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What makes a dedicated teacher?

An interview with Cambridge Dedicated Teacher Award winner, Khalifa Affnan.

2022 Cambridge Dedicated Teacher Award Winner

All over the world teachers are going above and beyond to support their students. Not just teaching a curriculum but instilling important values and preparing them for life beyond the classroom.

A dedicated teacher is someone who is passionate in whatever they are doing, whether that is teaching or leading extra-curricular activities...

“A dedicated teacher is someone who is passionate in whatever they are doing, whether that is teaching or leading extra-curricular activities, for example, has a healthy work-life balance, is willing to go the extra mile for their students and is resilient,” says Khalifa Affnan, winner of the Cambridge Dedicated Teacher Award 2022 – a global competition that celebrates the efforts of educators around the world.

A teacher at Keningau Vocational College in Sabah, Malaysia, Khalifa was recently awarded the global prize for opening up the world to his students and helping them gain international recognition for science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) projects. Despite the school’s rural location, Khalifa worked hard to offer students an international experience by setting up a cultural exchange programme between his school and South Korean educational institutions.

His award nominator said: “Khalifa elevated his students’ vocational education by initiating a STEM project at the school where he trains the students in robotics, drones, coding, and other technology-based disciplines. His effort resulted in the increase of active participation of female students as well as special needs learners in STEM activities. Many of his students have gained international recognition including third place at a 2018 Korean Robotics tournament and keynote speaker at a British STEM summit in 2020."

Out of 7,000 nominations from 112 countries, 60 shortlisted entries, and six regional winners, it was Khalifa who secured 26 per cent of the public vote and was announced as the winner at the end of May. Since the news has been announced, Khalifa has made headlines in many Malaysian newspapers and been publicly congratulated by His Majesty Yang di-Pertuan Agong of Malaysia and the Prime Minister of Malaysia.

Commenting on how he felt when he found out he had won, Khalifa said: “I was surprised of course. I am not a popular figure or that active on social media to gain that much vote. From the results, however, I know that family, friends, colleagues and students have my back. Many of them congratulated me, saying how happy and thankful they are that a Malaysian had won a global award.”

Khalifa said: “My passion in STEM came about when I participated in a three-month teacher exchange programme organised by the Teacher Professionalism Division. The experience broadened my mind about the world of technology and opened my eyes to the mechanics behind drones, robotics, coding and many more. This fueled my passion in teaching ICT-based subjects, on top of the language-based subjects that I already teach.”

Between 2017 and 2021, Khalifa organised several events and outreach programmes amongst his school, the community and other schools. During a program with the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education and several schools in South Korea, 15 Korean delegates came to Khalifa’s school to talk about drone operation and assembly. In July 2018, the school bought their first robotic sets and won third place in the World Robotic Championship. Just before the pandemic began, Khalifa’s team secured an 11,000 USD grant from the US Embassy under the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI) Seeds for the Future programme. The grant has been used for future STEM-related programmes.

Between 2020–2021, Khalifa and his students set up their own digital maker space using the remaining grant. The students and teachers share the space to explore the technologies associated with increasing interconnectivity and smart automation, as well as STEM. Some of the items included 3D printers and pens, drones, robots, microcomputers , coding, entrepreneurship, innovation and much more.

At school, I was inspired by many teachers but, in particular, I learnt a lot from my language teachers...

Speaking of his own inspirations in life, Khalifa said: “At school, I was inspired by many teachers but, in particular, I learnt a lot from my language teachers when I was in Selangor Science Secondary School. From them, I learnt to always support your students in whatever they do, even if they don’t perform as expected. Students are at the exploring stage, and some of them deserve extra attention if they want to venture into something great. If the students approach you for your opinion, that means they trust you and it’s important to support them.

“Later in life, my late grandfather, who was a language teacher, greatly inspired me to follow in his footsteps and pursue a career in teaching. Back in 2004 I applied to study Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL) at a local university. I completed it at my late grandfather’s house in Petaling Jaya, Selangor, submitted it and went on with life. The rest is history.”

In 2010, Khalifa graduated as a Bachelor of Education (TESL) from the Universiti Putra Malaysia and started his first official teaching post at Keningau Vocational College, where he still teaches today.

Do not remain stagnant. Be resilient. Be strong. There will always be challenges from all sides.

Khalifa believes lifelong learning, resilience and passion are key to making a positive impact on the lives of teachers and learners . “You need to upgrade your skills and teaching methodology to suit evolving trends around the world. Do not remain stagnant. Be resilient. Be strong. There will always be challenges from all sides,” he says.

Sharing his top tips for other teachers, Khalifa stresses the importance of not being afraid to make mistakes: “Calculate your risk and proceed with guidance, and if you make a mistake, learn from it and keep going. Be passionate and excited about what you do and be the changemaker that brings benefit to your colleagues and students.

“Like many teachers before me, I have faced challenges throughout my journey but with resilience and creativity, I am happy to say that I will continue to do what I do thanks to the satisfaction of seeing my students develop new skills, spark creativity and grow as individuals.”

Watch this video to get to know our 2022 Cambridge Dedicated Teacher Award winner even better:


What do you think makes a dedicated teacher? Join in the conversation by tweeting us at @CambPressAssess