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|Saturday, 26 May 2012 23:15|
Ms Bibi Shariman Neshaw Ali…
The teacher who transformed education in Western Hogg Island
BIBI Shariman Neshaw Ali entered the field of education when she was just 16 years old, and has served her country in that field for 39 years. She can be described as one of Guyana’s ideal teachers, who gave her all in service to others, especially children. Growing up on Leguan, an island in the Essequibo River, she is grateful for, at minimum, the 19 years she spent there, because it facilitated her experiencing the “cheerful” attitude that was generally present among the people.
Residents there lived like ‘one big happy family’, and were not pretentious at all. “Growing up in Leguan taught me so many things,” she said. “The people there had an earthy thing about them. It was a joy growing up in Leguan. You didn’t grow up with feelings of racism, regardless of what your religion was, regardless of your political affiliation.
“Growing up in Leguan shaped the person I am today, because I feel that I am a very simple and unassuming person. I can relate to anyone, regardless of any barriers. That is what Leguan did for me,” she expressed in an interview with the Chronicle.
Mrs. Ali spent 23 years as a teacher, before taking up work at the National Centre for Educational Resource Development (NCERD) and the Ministry of Education. She is presently the Deputy Chief Education Officer for Development at the Education Ministry.
Mrs. Ali remembers the diminutive and frail person she was when selected for her first interview. In those days, a person desirous of teaching had to apply to the District Commissioner’s (DC) Office.
One day, after that was done, she received a message that she should visit the DC Office. There, she met the head teacher of Western Hogg Island Primary, Mr. Mohamed Osman Ali. (Did he know that he would eventually become her dear husband?)
After perusing her examination results, Mr. Ali concluded that she was the person he had been looking for to teach at Hogg Island. He was interested in having someone capable of teaching English, History, and Literature. The person had to be able to teach in the upper forms, and at the same time manage Preparatory A and B. It was a multi-grade school, Mrs. Ali explained, and things were a bit rougher than now.
Western Hogg Island Primary, for example, had four teachers only to teach classes from Preparatory A to Form Three. “So, I had a lot on my table; I really had to plan carefully, but I enjoyed teaching. At the beginning of my career, there was not much guidance. There was also a shortage of resources -- not enough text books in those days,” Mrs. Ali recalled.
But, challenges aside, she said: “I always remember with pleasure the two years I spent there.”
Mrs. Ali also taught at the Cornelia Ida Primary, Leonora Primary, and Leonora Secondary. She spent two years at the Teachers Training College, getting married to Mr. Ali at the end of her first year there, in 1976.
Hallmark of a good teacher
Mrs. Ali did not set out to become a teacher. In fact, she really didn’t know what she wanted to become. All she knew at the time was that she wanted a job. But, “from day one”, she realised she had a knack for teaching. “Somebody once said that ‘Teachers are born; they are seldom made.’ And I do believe that.”
When she started her career, there was not much help available. She was just handed a Notes of Lessons Book and asked to follow it. “There was not much guidance, but instinctively I did things. By intuition, I was able to do a lot of things,” she explained.
Thus, after three months, the head teacher could say that there was something in Mrs. Ali that the other teachers could learn from. “That made my day, and motivated me to do my best. I soon discovered I had a knack for it and was born for it. That was what I was meant for.”
Her experience has shown that, to be a good teacher, one has got to be committed. “You have to love what you do; you have to ensure that you grow yourself intellectually, because you have to have things to offer the students.”
A good teacher would also have patience, and keep on top of things academically, she says. “That’s the reason [why] as recent as last month I was still studying. At this point, I’m also involved in training teachers. And if I am to train teachers, then I have to always update my knowledge.
“Nothing was given to me on a silver platter. I have worked hard for anything that I have; I’ve never stopped studying or trying to better myself; I’ve never ever taken my job lightly,” she proudly expressed.
Mrs. Ali particularly stressed the importance of developing the quality of patience, love for the job, and for children. And her goal in teaching is not just to develop a child intellectually, but morally as well.
One of the things she is especially proud of in her career is the fact that she was at the helm of the Literacy Crusade, started in 2008. She is very proud to have participated in that venture. She is also the Ministry of Education’s Representative on the Child’s Rights Commission.
One of her philosophies is to work with whatever she has and do the best she can with it. “I don’t like to complain if I don’t have something. I try my best to acquire more resources, but I’ve learned to make use of whatever I have, and make the best use of it.”
Another of her philosophies is that we must all strive to work for the benefit of our fellow human beings.
She compares those teachers today who love what they do with those of yesteryear. “Attitudes all around have changed. We still have some dedicated teachers today who love what they do. But there are some who are not as dedicated, who always clamour for more money, and who are not willing to go the extra mile,” she declared.
On the other hand, she observed that in the years gone by, children were much more disciplined; and parents, too, were more cooperative. “Nowadays, people are distracted a lot, even parents, so they don’t pay the full attention that they should to their children’s education. To me, they don’t interact as they should with the teachers.”
Mohamed Osman Ali
Mr. Mohamed Osman Ali, the head teacher who interviewed Mrs. Ali in Leguan, is originally from Leonora, West Coast Demerara. He had, however, left to serve the children in Hogg Island.
During the interview, he had asked young Ms Ali if she was sure she could cope with the work load, because she looked so small in size. As mentioned earlier, though, he eventually came to recognise her talent, and praised her before others.
“What attracted me to him is his kindness. He sold education on that island, because when he went there people were hardly interested in education. And he went house (to) house encouraging parents to do it,” Mrs. Ali recalls.
Mr. Ali developed such a good relationship with the parents there that they built a house for him on the island. His interest in children’s education extended so far that he bought a gas lamp and often invited children over in the nights to study for exams.
“And he used to take his money and buy biscuits and tea and anything to encourage the children to study,” Mrs. Ali said.
Their marriage is a strong one. And one thing that definitely helps is the space they afford each other. “It’s a strength. His philosophy was ‘if you love something, let it go. If not, it was never yours’. He doesn’t believe in stifling anybody, or tying someone to you. He’s one of the most dedicated teachers I can ever think of,” Mrs. Ali related.
Their union has produced two sons, Mohamed Aqtar Ali, and Mohamed Irfaan Ali, who is now Minister of Housing and Water besides acting as Minister of Tourism, Industry and Commerce. Aqtar, on the other hand, is more interested in the technical field. He is older than Irfaan, and both are family-oriented.
According to Mrs. Ali, the boys, who spent much of their lives living among extended family members, like to help others and the community. The family is still settled in Leonora, which was described as a very special place to them.
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