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Educational commitment

A retired education officer’s educational odyssey to inspire generations of educators

Becoming an educator is a challenging responsibility, one that is not to be taken lightly.

At times, the demands and responsibilities of a teacher extend beyond the boundaries of their job description, necessitating occasions when they must prioritise their students’ success over their own personal interests.

After three decades of experience in the field of education, Haji Hambali bin Haji Awang Tengah, an 85-year-old retired education officer, was recently acknowledged with the prestigious Meritorious Teacher Award through his unwavering commitment and personal sacrifices to secure the achievements and literacy of his students.

The award is a demonstration of his outstanding service to the government of His Majesty  the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam since 1954.



“I began my involvement in education as a trainee teacher in 1954,” said the award recipient.

As a trainee teacher, he was assigned to teach at several primary schools or Malay schools at the time, including Sultan Umar Ali Saifuddien Primary School (SUAS) in Muara, Haji Mohd Salleh Sungai Hanching Primary School, and Muhammad Alam Primary School in Seria.

“During the initial stages of my teaching journey, I was able to enrich my experience and broaden my horizons by participating in a variety of teaching courses offered during that period. It included undertaking foundational teaching programmes in countries such as Malaysia and Singapore.”

Haji Hambali with his students. PHOTO: HAJI HAMBALI BIN HAJI AWANG TENGAH

He also embarked on a three-year educational journey in the field of education at the Malay Teachers’ College Sultan Idris, spanning from 1958 to 1960.

During his tenure at Sultan Idris Teachers’ College, now recognised as Sultan Idris Education University (UPSI) in Perak, Haji Hambali explored various facets of pedagogy with the primary aim of obtaining a teaching certificate and becoming a qualified educator.

Simultaneously, he was entrusted with the role of leading the students from Year 1 through Year 3.

Haji Hambali and his classmates were the first successful cohort to complete their teaching course, and they felt a sense of pride for being among the first Bruneian individuals to obtain a teaching certificate as trained educators.

After completing his studies, Haji Hambali returned home to continue his journey as an educator. He was assigned to teach at Muhammad Alam Primary School in Seria for a year.

“In those days, I was entrusted with the responsibility of teaching Year 5 students. My task at the time was to instruct in all subjects, including history, geography, Malay language, and more.

“There were no specialised subject teachers yet, and we were also facing a shortage of educators. Not many ventured into the teaching profession,” said the retired teacher.

Even though his experience and knowledge were somewhat limited at the time, the challenges he faced had to be embraced fully to take on the responsibilities of educating the nation’s children.

“Together with my comrades, we strived to enhance our knowledge and skills to provide the best education and wisdom to the students entrusted to us. We even attended special teacher classes held every Saturday, which took place in the capital.”

Breaking into a smile as he reminisced the sweet memories, Haji Hambali said, “I cycled from Muara to Bandar Brunei, a journey that took two hours. Although the distance was considered far back then, my passion for acquiring knowledge burned in my heart, keeping me steadfast.”

“I would have to wake up at 4am just to attend the class. Tired and drenched in sweat, I continued to persevere in the pursuit of my aspirations.”

In those times, Haji Hambali also faced a multitude of challenges.

Teaching aids were scarce, and the resources for the curriculum were severely limited, while teaching was confined to the contents of textbooks due to the meagre facilities at their disposal.

Despite these challenges, the Meritorious Teacher Award recipient also generously shared his knowledge beyond Muhammad Alam Primary School.

“I was entrusted to teach the Malay language and the intricate art of Jawi script in Chinese schools and at Anthony Abell College in Seria.

“Back then, the understanding of Jawi script was not as widespread as it is today, and some students hesitated to embrace it, associating it with religion.”

However, driven by unwavering dedication and profound passion, Haji Hambali patiently conveyed that the Jawi script is, in essence, a beautiful form of calligraphy and that the words they wrote were a part of the rich Malay language.

“During that era, it was not a compulsory subject, and many students lacked proficiency in reading and writing Jawi. They had the choice to embrace or bypass this elegant script, often opting to study it primarily through religious schools.”

With great dedication, Haji Hambali undertook the responsibility of teaching Jawi, guiding students from Year 1 to Year 6 on their journey to master this intricate art.

In efforts to further his teaching aspirations, he extended into distant horizons, attending a year-long course in Singapore. There, he immersed himself in the realms of language, literature, and linguistics.

When we look back at Haji Hambali’s remarkable journey in education spanning over 30 years, we witness a dedicated soul who has left an indelible mark on his nation and its people.

Haji Hambali bin Haji Awang Tengah and his wife. PHOTO: Haji Hambali bin Haji Awang Tengah


“Before concluding my tenure as a government officer, I was appointed to serve in the Curriculum Development Department (JPK) at the Ministry of Education for a decade, from 1983 to 1993.”

During his time at JPK, he assumed the pivotal role of heading the Malay Language, Literature, and Religious Studies Division. He was entrusted with the profound responsibility of reshaping the curriculum and syllabus.

In his own words, the educational landscape needed to have specific syllabi or curricula at the time.

However, driven by a deep understanding of students’ needs, he and his team introduced new syllabi, including the mandatory teaching of Jawi, across all schools, thereby preserving this cultural treasure.

This significant change also saw the inclusion of Jawi education in examination assessments.

In tandem, Haji Hambali and his colleagues took steps to kindle students’ passion for Jawi writing by creating and publishing textbooks in Jawi script, encompassing Malay Islamic royal traditions, and crafting workbooks that engaged and educated.

Even in retirement, the fire of knowledge sharing still burns brightly within Haji Hambali. While he may no longer stand in the classroom, his unwavering enthusiasm to impart wisdom and inspire his fellow educators and colleagues remains undiminished. – Rokiah Mahmud