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Peggy Loh ~ My Johor Stories: Batik Lady

Posted: 27 Jul 2012 01:19 AM PDT

Dr Pratheepa Mohandhas, 61, better known as the Batik Lady of Senai, has a passion for shaping minds to higher levels of achievement at Pusat Tuisyen Minda Abadi.
I was born in Batu Pahat and had a very strict up-bringing because my mother was a prominent school principal who was keen on guarding our family reputation.  If I was cycling to tuition class and waved at my brother's friend who happened to pass on the opposite side of the road, my mother would already know about it by the time I reached home.  This was how fast news travelled back in those days when everyone in town was familiar with our family.
I left Batu Pahat for the first time to pursue Form Six studies first, in English College for one year and the second year, in a college in Petaling Jaya.  One day, about 10 classmates and I walked to Round Table, the stalls near the Johor Baru old bus terminal for ice-kacang and we were crossing the road when a family friend saw us.  The scandalous news of two Chinese boys walking by my side had reached my mother and that evening, she picked me up from the hostel and took me to an aunt's house where I was interrogated and slapped!
In 1973, I accepted a traditional wedding proposal and was married to a medical doctor.  In the early years of our marriage, we lived in Kuantan before my husband was transferred to work with the Permai Hospital in Johor Baru.  I remember living in the sprawling Government quarters there for 2 years with my husband's parents and siblings.
After graduating from Mohd Khalid Teachers Training College, my first posting was to SMK Sultan Ibrahim Kulaijaya as an Art and English teacher and was later promoted to be Head of the Art and English Departments.  For a year, I was based in Segamat, attached to the Canossian Convent before being transferred back to SRK 1 in Kulaijaya.  In my career, I held various posts including Head of the English Language Panel. 
I believe in improving my skills through furthering my studies and completed a Specialist Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL) Certificate course as well as a course in Reading & Language in Education with the Auckland College of Education.  I achieved my Doctorate in Education with the University of Western Australia.  For 5 years, I commuted to work from Senai to Sekolah Sinar Bahagia in Felda Taib Andak and was Vice-Principal in charge of Student Affairs until I opted for retirement from Government service.  
After I obtained a Diploma in Applied Linguistics with the Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization (SEAMEO) Regional Language Centre (RELC), a Singapore-based linguistic policy institute serving all the countries in this region, I was a part-time tutor in their Foreign Ministry Programme.  I was involved in intensive training seminars with ministry officials from countries like Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Indonesia.  I can vividly recall the exciting experiences with my students after classes, when I was posted to Hanoi twice, to teach Business English with Ministry of Interior staff.
My students have a great deal of respect for me and they called me their, "Malaysian Mother."  Sometimes as many as 20 motorbikes would head out for dinner and I usually rode pillion with a young Police officer who is like a son to me.  
I will always remember the bumpy rides to go to their homes for meals and one evening, when I was told that I was in for a special treat, I politely refused to eat the exotic meat that they enjoyed but pleased them by nibbling on a few snails!
Throughout my career, I chose to wear trousers and jacket suits for a more professional appearance but around this time, I accepted a colleague's suggestion to change my wardrobe to a cooler choice of blouses designed in Thai silk.  While silk is beautiful, it was however, not only expensive but also inconvenient to wash and wear.  I first tailored blouses in Indonesian batik and now as my entire wardrobe comprise blouses designed in Malaysian batik I inadvertently earned the nickname as the Batik Lady of Senai!
In 2003 I opened Pusat Tuisyen Minda Abadi in Senai, a registered tuition centre that offers lessons for students from Primary 1 to Form 5 and corporate training in Basic and Business English courses.  At one time, 69 students from single-parent families were given tuition free-of-charge and in return, I only asked them to show me their good results.  I adopted the motto: Teaching minds…touching hearts…transforming lives…, as I want to encourage students to study and aim for higher levels of achievement.
For the past 5 years, I have been an English Lecturer with Open Universiti Malaysia and Wawasan Open Univerisiti, involved with students who are practicing teachers.  I try to instill in them, the passion to encourage their own students to do well in school and I find great satisfaction when they pass their exams.  I believe that when I teach one teacher well, he or she will be equipped to have a positive impact on their students who represent our future generation.
A version of the article was published in The New Straits Times, Johor Streets, on 27 July 2012

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