
He said the backlash from the ministry also prevented him from registering SGMM as an association.
Undaunted, Nor Izzat and his fellow activists set up the Malaysian Education and Intellect Club.
In April, Nor Izzat received a letter dated March 30 from the ministry informing him that his services were no longer required.
The ministry cited four reasons: having opposition politicians in a protest against the SBA on February 22 last year; being the administrator of the “Abolish the SBA” Facebook page and using a profile picture claiming that the education system was in the dark ages; not going to school two days before the February 22 rally; and not registering when he left the school compound for eight days.
Nor Izzat said there was usually a 12- to 13-step process that has to be followed for civil servants to be terminated and claimed the ministry skipped several of them.
“I was never summoned by the principal for not going to school, I never went through counselling and I never received a second or third warning.”
He said he received a show-cause letter three weeks before he was terminated and was planning to plead guilty and appeal against expulsion.
“Some teachers told me that if they were planning to sack me, they should have hauled me up to meet the officers and then hand me my punishment. It’s a bit strange that they decided to do it through a letter.”
Nor Izzat said that pressure against him started when he spoke up about the SBA at a December 2013 meeting with administrators and Second Education Minister Datuk Seri Idris Jusoh.
He hit out at the system and exposed its weaknesses, pointing to how it had increased teacher’s clerical workload and how the data storage network was so congested that teachers had to wake up at 3am to use it when network traffic was low.
“Idris promised that no action would be taken against me. But officers at the state and district levels came to investigate me repeatedly after that.
“Every time, there were five or six people and they kept asking me why I opposed the SBA and I told them I did not oppose it, I was just highlighting its problems.”
He believes that his forthright, blunt manner at the December meeting with Idris and the ministry’s officers sealed his fate. And it is a lesson that he will remember in his future campaigns with KIPM.
“We just have to watch our words when speaking with senior officers even though they are wrong. In the December meeting, I questioned and debated with Idris’s officers and humiliated them in front of the minister.
“They could not answer my questions. Basically, I exposed their stupidity. That was my mistake.”
Voice for teachers 
For now, Nor Izzat said he would fall back on the small but burgeoning printing and publishing business he had started before became a teacher.
“It had quite a lot of orders before I left it and I am going to start it up again.”
KIPM will also continue to highlight problems in the school system as it is tapped into a nationwide network of active teachers, many of whom are former SGMM supporters.
Even though some of the problems in SBA have been fixed, the larger issues persisted, such as big classroom sizes, lack of teachers and too much clerical work.
“Clerical work takes teachers away from time they want to spend planning lessons and actually teaching kids.
“We also need to ensure that classroom sizes are brought down to one teacher for every 20 pupils.
“Even if the ministry does not like me, believe me when I say that all teachers want this.” – May 17, 2015. 
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